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Superstitions - Old Wives Tales

Updated on January 1, 2021
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I'm interested in social issues, relationships, problems of daily living, jobs, exercise, poems and fiction, plus safer living conditions.

Is 13 unlucky? source Flickr
Is 13 unlucky? source Flickr

Old Wives Tales

The old wives tale words or actions many of us use routinely started from superstitions hundreds of years ago. We can define superstition as the irrational belief in the existence of unseen forces which were thought of as evil spirits years ago.

They believed the forces controlled the fate of people or the outcomes of events, which usually had negative effects, unless particular actions were taken to prevent the ill effect or to produce the desired good effect.

13 Can be Good

Legend has it that if 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. Another legend as to the root of this belief started with the order from King Philip IV to rout out the Knights Templar which happened on Friday the 13th.

Another theory as to why the date and number 13 is considered unlucky is that, on Friday the 13th after the final Crusade the Pope sent out men to capture and burn alive the last 13 Knights Templar in order to put it into the Crusades.

Yet, another theory states that 13 is unlucky because in the years when there were 13 full moons instead of 12 it made it difficult for the monks who were in charge of the calendars. However, the number 13 is considered lucky by many.

There are several successful sports figures that were the number 13 like Wilt Chamberlain, Ozzie Guillen, Alex Rodriguez, Dan Marino, Shaquille O'Neal and several others. There are 13 members on a rugby team.

At age 13 is the midpoint in a child's life for they become a teenager. In a deck of cards there are 13 in a suit. The number of colonies that formed the United States is 13 and the original flag had 13 stars, one for each state.

It is the number of guns and a gun salute to the US Army, Air Force and Marine Corps Maj. Generals, and the list could go on. Personally I consider the 13th a good day as I turned 13 on Friday the 13th and it was the best birthday I ever had.

More About the Number 13?

Many educated, intelligent people still hold onto a variety of superstitions. If you ask them they will tell you they don't believe in something and yet they still act upon this belief. The fear of number 13 is so prevalent that it even has its own fancy Greek term: triskaidekaphobia..

This belief is so pervasive you will notice that many major hotels in high-rise buildings go from the 12th floor to the 14th so they just skip 13 entirely. Many people refuse to stay on the 13th floor or in room 13. Most airlines don't have a 13th gate and many cities don't have a 13th Street.

In Topeka, Kansas, where the zip code starts with 666 it skips 66613 which seems a little silly considering people also don't like the numbers 666.

The betrayer of Jesus was the 13th member present at the Last Supper. The Turks so dislike the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary However, some cultures feel differently; the Chinese and Egyptians considered 13 to be lucky.

Has a Black Cat crossed your path lately? source commons.wickimedia
Has a Black Cat crossed your path lately? source commons.wickimedia

Black Cat Crossing your Path

Another common superstition is that you will have bad luck if a black cat crosses your path. In Britain and America if a black cat crosses your path you can negate the bad luck by stroking the cat's back four times, take a step away from the cat and spin three times, and the bad luck is set to go away. That's one I've never heard before.

In ancient Egypt, the Goddess Bast was a black female cat and Christians wanted to rid society of all traces of other religions so they convinced the ignorant that black cats were demons in disguise and should be destroyed.

In this process they also destroyed kindly women who care for the cats, believing them to be witches. They believed if a back black cat walked in front of you it would create a barrier of evil cutting you off from God and blocking entrance to heaven.

In Scotland, if a strange black cat appeared on your porch it was an omen of good luck. It means prosperity is on its way.

In the Netherlands if you are having a private talk in the family room, the cat is not allowed in the room because they fear the cat will spread gossip all over town and family secrets will be out.

However, in Ireland killing a cat will bring you 17 years of bad luck. The amount of superstition about black cats seems to be endless.

Spilled Salt source
Spilled Salt source

Spilled Salt

Another common belief is if you spill salt you must take a pinch of the spilled salt and throw it over your left shoulder. Salt has been highly valued through the ages and considered a purifying substance capable of driving away evil. Romans paid their soldiers in salt – hence the word "salary".

Cracked Mirror - 7 years of bad luck? source superstockcompany
Cracked Mirror - 7 years of bad luck? source superstockcompany

Breaking a Mirror

We all know that breaking a mirror will bring us seven years of bad luck. I'm not sure if I'll live long enough for the good luck to return. Your reflection in a mirror is thought to be the representation of your soul or spiritual state, so breaking a mirror will bring damage to your soul and spiritual hardship. However, the good news is you can take the pieces outside and bury them in the moonlight to avoid this bad luck.

The true reason that breaking a mirror was seven years bad luck is mirrors were very expensive when they were first made, and if one broke on you, you had to be an indentured servant to the owner of the mirror for seven years because most people could not afford to buy a replacement mirror.

Do you walk under ladders? source postersforteachers
Do you walk under ladders? source postersforteachers

Do You Walk Under Ladders?

