Are black cats really omens of death? Do spiders really bring good luck? From America to China to India and beyond, all of us harbour some well-concealed superstitions, which might actually not be true. But which ones aren't? And how do we know? This article delves into various superstitions from around the world and dissects their historical origins to figure out whether they are fact or fiction.
Picture this: you're in an elevator, visiting your cousins, who live on the 13th floor...except you look to press the button for that floor, and there is none, just buttons for floors 14a and b. Or you're walking down the street when you glimpse a black cat slinking out of view, and you grow paranoid as you continue, knocking on any piece of wood you can find - just for good luck. Or just as you're checking out your reflection you drop the mirror and it shatters, and you immediately run out of your house, ensuring your soul is intact.
These reactions - however absurd they may seem - aren't uncommon; they're all characterised by the tell-tale signs of someone who is harbouring an unintelligent, yet justified superstition. But from where did these superstitions arise? And how do they continue to unconsciously influence dozens of the decisions we make every day without us knowing how, or even why we've come to believe them?
Asking ourselves these questions is crucial, because they uncover fascinating truths about the origin of these perplexing paranoias. Let's explore some of the most famous superstitions from around the world, to understand just why they've become so popular, and why people still believe them today.
1. Black Cats
Traditionally associated with witchcraft and the supernatural, black cats are a close second when it comes to inauspicious objects in the West. However, in countries such as Egypt, they’re actually seen as lucky and are even favoured.
The history of the black cat dates back to 3000 B.C., at which time they were loved and cherished by ancient Egyptians. It took centuries for the black cat to even be held in disregard, and it was only in the 1500s that people began viewing them as witch-associates, a view popularized by Spanish culture and folklore. As word began to spread, more and more people began to fear the black cat, until the paranoia gripped the entire world.
So next time you see one crossing the road, be careful – you never know what tricks it may have up its paw!
2. The number 13
Source- Getty Images
Perhaps the most widely held superstition of all time, the famed unluckiness of the number 13 has led to its removal from the floors of buildings and the popularized horror stories revolving around Friday the 13th.
Christianity has been one of the greatest contributors to this superstition: with 13 people at the Last Supper and several Biblical allusions to the inauspiciousness of the number 13 (including the corruption highlighted in the 13th Psalm and the speculation that Jesus's crucifixion occurred on the 13th), it's only natural that Christians would place their faith in a belief that seems to ring true in almost every situation. This is supported by the popular theory that the number of steps leading up to traditional gallows were 13.
Further proof that 13 is the incarnation of true evil? Just look at the number of letters in Adolfus Hitler's baptismal name - 13!
This one will restore your faith in the goodness of the world, following the negativity that has just been covered.
Spiders are often seen as good omens, particularly in Japanese culture. Yes – the insects that crawl and feature in your nightmares are actually seen as heralders of luck. Their connection to magic and their ‘traveling’ nature (to put it lightly) is interpreted as an ability to bless a house and bring its residents happiness and good fortune.
Just remember: the more tarantulas crawling up your walls, the better.
4. A Broken Mirror
Source- Getty Images
And we return to the dreariness. Once again a symbol of bad fortune, breaking a mirror actually originated from the East rather than the West, and has to do with the soul.
Some conjectures suggest that this superstition originated from ancient times, when a disturbance in a person’s reflection (often in a pond or shiny surface) seemed to mean the destruction of the person’s identity. While some cite the Romans as the first group of people to have attached this meaning to the shattering of glass, cultures from all around – including India and China - seem to unanimously agree on the unluckiness of this one and continue to flaunt the idea of the imprisonment of the soul caused by the breaking of a mirror.
If you want to avoid seven years in a reflective prison, be careful when you’re handling mirrors!
One of the most essential ingredients in cooking has inspired several superstitions.
The idea that spilling salt brings bad luck, for example, stems from older centuries when salt was seen as a luxurious commodity – the idea of it spilling was horrifying, almost ominously so, and a new superstition was created.
Another superstition that a pinch of salt should be thrown behind the shoulder for good luck is rooted in the belief that it will divert the ‘devil’ behind you, clouding his vision and ensuring he isn’t able to get up to his usual trickery.
While all of these superstitions may seem silly, they’ve influenced our lives for centuries, and in tremendous ways. When the paranoia gets overwhelming, though, it’s time to take a step back and view these beliefs with a pinch of salt (the lucky kind, of course), and a healthy dose of good ol’ common sense.
By Sarvani K