10 Superstitions and Their Meanings
The Writing on the Wall
Superstition is defined as: "A belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic."
Perhaps, superstitions are simply born of our fears that we can't readily explain. The following are a few examples of these old wives' tales—several of which were ingrained in me from a very young age.
Whether one believes that there is a morsel of truth in every superstition, or that they are all complete poppycock, is up to the individual. I, for one, hover somewhere in the grey area that exists between the two.
1. The Black Cat
It has long been thought that to have a black cat cross one's path signals danger ahead. The history of this particular hue of feline is filled with horrifying examples of bad luck—the vast majority of which fell upon the cat.
Black cats, throughout the ages, have symbolized the darker nature of humanity. Often seen as a companion of witches and practitioners of the occult, they were vilified and subjected to mass extermination.
Fortunately, the black cat has had its champions over the years, which has allowed it to survive and flourish in spite of its unfortunate reputation. Even so, there are still those who will go out of their way to avoid crossing paths with one lest they be pulled into the darkness by the lure of the mysterious feline. Old superstitions die hard and centuries of being associated with misfortune are not easily forgotten.
2. Bread and Butter
This is a cautionary notion that my mother still references anytime we are out together. According to her, two people walking side-by-side should not be separated by any object in their path. To allow such a thing to occur will soon lead to their being parted on a more permanent basis.
For example, if a couple is walking hand in hand on the street and a lamp post or sign is up ahead; one of them has to say "bread and butter" as they unlock hands to make way for the obstacle. This ritual insures that the two of them, although briefly parted, will remain bound together as a duo.
It isn't difficult to understand the logic behind this. Bread and butter are two things that are considered a natural pairing. By saying "bread and butter," a couple who belong together are letting any negative force that might be hovering nearby know that their parting is only temporary. This applies not only to lovers, but also parents and their children.
The exclamation of "bread and butter" can also be used in groups as long as they can be broken up in an even number. It might sound silly, but it gives comfort to those who wish to let the universe know that nothing will keep them parted from those they love.
3. Out of Sight
Another superstition that I have heard my whole life is that it is bad luck to watch someone leave until they are completely out sight. To do so signifies that they are walking out of your life for good; never to return.
My mother, to this day, will go to the window and wave to as we are leaving, but will then retreat to her chair before we drive away. Since this acorn didn't fall far from the superstitious tree, I find myself turning my back before anyone I care about is out of my line of vision. Better to be safe than sorry.
4. White Animals
To encounter a white animal, especially one that is out of place in its surroundings, is considered an omen of bad things yet to come. Normally, when a white animal would appear out of nowhere, our family would brace itself for tragedy.
The first time I remember hearing this particular superstition was when we were watching a flock of blackbirds that had decided to light in our front yard. I recall my mother's reaction when a flash of white feathers suddenly became visible in the otherwise black horde; her face turned almost as pale as the ghostly bird.
Even as a child, I assumed that the white bird was an albino. My mother, on the other hand, immediately prepared herself for bad news. Such a sight was extremely rare and the bird was glaringly out of place.
No horrifying deaths occurred as a result of the bird's appearance, but our family did experience a minor mishap in the days immediately following its visit. It began when my father decided to go hunting alone one morning; something he rarely ever did. We only started to worry when the sun went down and no one had heard from him.
Later in the evening, he came hobbling in the door. It turned out that, while deep in the woods, he had fallen and broken his leg. With no means of rescue, he used his gun as a crutch as he made the seemingly endless journey back to his truck. It had taken him nearly nine hours to accomplish this task.
Of course, the white bird appearing in our yard and my father's accident in the woods were purely coincidental, but you will never get my mother to believe that the unusual visitor wasn't sent by a higher power to warn of impending danger.
5. Unexplained Noises
One of the most prominent fears that was instilled in us was that of mysterious noises. A loud bang that seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere was the one that we learned to dread the most.
I don't know if this is typical in all households, but every once in a while we would hear something that sounded like an extremely heavy object hitting the side of our house.
Upon inspection, there would be no damage to be seen nor would there be anything lying around that didn't belong there. Still, we would all hear the bang even though none of us could say from where it originated.
Again, my mother took this as an omen. She would be on pins and needles for days afterwards; fearing the worst. According to her, something bad usually happened within three days of such an event. This theory had been passed down from generation to generation.
It was never fully explained, but I gathered that the loud whack was considered to be something trying to break through from the other side with a warning to tread lightly or face the consequences.
These disturbances were rare, but when they occurred they brought our household to a standstill. Usually, three days went by and the incident was forgotten. Once in a while, there would be an unpleasant episode that would bring the matter to a close.
One time it was our cat being killed by a car the day after we heard the bang that fulfilled the warning. My mother commented that she hated what happened to our pet, but she was glad that it was over so she could stop worrying.
I haven't heard the sound that used to rock our family home to its foundation since moving out on my own years ago. Perhaps my mother was the catalyst since she had experienced the bizarre phenomena in various places since childhood.
Whether an unexpected sound that seems to come out of nowhere is a heads up from the other side that danger is imminent or a completely benign occurrence is up for interpretation. In my family home it was the former, without a shadow of doubt.
6. Stepping on a Grave
It is a long-held belief that one must use caution while visiting the sacred grounds of a cemetery. For many, to place your feet upon the grave of one who is at eternal rest is an act of disrespect that will be followed swiftly by a spate of bad luck.
