Superstitions Revealed—Where Did They Come From?

Updated on February 9, 2017

Where Did These Superstitions Originate?

Lady Luck - fickle and never around when you most need her. Humans have tried to court her for thousands of years. In fact, it's quite possible that superstitions have been around since man began to walk on two feet. For some people, superstition rules their lives. They can't walk down the street without avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. Some people go home terrified after a black cat crosses their path. Hotels refuse to have a thirteenth floor or thirteenth room because people believe that the number thirteen is unlucky.

But where did these superstitions come from? Where did they first breathe life?

These are the questions we're going to explore in this lens. I'm not a superstitious person, but I know some who are. I also know people who are superstitious, but don't even know that they are. For example, my wife will throw salt over her shoulder if someone spills salt on the table. Yet if you were to ask her if she's superstitious (and I have) she would vehemently deny it.

People fascinate me. Why do they do the things they do? What scares them, what makes them cry or feel triumphant? People are an enigma. No two are alike, yet for some, superstition binds them in a web of fear.

Welcome to superstition revealed, where we'll explore the origins of certain superstitions. We will debunk them, and hopefully learn at the same time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.

The Definition of Superstition According to Wiki

Superstition is a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge. The word is often used pejoratively to refer to supposedly irrational beliefs of others, and its precise meaning is therefore subjective. It is commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy and spiritual beings, particularly the irrational belief that future events can be influenced or foretold by specific, unrelated behaviours or occurrences.

The Black Cat

The ability to see in the dark, the lightning quick reflexes and glowing eyes all lend weight to the superstition that black cats are unlucky. Cats will often freeze in place and look at a disturbance that is almost undetectable to us, which many people believe is evidence that the common housecat can see into the spirit realm. In fact, that belief has endured for over a thousand years. No other domestic animal is as mysterious, and thus the target of superstition, as the common cat.

Cats have the honour of being mentioned in several religions, and were even deified by the ancient Egyptians. The male cat was inextricably linked to the Egyptian god, Ra, and female cats with the god, Bastet. It was actually worse to kill a cat in ancient Egypt, than it was to kill a human being.

Besides ancient Egypt, the cat can be found in the ancient writings of Mohammed and Confucius. The Romans even took the cat under their wing, and identified felines with their god, Diana, also known as Hecate. This wasn’t a good moment for the cat as a race, since Hecate was said to take the form of a cat when she left the underworld to visit earth.

Later, after the fall of Rome, the cat was thought to be the symbol of Satan in Europe. This belief naturally carried over to witches, who were thought to need a familiar if their magical powers were to be effective. Of course, the witch was also thought to be able to take the physical form a black cat.

In short, the cat has been deified, Satanized, Demonized and domesticated. It’s really no shock that some of the folklore and beliefs from the past has leaked through to present day, making the cat one of the most feared, yet respected animals to walk the planet.

Friday the 13th: Black Friday

Is there any other day that is as synonymous with superstition and fear as Friday the 13th?

Not likely. The origins of Friday the 13th are extremely interesting, to say the least. It’s actually a combination of two different superstitions that form the basis of this one. We’ll take a look at both.

The first one is Friday. Friday is thought to be an unlucky day all by itself. Some people believe that Friday was the day that Adam and Eve took their first bite of the forbidden apple, while others believe that Jesus was crucified on Friday. Cain supposedly killed Abel on Friday, and hangings took place on Friday. In fact, in the United States, executions still take place on Friday! Friday has also been thought of to be the day in which witches and sorcerers worked their foul magic’s.

It’s no wonder that Friday is known to be an unlucky day, but when you team it up with the number 13, you really get a superstitious holiday of sorts.

The number 13 begins its unlucky venture in Norse Mythology. Loki was said to be the 13th guest at the same banquet that saw Loki trick Hoder into killing the god of peace and light, Balder.

In Christianity, the number 13 reappears, with Judas being the uninvited 13th guest at the last supper. Judas eventually leaves the banquet early and betrays Jesus, which led to his crucifixion.

Today, the number 13 is still thought to be unlucky. People even go so far as to avoid making doctor’s appointments on the 13th, and businesses try not to use the number whenever possible. When you add Friday to the number 13, you have Black Friday, the most unluckiest day of them all.

