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Superstitions, Old Wives Tales, and Tradition

Updated on October 10, 2017
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise homeschooled her 4 children and has stories. She provided art lessons for many children in the homeschool community for many years.

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Do you believe?

Over the years I have heard several superstitions, most of which are laughable. I was raised that superstition was nonsense, old wives tales, and hogwash. Yet at the same time my mother taught me to say “Bless You” when sneezing, not walk under ladders, and throw salt over my shoulder. I came to think that these were traditions and not really superstitions.

I have a feeling most people follow some tradition or another, passed down through the generations without much thought. We just do as we are told. Don’t run with scissors… pretty good words to live by since you could lose an eye if you tripped. So why did I bother wearing something old and new and borrowed and blue at my wedding? Why was it important not to see the groom on my wedding day? I didn’t know or care at the time. Tradition. I just did it.

Ladders, umbrellas, black cats, spilled salt, horse shoes, shooting stars, four-leaf clovers, coins in a fountain… the list goes on and on. Here are a few of the many superstitions I have heard and read about over the years. Have you heard of these too?

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Hair Brush

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Hair? Really?

Don’t pull hair out of your brush and just throw it into the trash. Birds could get it and make nests with it, which will give you migraines… which could be bad luck.

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Scissors

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Sharp Gifts

Don’t give something sharp (knives, scissors, pins) as a gift because it will sever your relationship.

Years ago my first husband was so into superstitions that he wouldn’t allow me to buy presents and gifts for my own family before checking with his mother to see if there was something wrong with it. I didn’t say much about it at the time because I didn’t like to rock the boat but I did think it was crazy when I wasn’t allowed to buy my brother a pocket knife because it was sharp and could sever my relationship with my brother.

Years later when the marriage was nearing the end, my good friend gave me a Christmas ornament as a gift. It was one of those Styrofoam balls covered with beads stuck in with pins. I accepted the gift graciously but later that day when my husband saw it, he was mad that I would accept a sharp gift. I figured he shouldn’t care if my relationship with a lady he didn’t like was in jeopardy and I refused to return my gift. It was only a few months later that I packed up and left him. He was mean and abusive and had been beating me regularly for 4 years. Instead of taking responsibility for his own shortcomings, he blamed the breakup on my friend who had given me a Christmas ornament filled with pins. She called me and told me he had stormed up to her house, threw the ornament at her and told her it was all her fault for my leaving. I still find that amusing.

Shipwreck

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Boat Christening

Christening a boat with Champaign is good luck but if the ritual doesn’t go as planned (the bottle doesn’t break) the boat is cursed.

Sidewalk Cracks

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Break your mother's back

Step on a crack and you break your mother’s back. Originally born from racism and was “step on a crack and turn your mother black.”

Actually, I tried this one day. My mother had yelled at me for some silliness I had done before school that day. At school I stomped on every crack I could see to get back at her. By lunch I became scared and was literally afraid to go home and see if my mother’s back was broken. I remember praying for her healing all the way home and never stepped purposely on cracks again. You can imagine her confused look when I asked about her health and whether or not she had a back ache.

Pick it up

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Penny or pin?

See a penny, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck. This used to be “see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck.” This was because pins were expensive to make and easy to lose, I’m sure.

Sneeze

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God Bless You

A gesture of wishing good health after sneezing: “God Bless You,” “Gesundheit,” or just “Bless You” were born of the thought that a sneeze was the devil or even your own spirit leaving your body. Believed to have dated back to the days of Bubonic Plague epidemic, because a sneeze was an early sign of the disease, a blessing was meant to ward it off.

My current honey is so against superstitions that he won’t let me “bless” him when he sneezes. It was quite a hard habit to break not to say “Bless You” after a sneeze but I finally managed. I don’t bless him at all anymore. Hmmm. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

Superstitions

Superstitions or Traditions

Do you believe in superstitions or believe they are only traditions?

