The Origin of Superstition

superstitionWe all know that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, and that knocking on wood stops bad things from happening, but have you ever wondered what the origin of those superstitions are? Superstitions are embedded in our behavioral patterns and not many people even question how they came to be. Of course, there are a lot of interesting stories about origins of popular superstitions, and it comes as no surprise they all hail from times long gone.

Walking under a ladder superstition

Walking under a ladder is believed to be unlucky. People usually just avoid walking underneath the ladders, but rarely question where this superstition originated from. The answer is macabre – In medieval times, hanging was one of the most popular choices for executions. Executioners that removed the corpse after a hanging had to approach with a ladder. This caused the people to avoid walking beneath the ladder because the attention of the executioner is not something they wanted to acquire.

The number seven

Seven is somewhat a magical number and appears in many superstitions. Breaking a mirror, for example, brings seven years of bad luck. What is very interesting about this particular superstition is that it originated before the invention of mirrors. Catopromancy is an old form of divination where bowls of water were used to predict the future, and any shakes on the surface of the bowl was viewed as bad fortune.

Since people can see their view on the surface of the water, they connected that with mirrors. What further solidified that belief is the fact that first mirrors were made with a silver coating, which were unbreakable. Naturally, when they were replaced with glass mirrors and they broke, the general population thought that to be bad luck. They were also so expensive that seven years of hard labor were needed to pay off the debt breaking one would create.

Knocking on wood superstition

Early pagans had many gods, and usually lived in a closer relationship with nature than we do now. Many of their deities were believed to live in the trees, and many of these deities were believed to create a protecting ward on those who they deemed favorable. Naturally, pagans of old wanted to get in favor with gods, and in order to do that they had to contact them. Since they lived in trees, knocking on wood became a way of contacting a preferred god, of letting it know that a bit of protecting magic could be helpful in a certain situation. That is why we believe knocking on wood brings good luck and fortune. This became even more prominent with Christianity and the wooden cross.

Opening an umbrella indoors

Umbrellas are common today, but it was always like that. In Victorian times only the highest classes of society could be seen walking around with an umbrella. Of course, umbrellas weren’t as practical then as they are today, and required pretty complicated mechanisms to open up. That mechanism was pretty clunky, so opening it indoors could present a real danger. That is why today we believe opening up an umbrella indoors means bad luck.

Black cats

Cats were believed to bring good luck in ancient Egypt. Yet today we believe a black cat crossing the road brings nothing but misfortune. Various cultures around the world will perform different rituals to protect themselves from the bad luck a black cat crossing the road might bring. This is because King Charles I spoke openly about his lack of luck after his cat died. He loved his pet and believed all hope was lost after it departed to the afterlife. The population heard the word “cat” and associated it with the lack of luck of their king, and subsequently started avoiding all contacts with cats.

Superstitions come from many different interesting stories such as these and some are super fascinating. People will always associate objects and actions that have to do with the unfortunate situations and avoid it all costs. This is basic human nature and will most likely always endure. It is always entertaining to find out the stories behind these customs and realize the events that transpired in order for them to become a part of reality. Stories are interesting to hear as they are a part of history and ultimately a part of what we are today.

What superstitions do you believe? Do you know where they came from?

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  • October 2, 2016
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