It's unlucky not to take this poll...honest

Are you superstitious?

See results

Don't Spill the Salt!

Salt is a preservative and it’s also known to be good for our wellbeing. Since salt is known to be a preservative and to fight decay, which is the providence of the devil, it’s no wonder that this spice became synonymous with good luck.

Spilling salt is said to be unlucky. However, if you do spill salt, the best way to ward of the effects of bad luck is to throw a pinch of salt over your left shoulder.

Why the left shoulder and not the right?

Our left side was thought by our ancestors to be our wicked side. It was said that evil lurked over your left shoulder, thus by throwing salt in that direction, you can dispel some of the ill effects of the spilled salt.

Have a Horseshoe up your Butt?

I've often wondered about this superstition. Why should a horseshoe be associated with luck?

After doing some research, I now know. In a second you're going to know too!

Apparently, iron is associated with strength. In fact, one superstition says that iron can ward off evil spirits. The shape of a horseshoe is also associated with luck because it's a half circle or 'U', which in many cultures is the shape associated with good fortune and fertility.

There's more.

The horse is also revered in many cultures, and if that wasn't enough, the horseshoe is usually attached to the hoof of a horse by seven nails. The number seven is said to be a lucky number in many societies and cultures. It's thought that the Greeks were the first people to attach the horseshoe to the hoof using seven nails.

All-in-all the horseshoe is a treasure trove of luck. With so many different superstitions attached to it, it's no wonder many people hang this lucky symbol on their doors.

Knock on Wood

Almost everyone is aware of this superstition. When things are going well in our lives, we often touch or knock on wood in the hopes that our luck will continue. The belief that things will eventually go wrong is an old one. Even in today’s modern society, many people believe that good luck is something to be wooed and not messed with.

The superstition that knocking on wood will ward against evil spirits goes back to the druids. In pagan times, wood was regarded as holy. After all, the gods created the wood, and so it must be holy, right? Later, Christianity reinforced this belief when Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross. After the crucifixion, many people took to wearing wooden crosses as necklaces, and would touch it for good luck or penitence.

Today, this belief stubbornly holds on, and very few of us haven’t done it at some point in their lives.

Snakes and Ladders

Walking beneath a ladder is bad luck, or so it's said. This superstition is usually associated with Christianity. When you prop a ladder against a building, tree or any other solid object, the ladder forms the shape of a triangle, which is associated with the Holy Trinity. When you walk beneath it, you break the perfection of the triangle, which is bad luck.

In ancient Egypt, the triangle was revered as a holy symbol, too. In fact, mini-ladders have been found in Egyptian tombs. Along with these beliefs, hangmen often hung people by propping a ladder against a tree. Afterward, people wouldn't walk beneath the ladder because they believed they might run into the deceased's unhappy spirit, which isn't good for your health no matter who you are.

Yes, the ladder superstition is a stubborn one, and has been around for centuries. Thankfully, we don't have to worry about the hangman ladder anymore!

Broken Mirror is Worth Seven Years of Bad Luck

This is another persistent yet popular superstition. Almost everyone has heard the belief that if you break a mirror you're going to get seven years of bad luck.

Out of all of the superstitions on this page, this is probably the oldest one. Ever since man could see themselves in the reflective surface of water, we have believed that our reflection is a part of us or our spirit self. It only makes sense that if we break that reflection, we also break a part of ourselves, which inevitably leads to bad luck.

Trouble is...those pesky mirrors are just so darned easy to break!

Superstition Revealed: Why is it Unlucky to Open an Umbrella Indoors?

You asked...I deliver!

Thanks to KonaGirl for leaving a request. This superstition was very surprising. I expected to find a convoluted reason behind the umbrella superstition, but it’s surprisingly simple. In fact, you could boil this superstition down to a safety hazard turned superstition.

When umbrellas first began using the spring mechanism that we take for granted today, they were very unpredictable. The person opening the umbrella never knew if the spring would work properly, and a lot of fingers were squished between the spring and the top of the umbrella frame.

On top of this, people were never sure how big the umbrella would be once unfurled. As a result, there were a lot of accidents within the house when the user opened the umbrella, only to realize too late that the umbrella was too big for the room.

