Are you superstitious or do you believe we make our own luck ?
We may live in a modern technological age, but many of us still cling to to superstitons that have been around for centuries.
I have always saluted magpies but have recently given up as I seem to see them everywhere I go and it was getting silly saluting constantly. I was nervous when I first stopped but I have to say it doesn't seem to have changed my luck at all (yet!)...
This got me thinking about other superstitions, why are some of us so hung up on them and how did they originate? It seems that some are specific to certain countries and some things can be associated with good and bad luck depending on where you live. I found several different accounts on some of their origins as well, they seem to mainly be suggestions and guesswork. I've made a list of some of the most popular superstitions. Where I've included more than one version you can choose which one you believe in.
Avoiding walking under ladders - I found two versions of the origins of this.
1. In medieval times ladders were leaned against gallows so that the corpses could be removed. People developed a fear of walking under the ladder believing it could bring about their own death by hanging.
2. Thought to originate from ancient Egypt. Egyptians believe in the power of pyramids, a ladder leaning against a wall formed a triangle which symbolized a pyramid. Walking under the ladder would break the power of the pyramid and bring bad luck.
Breaking mirrors - In Roman times it was believed your reflection represented your soul. If a mirror was broken your soul would break too bringing bad luck. The Romans believed people's health changed in 7 year cycles so breaking a mirror would bring 7 years bad luck. I also read that in the 18th century mirrors were very expensive and servents were told it was bad luck to break them to make them more careful when cleaning them.
Saluting magpies - There are many tales and rhymes about magpies. They usually mate for life so seeing one alone was a sign of sorrow. It is also probably something to do with their mischievious nature, they are often called 'thieving magpies' as they are known to be drawn to shiny objects like jewellery and coins. They also raid the nests of other birds eating their babies and eggs. In Yorkshire magpies are associated with witchcraft and it is custom to make the sign of the cross if you see one. In some parts of the country they are thought to carry a drop of the devil's blood on their tongues. In another tale they were thought to be the only bird who didn't sing or comfort Jesus on the cross.
Friday the 13th - Fear of Friday 13th is called - paraskevidekatriaphobia. Some believe the number 13 is unlucky as Judus was the 13th person to be seated at the last supper. It seems to be unlucky in many different countries. Another suggested origin is it was the date King Philip lV of France arrested hundreds of Knights Templar. People in the middle ages believed that witches covens consisted of 13 witches.
Putting shoes on a table - When miners in the North of England died their shoes were put on the table as a mark of respect. Therefore putting shoes on a table was seen as tempting fate.
Opening umberellas indoors - This started in the 18th century when umberellas were large and had big metal spikes on, they were difficult to open and if opened indoors could injure someone or break something.
Black cats - Seeing a black cat is lucky or unlucky, depending on what country you live in. Some believe the black cat is a demon in disguise. They are also thought of as witches familiars and their association with Ancient Egypt adds to the distrust of the black cat in some Christian cultures. In Scotland and Japan though they are seen as omens of good luck.
There are many more superstitions that I haven't got room for here. I think they have probably grown out of peoples desire to find some influence on the unpredictability of their lives.
Dr Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire has researched superstitions and believes that some people actually want to blame their bad luck on superstitions because it helps them to avoid taking responsibility for their own failings. It's easier to say "I failed that exam because I saw a magpie" than to admit you didn't study hard enough for it...
Priestess of the Oak & Ash