I can remember, as a child, my mother grabbing me and pulling me away from my uncle's burial site when I walked on the mound of dirt under which he lay. I went on to receive a stern lecture from, not only her, but my aunts as well. Apparently, I had inadvertently opened the whole family up to unseen evil doers that dwell among the headstones. Who knew?
To say that I was scarred by the experience is an understatement. Although nothing horrible happened as a result of my having trodden on hallowed ground; the whole ordeal was upsetting to an impressionable child.
Graves are a point of contention for various people. In an interview with talk show host Mike Douglas in the 1970s, actor George Raft illustrated how deeply some people are affected by even the mere mention of the word.
Raft was famous for his portrayals of gangsters and other tough guys in films of the 1930s and 40s. During his sit-down with Douglas, the interviewer asked the burly actor if anything frightened him. Raft replied that he had a paralyzing fear of graves. To even utter the word shook him to his core. He wasn't kidding. George Raft, screen bad guy, became so emotional during the conversation that he had to wipe tears from his eyes as he spoke.
There are also those who believe that if one experiences a sudden shiver it means that an animal, usually a goose, has walked over the spot where they will one day be interred.
Whether one regards cemeteries with ambivalence or fear; the aforementioned shudder can be an unsettling reminder that nothing lasts forever.
7. The Falling Picture
To have a framed photo of a loved one fall off of the wall is considered, by the more superstitious among us, as a sign that misfortune will befall at least one of the parties whose image appears behind the glass.
Likewise, to have a frame that is sitting on a flat surface suddenly topple forward is an ominous warning to whoever was in the photo. If the glass portion of the frame cracks, you'd better watch out. This is usually thought to mean that an end to something is on the horizon.
If a couple is depicted in the photo, then an uncoupling is imminent. If just one person is in the picture, their days could be numbered. A group photo is a wild card. It is possible that bad luck will settle on only one of the people represented in the still, but not a certainty. In this instance, those who believe in such things are forced to wait with bated breath to find out who among them will be touched by the fickle hand of fate.
8. Rocking an Empty Chair
To mindlessly rock a chair that is empty is believed, by some, to bring devastating consequences to the person who normally occupies the space. The practice is akin to proclaiming that they are no longer present in body, but exist only in spirit. If, however, the chair is usually up for grabs, then the person who rocked it while it was vacant will be the likely victim.
As with many superstitions, this one plays into the fear that something we cannot begin to understand is always lying in wait for the opportunity to sever life's tenuous thread. All it needs in order to claim a soul is for someone to open a door and allow it to enter the world of the living. Rocking an empty chair is the invitation it craves.
There is a way to head off doom, but the guilty party must act quickly. To counteract the curse, they need to plant themselves in the chair and loudly recite a prayer in the name of the person whom they have placed in jeopardy. If done correctly, this will ward off any soul collectors who might have been called forth.
Only the person who rocked the chair in the first place can reverse the process that they have set in motion. The safest means of avoiding such an ordeal is to simply be mindful of where one lays their hands. If a chair is meant to rock; be sure that someone is sitting in it while it is in motion.
9. Buying a Wrecked Car
It is truly a blessing when a person survives an automobile accident. They go on about their lives, thankful for every day and all is well. However, when a car that has been wrecked is deemed roadworthy once again, it can carry with it a stigma that is not easily erased.
As superstition has it, a vehicle that has been mangled in a road mishap has been marked by fate. Something, somewhere, tried and failed to put it out of commission. The owner of such an auto is advised that it will only be a matter of time before another crash finishes the job.
Surprisingly, this is one of the few notions that my family did not adhere to. I have heard it many times over the years, but not from them. One source was an elderly gentleman who used to do minor repairs on my car out of his garage. His name was Charlie.
Years ago, I purchased a used car from a dealership and took it to Charlie for a quick inspection. I knew nothing of the car's history when I drove it into Charlie's garage.
The old man took one look at the car and shook his head. He told me that it was no good. He knew right off the bat that it had been wrecked at some point. I assumed that he meant that it wasn't mechanically sound, but that hadn't been his first concern.
Charlie was normally a man of few words, but he gave me an earful that day. He told me that he didn't see anything wrong with the car, per say, but that I should trade it in for something else all the same. He wiped sweat from his face the whole time as he warned to get rid of the car.
I listened to what he had to say; even though it made little sense. I paid him and went on my way; not giving his words another thought. Less than two weeks later, I was rear-ended and the car was considered a total loss. As a result of the accident, I suffered whiplash that left me with excruciating headaches for years to come.
Perhaps Charlie's warning and the subsequent collision were merely coincidences. Whatever the case, I have always wondered if Charlie knew a little bit more about cars than what could be seen under the hood.
10. The Candle Flame
The lighting of candles is a common practice that is utilized during times of mourning, prayer, meditation and relaxation. On the opposite side of the spectrum, candles also play a role in many rituals of a darker nature.
There are several superstitions related to candles and, more specifically, their flames. It is said that if a candle's flame suddenly changes from its normal hue to a deep blue, then an uninvited guest has entered the room. Usually, this signifies the presence of something from the spirit world.
A flame that seems to elongate and reach for the ceiling is also a sign that an otherworldly being is present. If attempts to blow out a candle fail repeatedly, this means that something from the other side is trying to make contact. The spirit will attempt to thwart any efforts to extinguish the flame, since doing so would sever their only means of communication.
A candle that continues to smoke long after the flame has been smothered is also representative of a lingering manifestation. It seems that just as candles bring solace to the living, they do the same for those who reside in the land of shadows.
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.