When such a mishap occurred, people used to exclaim that the umbrella user was unlucky. After all, only someone who was extremely unlucky could smash living rooms or have their fingers pinched unmercifully by the spring mechanism.

Gradually, umbrellas became known as unlucky. Thus was born a new superstition!

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    • profile image

      tits face mcgee 3 years ago

      And then the farmer said. He's not an eggplant hes just retarded!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      what is the superstition and significance of "enter by your own free will" if i were to be asked this am thinking ..uh no, not if you have to ask doh

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      Very nice lens. I tried to ignore superstitions, especially the black cat one calling it silly but every time one crossed my path, crazy little things would happen for the next hour or so... so now I turn and go a different direction if I can... LOL!

    • raelcalu profile image

      raelcalu 5 years ago

      i grew up in a household believing in such things...i think it is synonymous to religion and one's culture...Filipinos are very superstitious people.

    • Rankography profile image

      Rankography 5 years ago

      I recently got my wings, so I am coming back by to bless your lens. Impressive work.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      just gonna say, where he says that diana is also known as hecate, that's wrong. diana is artemis, not hecate.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      I love the history of superstitions and old wives tales - there is often great sense behind them. Blessings.

    • dexter yarbroug1 profile image

      dexter yarbroug1 5 years ago

      Great lens. I learned a lot!

    • ronaldpakasi profile image

      ronaldpakasi 5 years ago

      I found it really interesting!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I found out about the lens in squid log nice to meet you Mike you had a great write up there and this was an interesting topic.

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 5 years ago

      Great topic for a lens and congratulations on LOTD. Well done!

    • BPCFE profile image

      BPCFE 5 years ago

      You have definitely answered some unanswered questions for me in life. Very well done lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      So is it okay to throw salt over both shoulders? Or is it bad luck to throw it over the wrong shoulder? Amazing how many superstitions exist and I never gave much thought as to why. Great Lens!

    • profile image

      Soulshine_Expressions 5 years ago

      A very interesting late night read! Congratulations on LOTD! :)

    • JenaleeMortensen profile image

      JenaleeMortensen 5 years ago

      Very interesting. Would you believe that last Friday on the 13th all three of our town's garbage trucks broke down? When people called asking why their garbage hadn't been picked up, I would answer with, "You know it's Friday the 13th. Would you believe all three of our garbage trucks are down?"

    • profile image

      DebMartin 5 years ago

      Interesting lens. It's a great topic. I'm curious about the "snake" part in Snakes and Ladders. I have a fear of snakes that I got from my father and he got from his. So I think it might have originated from a superstition at one time. I don't know why I'm afraid of them.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD!

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      as i was growing up i always heard that putting shoes on a table was bad luck. i always wondered where that came from.

    • armidabooks profile image

      armidabooks 5 years ago

      great lens, extremely useful info. well done

    • Deborah Swain profile image

      Deborah Swain 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      great lens! interestingly in italy, where i live, people "touch iron" (tocca ferro) instead of knocking on wood...

    • deckdesign profile image

      deckdesign 5 years ago

      Thanks for the explanations for all of these supersitions. Great work!

    • staymor profile image

      staymor 5 years ago

      Cool topic!

    • jimbarnes lm profile image

      jimbarnes lm 5 years ago

      very interesting

    • shellys-space profile image

      Shelly Sellers 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

      You did a great job! I just figured not walking beneath a ladder was smart :) It's interesting to see the history behind it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Speaking of Friday the 13th...today we had a fun family outing planned, but it was cancelled out of nowhere, and then when we were finding somewhere else to go, a tree fell and blocked the entrance about a minute or two before we drove up. Hmm....

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting, a fun lens.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Congratulations, I find out a couple of things I didn't know.

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 5 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! This was so much fun- I have always wondered about some of the superstitions, particularly the "knock on wood".

    • Merstarr profile image

      Merstarr 5 years ago

      Love the lens! If there is such thing as self fulfilled prophecy, then if you are superstitious, it is wise that you heed your superstitions, and if you are not, you will never worry about it. Either way, life happens, both as we expect it and as it surprises. I think any sane person, superstitious or not would have to agree with that!

    • BuddyBink profile image

      BuddyBink 5 years ago

      Some interesting explanations of long held beliefs. Still I believe we make our own luck.