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Money coming

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Itchy palms

Itchy palms mean you were coming into money and if you close your hand you will be able to keep it. I can’t say I ever got rich following this rule. And I have had plenty of itchy palms.

Clover

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Four-leaf Clover

Four-leaf clovers are considered good luck because supposedly Eve brought one out of the Garden of Eden with her as a souvenir of paradise. Probably it has more to do with the idea that the ancient Celts attributed magical power to four-leaf clovers. How many hours did I waste sitting among the clover looking for one with four leaves? I’d rather not say.

I think it’s rather like worrying or rocking in a rocking chair. It doesn’t get you anywhere but it’s something to do.

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Friggatriskaidekaphobia

Friday has always had some unlucky connotations attributed to it because Jesus was crucified on a Friday and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales mention it as an unlucky day. The 13th got bad press for simply following 12 because twelve is supposed to be advantageous as in Twelve Apostles, twelve months in a year, twelve zodiac signs, etc. Fear of Friday the 13th is called Friggatriskaidekaphobia and if you can say that you probably shouldn’t fear it.

I don’t remember anything particularly bad happening to me on a Friday the 13th and I don’t watch those movies… I have a hard enough time with my own nightmares, I really don’t need someone elses, thank you.

Don't cry over spilt salt

Salt

If you spill salt, throw it over your left shoulder in order to blind or distract the devil, who is supposedly lurking over your shoulder. Isn’t that kind of creepy?

Used to be that salt was a commodity and somewhat hard to come by. It was traded like currency and so was valuable… more than it is today. So throwing some over you shoulder to blind the devil was extravagant waste, but then so was spilling it.

Shooting Star

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Make a wish

Shooting stars are considered good luck to grant wishes because back in the 1st century, Ptolemy theorized that shooting stars happened when the gods peered down upon the Earth, and since you had their attention it was the perfect time to ask a favor or wish. I still make wishes on shooting stars or meteorites... perhaps I should grow up... but I'm having too much fun.

Actors

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Opposite World

Saying “Break a leg” to actors instead of good luck is apparently an American origin that dates back to the 1920s when actors thought wishing them good luck was bad luck. It seems thespians believe in opposite world.

Blow

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Dandelion Puff

Making a wish and blowing on a dandelion puff is supposed to ward of diseases caused by fairies, although I have no idea what diseases those are.

Cross your fingers

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Crosses

The early Christians popularized crossing your fingers because they associated it with the Cross, and that’s good luck. Although, telling a lie with your fingers crossed is supposed to keep you from getting into trouble for telling a lie. Not sure how that logic happened.

Bride

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Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

A bride needing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue dates back to an 1898 English rhyme which adds you have to put a sixpence in your shoe (seems like that would make it hard to walk down the aisle), all for good luck.

Unlucky

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Wedding Day

The bride should never see the groom on the wedding day before the ceremony because it was thought seeing him would give her cold feet. However I always heard that it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride, not the other way around. When did we mix that up?

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The Ring

Dropping the ring during the wedding ceremony is supposedly a bad omen and whoever drops it will probably die first. No idea where this superstition originated but it is depressing. My brother-in-law’s brother and best man fainted during my sister’s wedding ceremony; who is that bad luck for?

Carried

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Tripping

Carrying a bride over the threshold came about because a bride tripping on the threshold was considered bad luck for the marriage, so the broom avoided that by carrying her over. Now if the groom trips, that would be bad for both, I’m thinking.

No staring

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Pregnant

My grandmother used to say that a pregnant woman should never stare too long at anything or anyone because that would “mark” her baby. This was probably some ancient sad attempt to explain birthmarks or birth defects.

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Get up

Getting out of a bed on the same side you got in is good, but misfortune follows those who get out of bed on the wrong side (or the side they didn’t get into bed on).

Robin

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The Birds

A bird flying into a house through an open window is a bad omen. The saying goes that a robin flying into a room will be followed by death. I don’t know. I’ve had a few birds fly into my house before and even a bat or two and didn’t experience any deaths in the family for decades afterward. How long after a bird flies into the house do you blame a death on it? Is that a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds? Maybe that’s where he got the concept idea… Creepy!

