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10 Creepy Superstitions and Their Meanings

Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.


1. Going Straight Home After a Funeral

Attending a funeral is never a pleasant experience. The crushing sense of grief is often palpable, whether the ceremony is held indoors or at the gravesite of the deceased. As superstition has it, opportunistic spirits, attracted by the overwhelming sorrow that hangs in the air, have been known to latch onto unsuspecting mourners. Once they have honed in on a target, these parasites will follow them, intent on resuming their place among the living.

In order to prevent this from happening, those who visit graveyards for any reason are advised to make several stops before heading home. Since these wayward spirits are believed to have lost all sense of direction, they become easily disoriented, which allows the unwitting host to lose them in a crowd.

This is one reason that people tend to gather in restaurants following memorial services, whether they are aware of this longstanding superstition or not. While it is true that misery loves company, it is equally true that there is safety in numbers. If things go according to plan, the displaced soul, finding itself adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces, will realize that it is woefully out of place and wander off to parts unknown.

If a clueless mourner opts to forgo tradition and head straight home, well, we've all seen enough horror movies to know that it won't be long before they find their life turned upside down by an unseen presence hellbent on destruction. By then, unfortunately, there's no turning back.


2. Bringing an Axe Inside

Those who live and breathe by the laws of superstition will tell you that to bring an axe, hatchet or any other sharpened tool that is meant to be used outdoors into a dwelling is to court disaster.

It is said that if such an implement is carried into a home, thoughtlessly or on purpose, the action has doomed one, if not all, of the residents to an early death. As if that wasn't bad enough, their imminent demise will most likely come as a result of violence. This is due to the belief that no instrument that can be used to spill blood, regardless of its intended purpose, should cross the threshold of a dwelling inhabited by the living. If this is allowed to occur, fate steps in to claim a soul as punishment for the careless act.

On the other hand, leaving an axe sitting upright outside the entrance to a home lets the powers that be know that the occupants are aware of the rules and are following them to the letter. This show of respect will be rewarded with fertility, thus adding members to the household rather than taking them away.

Consider grabbing a different pen before you sign that contract.

Consider grabbing a different pen before you sign that contract.

3. Signing Your Name in Red

While most of us give little thought to the color of ink used to sign our name, in some parts of the world, this seemingly insignificant detail could mean the difference between life and death.

In South Korea, a longstanding superstition purports that if a person writes their signature in red, they might as well be signing their death warrant. Since the names of those who have passed on are traditionally recorded in crimson, to write the name of someone who is still living in the same hue as the dead is to infer that they are equals in the eyes of fate. Apparently, this act born of ignorance announces to the gods that your soul is ready to be claimed.

If someone with whom you are acquainted writes your name in red, you would do well to keep your eye on them. Their intentions, if this superstition holds true, may be less than pure.


4. Leaving Nail Clippings in Public Places

Most of us know that it is distasteful to perform acts of personal grooming outside the privacy of our homes. Besides being unsanitary, not many people wish to observe a stranger trimming their fingernails or flossing their teeth in public. Even so, there are those who have no qualms about letting the world observe while they perform these somewhat offensive routines.

This superstition isn't concerned with the hygienic issues that arise from such actions but rather the practical ones. It is believed that to leave parts of your physical form lying around, such as fingernail clippings or stray hairs, is to open yourself up to a world of trouble.

Someone with a score to settle, or even a total stranger with a cruel nature and passing knowledge of black magic, can use these cast-offs to curse unsuspecting marks. Once they have a piece of their target in hand, they gain access to the inner workings of that person's mind and body. With this powerful tool at their disposal, there's no end to the harm they can do.

The moral of this bit of lore is fairly obvious: unless it is your goal to give an enemy, known or unknown, a gift that can then be used against you, either do your grooming in private or clean up after yourself. Any other choice could end badly for you, in more ways than one.


