The History Behind Popular Superstitions

The History Behind Popular Superstitions

The History Behind Popular SuperstitionsSuperstitions have long fascinated people, but we often don’t understand the history behind the tales.  Whether you practice all, some or none of the following practices its fun to learn their origin stories.

Why We Knock on Wood

The earliest record of people saying this phrase comes from 19th century England.  However, the practice of “touching” or “knocking on” wood has ancient origins.  In Celtic lore, trees housed gods and spirits.  Knocking on the wood may have been a way of scaring away evil spirits, and touching may have been a way to gratitude to the good deities.  In Christian traditions wood, especially from the Cross is sacred.  A more secular theory involves historic children’s games where knocking on or touching wood made players safe from losing the contest.

Why We Throw Salt Over Our Shoulder

In many European traditions when you spill salt you are told to toss some over your left shoulder.  One theory of was this practice came to be, arises from the fact salt, historically, was extremely pricey.  Ancient Christians often thought spillage was a sign of a dark force at work, by tossing a little bit over the left shoulder would blind the devil (who was thought to reside on the left shoulder) to prevent further interference.  In Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper a savvy observer will noticed that Judas has spilled salt, this a way da Vinci is able to reflect his lying, betrayal and evil intentions towards Jesus.

Why We Say “Bless You” When People Sneeze

This practice has three main origins.  In ancient times, people believed that a sneeze created a gateway for an evil spirit to enter a body.  By “blessing” the sneezer, they could receive divine protection from the evil force.  Later on, this practice evolved because people falsely believed that when someone sneezed, their heart would briefly stop.  Finally, in the Middle Ages, legend states Pope Gregory I decreed people must state “God bless you” immediate after a sneeze to protect against the effects of the Black Plague.

Why We’re Scared of Breaking Mirrors

It’s a common superstition that if someone breaks a mirror, they will have seven years of bad luck.  As early as ancient Greece, people believed that since like still water, mirrors showed our reflections, they were intrinsically tied to our souls.  Upon breaking, both the mirror and soul would become shattered.  Some fables believed broken souls were unable to protect its body from harm, while others believed the fractured soul sought revenge on its physical self.

Why We Don’t Walk Under Ladders

The story behind this superstition dates back to ancient Egypt.  This culture found the triangle to be a sacred symbol, and passing through a triangle shape, like an open ladder was forbidden.  Later on, Christian adopted this belief.  It required the use of a ladder to affix Christ to the cross, and so ladder became unlucky symbols, causing misfortune to anyone who walked beneath one.

Why We Don’t Open Umbrellas Indoors

Dating back to the 1700, umbrella upon their invention were heavy and cumbersome to open.  Due to the complex system of springs and pointy metal rods built into the device, a faulty opening could cause someone incredible harm, especially when indoors.  Also, ancient cultures had proto umbrella referred to as parasols, for royalty to protect themselves from the sun.  Therefore, there may be a connection for a faux pas to occur when a commoner uses an item associated with royalty.

Why We Think the Number 13 Is Unlucky

The fear surrounding the number 13 dates back to the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Mesopotamia, where the 13th law was inadvertently omitted.  Some cultures chose to interpreted this gaffe as a reason to avoid the number 13.  Secondly, both the Nordic trickster deity Loki, and the villainous Christian figure Judas, were the 13th guest to their monumental parties in their culture’s history.  It is also important to note that the previous number, 12, has been widely revered throughout history which may have led to people feeling non plus about the number 13.

Why We Hunt for Four-Leaf Clovers

Firstly, some people value the trilled of the chase and the satisfaction when they stumble upon this rare find.  In fact, it is estimated the odds of finding a four-leaf clover is 1 in 10,000.  But the origins are more historic than this.  The ancient Celts carried four-leaf clovers to keep evil spirits away.  During the Middle Ages, people believed these charms could help them locate, and thus avoid, mischievous fairies.

Why We Hang up Horseshoes

Once again, our friends the Celts are responsible for this tradition.  They would hang horseshoes over their doors to fend off ill-behaved beings like goblins, fairies and elves, due to the fact the crescent moons shape of the item was believe to deter supernatural beings.

Today, people have preferences on how to hang the horseshoes.  One camp believes that hanging them with ends turned up keeps the luck inside protected and not scattered where it could get lost.  The other camp feels hanging it ends-down spills the luck onto anyone crossing the threshold of the door.

Why We Wish on Shooting Stars

Although modern people know “shooting stars” are really meteors burning up as they enter the atmosphere, many are still prone to making a wish.  Ptolemy, an ancient Greek astrologer stated shooting stars were signs the gods were spying on the Earth below.  Therefore, when a person saw a shooting star, making a wish could serve as a direct appeal to the gods above.  Finally, certain central European civilization felt there was star for every person.  Seeing a shooting star was a signal of death and one would wish a fond farewell for the soul with a simple blessing like “Go with God.”