Old Broom

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New Broom

Never take a broom with you when you move. Always throw it away and get a new broom for a new home. Actually it was probably time for a new broom anyway!

The List

The list could go on and on. These are only a few that I found interesting and some I even followed thinking they were only traditions and not superstitions. Still it’s hard to know the difference. I hope you enjoyed the trip down history lane with me.

Leave Superstitious comments here

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      lyoness913,

      Wow, I never heard the singing at the supper table one before. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lyoness913 profile image

      Wendi Pembridge Skilling 2 years ago from Overland Park, KS

      Voted awesome because it is! My mother still believes in all of these superstitions, but she goes one step beyond the salt over the shoulder- it has to be the LEFT shoulder or it doesn't count. LOL

      Also, singing at the supper table means someone will cry before the end of the night.

      Excellent hub!

      Wendi

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      FlourishAnyway,

      That's interesting, it is an old wives tale then, I guess. Thanks for commenting. It was interesting doing the research for this too. There were many I hadn't heard of too.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I enjoyed this. There were some I hadn't heard, but I am frequently reminded of others. The one about talking about someone while pregnant will mark your baby (a variation of what you reference) is a family joke with us as my daughter is so much like my MIL in many ways.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      rebeccamealey,

      I'm sure that there are a lot and a lot of people who didn't even know they were superstitions.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Dolores Monet,

      How fascinating! I never heard of those. But then I'm mostly a Scott and a lot of other things... My grandmother on my father's side used to swear that jelly would not jell if you make it while on your monthly cycle. I always thought that was just a superstition to help her not have to do long standing chores on those cycle days. And why not?

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Paul Kuehn,

      Thanks Paul. Me too. I'm not a superstitious person but many of the things I have followed or done over the years I didn't even know were superstitious, like knocking on wood, and crossing my fingers. Thanks for the comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Lawrence,

      Thanks for that tidbit of history. I didn't know that but it makes sense.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I can actually remember believing in a few of these, and I'll bet we would be surprised at the number of people who still do. Interesting Hub!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I wish I could recall the old superstitions of my Irish relatives. They had a lot of food mixtures that I can't remember anymore. Like don't eat pears while drinking ice water. Most of them made no sense but I wish I did remember them. Fun read!

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I found this hub very interesting and informative. Although I am not a superstitious person, I still unconsciously follow such customs as crossing my fingers for good luck and not walking under ladders to avoid bad luck. Voted up as interesting and sharing with HP followers.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Mum and Dad were quite superstitious (so is my older sister) when I was growing up. It drove me nuts at times but some of the things I found did make sense

      Ladders were used by lynch mobs and if you walked under one they were lynching someone on well guess who got it next. Very unlucky I'd say!

      Loved this hub though I don't follow the superstition

      Lawrence

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Yes prayer is very powerful , but there are dangers that we can open ourself to and we do have take precautions , like driving, we drive safe , but a good drive has to drive in defense of one who may be careless toward you.

      The same with the safty of our spiritual life. We have God's protection but we work with it on our side of the road.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      AliciaC,

      Thank you for your concern. It was a long time ago and I have found that I have a message for young people who fall into abusive relationships because I was there once and I got out. You know they say that once you marry an abusive man, that you will keep marrying that same "type" over and over. Hogwash! That cycle can be broken and not one should have to put up with abuse and beatings. Not in this country and they shouldn't have to in any other too.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for an interesting and entertaining hub, Denise! I'm sorry about the abuse that you suffered.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kiss and Tales,

      I'm not sure I believe in voodoo either so I wouldn't believe they can hurt me with hair or anything else unless I let them. But that's just me. I have prayer and the power of scripture to stand on.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      social thoughts,

      It isn't easy to break long-standing habits like that. But I so understand what you are saying. I don't like appearing rude either. I feel like not "blessing" my husband is some kind of curse instead. Where do we come up with such ideas?