5. Chewing Gum at Night

Surely, there can be nothing wrong, even in the nitpicky world of superstitions, with enjoying a stick of sugary sweet gum. There isn't, of course, unless you decide to indulge after the sun goes down. As is the case with most things that take place in the darkness, chewing gum in the twilight hours has a hidden meaning, and it's not at all pleasant.

If one chooses to chew gum during the day, the worst they can expect is eventual tooth decay. After dark, however, it is believed that the gooey gob of goodness takes on the properties of something not nearly as appetizing.

According to Turkish superstition, to chew the sticky substance after sundown, especially during special occasions, is akin to gnawing on human flesh. You read that right. Believe it or not, there are those who firmly believe that this innocent act transforms the gum chewer into an unwitting cannibal. It's gruesome and makes little sense, but there it is.

So, if you happen to be in Turkey and are invited to an after-hours celebration, stick with mints. To do otherwise, according to this grisly superstition, can turn even the most mild-mannered individual into a flesh eater.


6. Chain Letters

Chain letters, those unsolicited writings that promise good fortune to those who pass their message onto others, and bad luck to those who don't, have been making the rounds for as long as anyone can remember. In today's digital age, they reach more people than ever before, leaving those who are superstitious by nature with no choice other than to do as the letter directs or face the consequences.

Traditionally, chain letters prey on the recipient's fear of the unknown. In some instances, the correspondence is benign, promising spiritual rewards to those who send a specific number of copies to their friends and families. On other occasions, however, the original sender uses scare tactics in order to prevent the chain from being broken.

Some unscrupulous parties warn those they target that harm will come to their loved ones unless they follow the letter's instructions to the T. Even those who don't believe in such things will often give in and send off ten or twelve copies to their unsuspecting acquaintances rather than tempt fate.

People who send chain letters in hopes of financial gain will usually ask that money be included in the transaction. Back in the day, a person who received such a letter was advised to attach a dime to the duplicates before posting them. If everyone followed through with the request, the originator ended up with a tidy sum when the chain eventually came full circle.

Oftentimes, these letters include anecdotes of what happened to non-believers who tossed out or deleted the correspondence. These stories gleefully share details of the bad luck that befell these misguided souls prior to their lives ending tragically, often at the hands of an anonymous punisher. These cautionary tales remind recipients that the person would still be alive and well, had they only taken the time to forward the letters.

Most of us know that chain letters are simply words on a sheet of paper or computer screen that possess no special powers and should be taken with a grain of salt. Some, however, believe that their lives, and those of the people around them, hinge on perpetuating the chain. And, so the phenomenon continues, as it has done for centuries.


7. Friday the 13th

The number thirteen has long been considered unlucky. The idea is so ingrained in society that buildings seldom have thirteenth floors. It is also why Friday the 13th is thought to be a day when the veil that normally protects us from the eyes of evil is at its thinnest point. It is during this 24-hour period that we are believed to be at our most vulnerable.

The origins of the number thirteen's bad reputation are a bit sketchy. One theory is that it stems from a Norse legend in which twelve gods were invited to attend a dinner party. During the festivities, a thirteenth guest, the god Loki, showed up unexpectedly. Upon seeing his cohorts enjoying themselves without him, a confrontation ensued during which another god, Balder, was murdered. At the moment of his death, the mortal world was plunged into total darkness. It is thought that the chaos that resulted from the thirteenth guest's vengeful act left the number forever tainted.

Thirteen is seen by many as a bringer of bad luck due to its association with the crucifixion of Christ. This stems from the belief that thirteen apostles were present for The Last Supper. Christ was killed on the following day, which was a Friday.

During any given year, the thirteenth falls on a Friday at least once. If January 1st happens to be on a Sunday, then the unlucky date will appear three times on the calendar. When the day rolls around, those who believe that Friday the 13th and bad luck are synonymous often choose to interact as little as possible with the outside world until the clock strikes twelve and things return to normal. That is, until next time.


8. Walking Backward

Common sense tells us that walking backward is seldom a good idea. After all, if we can't see where we're going, any number of mishaps can occur. In the realm of superstitions, however, this careless act can result in something far more ominous than a simple fall.