    • profile image

      cleanyoucar 5 years ago

      Very interesting information here, don't believe in these superstitions but it's always a good read :D Congrats on the LOTD

    • profile image

      JZinoBodyArt 5 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! My family believes that dropping silverware means company is coming. Depending on whether it was a fork or a knife denotes the gender of the unexpected company. I haven't found it to be very accurate but every time a fork hits the ground, I think to myself, "Company is coming!"

    • facilitymainten profile image

      facilitymainten 5 years ago

      What about the part of the horseshoe staying right side up or in the shape of a U not upside down?

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Great lens. Interesting to see where these superstitions came from, even though I don't believe in any of them. Congrats on LOTD!

    • Sara Krentz profile image

      Sara Krentz 5 years ago from USA

      Very interesting. Congrats on LOTD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Elephants with their trunk down are bad luck so make sure any representations you have of the animal have a raised trunk. Also, you've got the horseshoe picture upside down. For good luck it has to go with the opening on the top so it holds the luck and it doesn't spill out. Very interesting article though.

    • Beadsnresin profile image

      Beadsnresin 5 years ago

      Great lens, very interesting.

    • profile image

      JennySui 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens. Congrats on LOTD!

    • JK Sterling profile image

      Jim Sterling 5 years ago from Franklin, Tennessee

      Weird stuff there. Thanks for a great lens.

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      This made very interesting reading and I really enjoyed it. Congrats on LOTD :-D

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Wonderful information and well researched, *Blessed* and featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen and also on Squidoo LOTD Lenses, Hugs

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      How did the superstition that getting pooped on by a bird or stepping in poop is good luck ?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Well this was just a lot of fun to read! Congrats on LOTD!

    • Carina99 profile image

      Carina99 5 years ago

      Great lens!

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 5 years ago

      Interesting! I actually believe quite a few of it. Sundae ;-)

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 5 years ago from UK

      Congratulations on LOTD! It is interesting to read the origins of these superstitions.

    • LadyCharlie profile image

      LadyCharlie 5 years ago

      Interesting reasonings for these superstitions. I always enjoy reading the how and why of things from the past. Blessed

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations on LOD. Fun lens. Blessed!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 5 years ago

      Fun lens on superstitions and their origins in human perception.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Awesome lens - and well-deserving of a LotD award! Blessed by a SquidAngel! :)

    • dynamicsandiegian profile image

      dynamicsandiegian 5 years ago

      Great lens. Nice to actually learn about where these superstitions started.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Congratulations on LotD, this is very well done. Blessed!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile image

      ChristyMarieKent 5 years ago

      Interesting stuff! I love lenses that teach me something.

    • jaredsgirl profile image

      jaredsgirl 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens! Super interesting and well constructed. Thanks for sharing and congrats on LOTD...you deserve it!

    • Scotties-Rock profile image

      Clairissa 5 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      Excellent lens, and very entertaining. I enjoyed reading it very much. Congratulations on your well deserved LOTD.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Awesome, thought provoking Lens and Congratulations on LotD!!

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! I am not superstitious, I love black cats, I walk under ladders, but I don't open umbrellas in the house. My grandfather was very superstitious about that and he would always stop us so I respect his concerns. Plus, if you open an umbrella in the house there is a good chance you'll hit something and I wouldn't want to do that. I find that acting out superstitions is just fun, not paranoid. Great lens.

    • LDWorld profile image

      LDWorld 5 years ago

      Fun lens :) COngrats on LOTD!!

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 5 years ago

      This is a fun lens, and quite appropriate for Friday the 13 LOTD. I don't think I'm terribly superstitious, however, when my luck is down while playing cards, I will walk around my chair...something I learned from my Grandmother....which will presumably change my luck. Unfortunately, my experience is that I get less lucky! Fun lens, congrats.

    • Auntiekatkat profile image

      Auntiekatkat 5 years ago

      Great lesn. Interestingly I live in Spain and it is Tuesday the 13th the Spaniards dread.

    • awestricken1 profile image

      Ken Parker 5 years ago from Tacoma, Wa

      I love Superstitions, great lens.