Another common saying we've all heard is – Walking under a ladder will bring bad luck. Some simply believe it is unsafe to walk under a ladder. Others will say that walking under a ladder is akin to blasphemy as in the old days being a blasphemer was not very conductive to good health or long life, so walking under a ladder was very bad luck indeed.

This belief comes from very early Christianity with Christians believing in the Trinity; which is God is made up of three parts, the Holy Father, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.

The number three was somewhat sacred and the triangle by association was sacred with its three sides. Walking through this triangle was seen as breaking the Trinity. The Bible talks about the one unforgivable sin being blaspheming against the Holy Spirit; so, some people considered walking under the ladder as blasphemy.

Another origin of the superstition is a little less specific, but has to do with the similarity between a ladder leaning on the wall and gallows. Anything associated with gallows was considered ill luck.

Knock On Wood To Not Jinx Yourself

Knock on wood 3 times after mentioning good fortune is done so a good thing continues to occur after it has been acknowledged. Americans knock on wood while the British touch the wood.

This tradition goes back to an ancient pagan belief that spirits reside in trees, particularly oaks, and thereby knocking on or touching the wood meant you were paying a small tribute to them by remembering or acknowledging them.

You could call on them for protection against ill fortune. Also, you are thanking them for continued blessing and good luck. In the United States and Canada the term knock on wood is predated by a now-defunct saying "stomp on wood" which was used in the early 19th century. It originated with the early settlers who would stomp the floor in their wood cabins to avoid bad luck.

Palm Itches?

This is another good one, if your left palm itches it means you will soon receive some money but if your right palm itches it means you will lose or have to pay money.

So, if your left palm itches, scratch it on wood and you will be sure to receive money; but if you're right palm itches do not scratch it at all because you are certain to lose money.

This superstition has multiple variations and some are the complete opposite of others. No wonder I haven't received any unexpected money I always scratch my left palm with my nails on my right hand, as I didn't know about the wood.

Anyone Own a Rabbit Foot?

How did the rabbit foot become lucky? This has been a commonplace belief in American culture. Rabbits and hares have long been considered as symbols of fertility, and that's certainly understandable. If rabbits are traipsing through your yard it is a sign that your garden will be fertile, however, I found they tend to eat the crops.

When rabbits run their back feet hit the ground ahead of their front feet, so the back feet were considered lucky. Therefore, to possess a rabbits hind foot would be to acquire good fortune. Symbolic representations of the rabbit foot have become rarer in the United States.

Animal lovers and animal rights activists both discourage the practice due to the cruelty and senseless death involved in producing these amulets.

Cross you finger for luck? source flickr
Cross you finger for luck? source flickr

Cross Your Fingers for Luck

Crossing two fingers (the middle and pointing fingers) on one hand is a sign of hopefulness or desire for a particular outcome. Sometimes, when someone tells a lie, they will cross their fingers usually behind their back. This somehow absolves them from the consequences or makes the light not count.

We can thank merry old England for this particular practice which dates back to the 16th century. When a suspected witch crossed your path, you could make a cross shortcut by crossing your index and second finger or the index fingers on both hands to protect you and ward off evil.

Two Reasons To Not Open Your Umbrella Indoors

Never open an umbrella indoors or bad luck will rain on you. There our two schools of thought, and it's origins can be traced back to when umbrellas were used as Sun protection. Opening an umbrella indoors was supposedly offensive to the Sun or Sun God, who would bring his wrath down upon the offender.

The other uses the theory that the umbrella is a protector against the storms of life, so if you were to open one in your home the household guardian spirits might think you've felt their protection was insufficient, and they believe in leaving your house unprotected.

However, the superstition is probably coincidental and someone just accidentally left their umbrella open in the hallway after coming out of the rain. There are some other bad luck umbrella superstitions; never give an umbrella as a gift. Never pick up an umbrella you dropped, but ask someone else to do it for you.

Never place your umbrella on a table or bed and if a single woman drops her umbrella she'll never marry. I'll bet those single women, hung on to their umbrellas tightly.

Lucky 4 Leaf Clover  source
Lucky 4 Leaf Clover source

Finally Some Good Luck

The four leaf clover is for good luck. The first leaf is for faith, the second for hope, the third for love, and the fourth for luck! In the Irish tradition, the Shamrock or three leaf clover represents the holy Trinity; one leaf for the father, one for the Sun and one for the Holy Spirit.

When a Shamrock is found with a fourth leaf it represents God's grace. The four leaf clover is a universally accepted symbol of luck, and its origin is ages old. Since four leaf covers are rare, they are still considered to be an omen of luck good luck.

Stevie Wonder ~ Superstition

In Summary

It is really amazing that these superstitions are hundreds of years old and yet they are still followed today. The superstitions I listed in this article are just a few of multiple superstitions that people still use.

Another thing that surprised me is how many of the superstitions I have used throughout my life, never considering how silly they are or where they came from. I'm crossing my fingers that you will have enjoyed this hub


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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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