Since walking backward goes against the norm, to do so is believed to attract the attention of evil spirits who may be lurking nearby. Sometimes, as in this instance, standing out from the crowd puts an individual on the radar of entities that dwell on the dark side.

So egregious is the act of walking backward that it is even rumored to capture the eye of the devil himself. Unfortunately, once he has set his sights on someone, there is no turning back, so to speak. The person who, for whatever reason, decided to go against the grain soon finds that they have unwittingly invited the devil to follow them home. As a result, the life they once knew comes to an end, replaced by misfortune, ill-health and eventual madness.

This horrifying outcome can be easily avoided by simply facing forward when walking, making what lies ahead clearly visible. When one can see where they're going, they are less like to stumble, both physically and spiritually speaking.


9. Doppelgangers

Superstition tells us that every person walking the earth has a twin that they are unaware of somewhere in the world. If we are lucky, we live our lives without ever encountering this mirror image of ourselves. Not everyone, however, is so fortunate.

Tales of these mysterious twins, known as doppelgangers, have been around since the 17th century. The word, which literally means "double-goer" in German, is defined as "a ghostly counterpart of a living person." The school of thought behind this phenomenon is that the duplicate is not another individual at all, but instead is their essence that has somehow managed to transcend the body and wander about independently.

To encounter one's doppelganger is believed to signal that death awaits on the horizon. In 1860, a man who would change history was said to have cast his eyes upon his astral twin, thus sealing his fate.

On the night he was first elected President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln decided to rest for a while on the settee in his bedroom. While lying down, he happened to catch a glimpse of his reflection in a floor-length mirror that was situated across the room. He knew instantly upon viewing the image that something was wrong.

On closer inspection, he saw that, although his body appeared normal, two distinct faces were reflected in the glass. One seemed perfectly normal while the other was ghostly pale, resembling that of a corpse. Over the course of the next few minutes, the frightening image faded from view. A few days later, the scenario repeated itself.

Intrigued by what he had seen, Lincoln related the story to his wife, Mary Todd. Familiar with the ominous nature of the doppelganger, she told her husband that she feared the deathly image was a sign that he would not live to see the end of his second term in office.

For the next five years, until the evening of his assassination, Lincoln lived with the knowledge that his days were numbered. He had been warned in advance by his own reflection.


10. Coffin Births

Before getting into the details of this one, be forewarned that it is not for the faint of heart. If you are at all squeamish, read no further.

In the days before embalming became a common practice, it wasn't unusual for bodies to moan, groan, shift or otherwise act out while awaiting burial. Even though these functions were perfectly normal aspects of decomposition, superstitions soon arose to explain the actions being performed by the physical forms of the recently deceased.

When an expectant mother died before giving birth, it was considered to be one of the worst tragedies that could befall a family, and rightly so. On rare occasions, however, things didn't end there. To the horror of those tasked with preparing the body for burial, depending on how far along the woman was in her pregnancy at the time of death, biology would sometimes take over.

As the process of decomposition set in, gases would build up in the mother's body, causing her to expel the fetus. This process is known in the medical community as postmortem fetal extrusion. Those of the superstitious ilk viewed it as something a bit more metaphysical.

They believed that a woman who passed with an unborn baby inside her would be denied entry into heaven. Unable to move forward or back, she would remain in limbo, never seeing or holding the infant she was doomed to carry for eternity. The logic behind this was that there was no place set aside in the afterlife for a single entity that harbored two souls.

Well aware of this, it was said that a woman who delivered a fetus postmortem, whether it be on her deathbed, in the mortuary, or even in the confines of her coffin, had done so in order to free both her soul and that of her child. Rather than being a physiological occurrence, this event was seen as a mother's desperate attempt to ensure that she and the life she helped create would be reunited in the hereafter.

While coffin births, as they are commonly known, are rare, they still occur to this day. Disturbing in every way, this is one superstition that is rooted in real events, gruesome though they may be.


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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.