    • rich074 profile image

      rich074 5 years ago

      I enjoyed the history

    • dustytoes profile image

      dustytoes 5 years ago

      Very interesting page. It's Friday the 13th today, and even if bad things happen, I will not be blaming them on the date!

    • profile image

      entertainmentev 5 years ago

      Congratulations on lens of the day! How special for Friday the 13th ;)

    • sherridan profile image

      sherridan 5 years ago

      Fab lens - very interesting and great pictures.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 5 years ago

      Very interesting and I guess a lucky day for you! It's always been a lucky day for me overall. I often don't notice since I'm superstitious about very few things, if any. It does make for interesting reading.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 5 years ago from USA

      Congratulations, this lens was selected as Lens of the Day today! You can read all about it here: http://hq.squidoo.com/lotd/superstitions-revealed-...

    • profile image

      kosmicfashions 5 years ago

      Interesting post! And yes, I am noting now that your post was well-timed!!

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 5 years ago

      Agreed, great timing! :) Congrats on the LOTD, this was very neat to read!

    • profile image

      arunadavis 5 years ago

      A timely one to be awarded LOTD! I read your lens this morning after learning the new word for the day friggatriskaidekaphobia (i have a feeling this is the longest word i have typed ever!) Can't wait to share the word and the lens with my older one who loves everything spooky! And i am also one of those who is inherently superstitious but one who vehemently denies it if people were to ask me so! :-)

    • MikeMoore LM profile image
      Author

      MikeMoore LM 5 years ago

      Thanks to everyone who dropped into the lens. I totally didn't expect it to ever win lens of the day. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.

    • profile image

      RezaonHaider2020 5 years ago

      Outstanding completely outstanding lens. Many thanks for this. Keep it up.

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 5 years ago

      Great lens well done

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      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      A very enjoyable lens - congratulations on lens of the day.

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Interesting lens...I don't believe in superstitions, but I don't pick up pennies if they are not facing up. Actually, I leave the pennies for kids to find, no matter how they are laying. Blessed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Awesome lens. Congrats on your LOTD

    • yourselfempowered profile image

      Odille Rault 5 years ago from Gloucester

      What a fabulous lens! Really interesting, and beautifully written! I was told that horse shoes are lucky as long as they're positioned with their prongs up - that if they faced down as in your image here, it was unlucky because "the luck drains out". Not sure if that was just my grandmother makin' stuff up though lol. Congrats on LOTD - very well deserved. Blessed by a Squid Angel. :)

    • profile image

      Lindrus 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens! I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

    • wimble lm profile image

      wimble lm 5 years ago

      Interesting and Horrible!!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens! Congratulations on LOTD!

    • profile image

      sitesnstores81 5 years ago

      really good idea for lens! Website Design

    • profile image

      yeeinter 6 years ago

      Well thank you! It seems like Black Friday Super lens! thumbs up and Featuring it on my Black Friday lens, too! HAPPY SHOPPING!

    • Brookelorren LM profile image

      Brookelorren LM 7 years ago

      Interesting. Learned something new.

    • JanTUB profile image

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      Fun topic, Mike. 5* and a fave.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 8 years ago from New York

      Oops the code didn't take try again http://digg.com/odd_stuff/Superstitions_Revealed_W...

      Hopefully this one works. Sometimes I just don't hit the keys hard enough. LOL

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 8 years ago from New York

      Hey Mike - Thanks for the info, and so quick at that! Totally awesome. I did a little bit of bookmarking for you on Digg and Del.icio.us. You might what to go and Digg and vote on the submissions too. Here's the link for Digg:

      http://digg.com/odd_stuff/Superstitions_Revealed_W...

      Aloha,

      KonaGirl

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 8 years ago from New York

      Love this lens, Mike! I'll have to come back to find out about the umbrella! 5 stars for you. I have lensrolled you to my Haunted Hawaii lens (thank you for stopping by and commenting), added you to my faves and joined your fanclub. Shoot me an email when you get done with the unbrella research.

      Aloha,

      June

      Big Island of Hawaii

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 8 years ago from London, UK

      Nice lens. 5* from me

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 8 years ago from Croatia

      Good idea for a lens Mike! :) Thumbs up for you! Gotta say - Looking forward to next one! ;)