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Common Superstitions and Myths, Part 2

Updated on October 17, 2011

Information on the funny features of our culture, continued, and just in time for Halloween.

Black Cat
Black Cat

Black Cats

Black cats have been strongly associated with the supernatural for centuries, connoting both good and bad luck depending on the region. In the British Isles and Japan, black cats are a symbol of good luck and are said to bring prosperity to a home, and many sailors wanted black cats on their ships. However, if the black cat walked onto the ship and then walked off, it was a very bad omen- the ship was destined to sink on its next trip! The Egyptians also believed that black cats were lucky, particularly because they were linked to the cat goddess, Bastet.

However, in most of Western and Southern Europe, black cats are said to bring bad luck and used to be suspected of being familiars of witches and able to turn into humans. The first Pilgrims to arrive in Massachusetts would severely punish or even kill someone who was seen with a black cat, and people in Europe in the Middle Ages would often start huge massacres of black cats, burning them in big bonfires. Even today in the United States, black cats suffer from lower rates of adoption from shelters than other cats do!

An Omamori, a Japanese amulet used for protection.
An Omamori, a Japanese amulet used for protection.

Amulets and Talismans

Amulets and Talismans are found throughout the world as objects that offer the user special protection or powers. Many Middle Eastern people use a blue eye symbol as protection from the evil eye, and many Christians wear crucifixes around their necks. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all consider their religious texts holy and use them as protection, such as by sleeping with one under their pillow.

Many cultures give talismans of people with exaggerated reproductive organs to newlywed couples to promote fertility. It is also a common practice all over the world to give newly born babies a special bracelet or anklet as protection against evil, or to hang protective objects in their shop, home, or car.

Mirrors

Mirrors have long been associated with witchcraft and been attributed magic powers. It used to be said that a mirror was a reflection of the soul, and breaking a mirror will harm the soul until it regenerates 7 years later, bringing 7 years of bad luck. If you break a mirror and are superstitious, you must either grind the mirror up or bury it to counteract the negative effects.

Buddhists believe that hanging a circular mirror in the doorway will keep bad spirits from entering, and in many countries all mirrors in the house need to be covered after the death of a family member, because it is believed that if the ghost sees its own reflection, it will be trapped and unable to leave this world.

There have been many urban legends and horror stories about villains that inhabit mirrors, like that of Bloody Mary, and vampires are said not to have a reflection because they do not have a soul.

An image from ancient Greece of a woman holding a mirror.
An image from ancient Greece of a woman holding a mirror.

Knock on Wood

In many cultures across the world, knocking on wood or touching wood is a superstitious act that is done or simply stated in order to ensure that a good thing will keep happening after it is acknowledged. This is still widely practiced today, and originated because ancient people believed that trees contained benevolent spirits. When the tree died to be made into a house, furniture, or a tool, it was believed that the original spirit would leave it and that a malicious spirit could take its place. Tapping or hitting the wood was a way to discourage the bad spirits from taking up residence in the wood.

Table salt
Table salt

Salt

Salt was a rare and expensive commodity in ancient times, and many cultures see salt as purifying or imbued with magical powers. Spilling salt would incite negative feelings in others. Salt was incorporated into modern religions- the Catholic church uses salt to make Holy Water, and Judas is believed to have spilled salt at Jesus’ last supper. Today, many people still toss a pinch of salt over their left shoulder after it is spilled in order to counteract the bad luck. It is said that the Devil lurks to the back left side of the body, so it is helpful to throw the salt in his face.

Below there is an image of The Last Supper , by Leonardo da Vinci, who showed Judas as having just knocked over the salt container. He is the man with brown hair and a beard, sitting second from the right.

Details of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper
Details of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper

Comments

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    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      5 years ago from Miami, US

      Thank you, tehjib, I appreciate that you liked it!

    • tehjib profile image

      Kudrat-E-Khuda Barat 

      5 years ago from Bangladesh

      Interesting Hub and informative.

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      @Sannel- I am in the same situation! Intellectually, you know it is ridiculous, but you still feel like you're taking a risk by walking under a ladder. My grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Italy and is a very down-to-earth, intelligent, and modern lady, but she is so superstitious. She always tosses salt over her left shoulder.

      I prefer to believe that black cats are good luck, rather than bad luck. I think black is a beautiful color in an animal. Thanks for commenting and the votes!

    • SanneL profile image

      SanneL 

      6 years ago from Sweden

      Great hub and I found it so interesting to read about all the common superstitions. I don't believe in them, but I always prefer to walk around a ladder instead of underneath, since that is suppose to bring bad luck.

      I also have a black cat, however, by quoting homesteadbound, he is just warm, loving, and cuddly.

      Voted up and awesome!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      Hahaha, good answer!

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      stephaniedas - I don't consider her to be anything other than warm, loving, and cuddly. Sorry!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      @homesteadbound- So, do you think your black cat brings you good luck or bad luck? Something I forgot to mention in the hub: Women whose husbands were sailors used to keep black cats in the house as protection for their husbands at sea.

      @carriethompson- I did that too when I was a kid, in fact I still feel like I have to do it today when I say something good, even though I don't believe in it anymore. It it just habit.

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      hey that was such an intresting hub!! when i was a kid!! if we said something good about ourselves we used to immidiately go find a wooden table or smthing and say touch wood so that it dosent go wrong!! :))

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Another great hub about superstitions. That cat in the picture looks just like one of mine!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      Thanks, that was a great comment! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 

      6 years ago from Winnipeg

      Its funny how in this day and age with all we know, we still fall into superstitions, yours truly included. Its not that we believe in the stuff, but in the back of our minds we always wonder....Good stuff, really enjoyed this hub. Voted Up.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fascinating hub! I love a journey into the myths and superstitions of the world. I really enjoyed this hub, that has shown us a lot, through superstition, much about people and their culture!

      Voted up + awesome!

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      Thanks for commenting. I don't believe in them either, but I think its fascinating how they developed.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Interesting hub.Although I don't believe the superstitions, I think that there must be meanings behind these beliefs.

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