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Rachel L Alba,

      My friend, you have an analytical mind and the logic just doesn't work with superstitions. Funny.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Larry Rankin,

      Do you get a kick out of them because they are funny to you or you making fun of anyone who believes in them? Of course, some are laughable!

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Well I truly do not believe in superstitions , I am not in the dark of what people can do and use with the spirit realm , for your safty Road Monkey do not put your personal hair or anyone's outside, people that practice voodoo doo, black magic use it to hurt you.

      If they do not like you.

      That is another story of a different kind.

      That is why God speaks against it , works of evil.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      RoadMonkey,

      Okay, I don't believe in superstitions either but I have never tempted fate by deliberately putting hair out for the birds. My poor grandmother would turn over in her grave... haha.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • social thoughts profile image

      social thoughts 2 years ago from New Jersey

      I bet this was a fun article to write! You did so well with it! I share your experience with trying to break the "bless you" habit. I had already tried not to say it to my atheist friends, for obvious reasons, but when I don't say it to co-workers and family, I worry about coming across as rude. If only everyone knew why we started saying it!

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      For some reason, I never thought of saying God Bless You as a superstition. It was just always something you do after someone sneezes. lol Later I had heard that when you sneeze for that split second you die and to say God bless you insures you that you could go to Heaven. That doesn't make any sense either because you can't go to Heaven and then come back. Only Christ was able to do that.

      Interesting subject. Voted up.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I get a real kick out of superstitions. Great hub!

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 years ago

      I have actually put hair outside deliberately to give birds something to put in thir nests. But I don't suffer from migraines, thank goodness.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kiss andTales,

      So true. I do lots of things my mother did and I'm not sure why... she did it, so do I. Family traditions I guess.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kiss andTales,

      I did not know that was a jump rope rhyme... I don't think I ever heard more than the break your mother's back part. I do remember two walking around a pole having to say "bread and butter" to keep it from being unlucky although I have no idea how bread and butter could help the situation.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      I like that experience , funny and yet how truthful , Sometimes family habits are copied and we do not know why, in your story that did not find out till grown , we still learning no matter how old we get.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kiss andTales,

      I think you are right about that. We learn from our parents and grandparents. I remember hearing a story about a lady who always cut off the tip of the ham before baking it. When her husband asked her why she did that she didn't know. She said it's the way her mother had always done it, so she went to her mother and asked. Her mother told her she didn't know why, its what Her mother had always done so she did it too. They both went to the grandmother and asked and she said it was because her pan wasn't big enough that she always cut off the end of the ham. So they had passed down for generations something that only happened because of a short pan. That's how we treat traditions and superstition. No one knows why, just that that's they way it's always been done.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Remember the one that says step on a Crack and break your mother's back. It was a song for jump rope. And one more do not split a pole when two are walking. All kinds just think if a person lived by them all they could not live freely.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      Thank you for sharing , many people are enslaved to thoughts and superstitious stories that are just made up stories .

      Mostly kids learn these early at child play

      And pass down .

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Kiss andTales,

      Me too. I have family member who live with superstitions religiously yet I have never seen one come true really.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Lee,

      Thank you for the vote. The bird nest and migraine old wives tale came from my grandmother. The first time she say me pull a wad of hair from my brush and throw it into the trash, she practically came unwrapped. She told me NEVER to do that and it would be better to burn the hair. I thought at the time that burning hair must smell terrible... but I didn't say anything.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 2 years ago

      The ones I know people believe in also is do not sweep people's feet, do not let a woman in before a man in your door on New Years day.

      And do not break mirrors.

      These are beliefs that are fictional , I have never seen one come true.

      I had a family member who was very superstitious.

    • profile image

      Lee Cloak 2 years ago

      Great hub, I am the superstitious person I know and live my life through a lot of what u have written here, a really interesting article, I never heard the one about your hair, birds nests and migraines, thanks for sharing, voted up, Lee