Very superstitious

imagesMarch 21, 2014 – We associate Friday the 13th, walking under ladders, and black cats with bad luck, but these three barely scrape the surface of the many superstitions that keep us in line.

While I’m not a total believer in bad luck coming my way if I don’t keep my fingers crossed, I can be superstitious on occasion, and I follow the rules. For example, I avoid walking under ladders, for the safety factor alone.

Here are other superstitions I grew up with, and their origins:

My mother always said never put new shoes on the table, a superstition that dates back to the Elizabethan era. In those days, a miner’s family learned of his death if his shoes were placed on the table. Therefore, putting shoes on the table outside of this practice was considered tempting fate.

Another gem from my Mother’s family claims that finding a penny face up will bring you luck. Finding money in any denomination is lucky, right? Chances are this idea came from an old children’s rhyme: “See a pin, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck. See a pin, let it lay and your luck will pass away.”

How about the belief that bad luck comes in threes? Traditionally, this superstition began among British troops during the Crimean War. Soldiers learned the danger of lighting three cigarettes from one match, a thrifty practice, but one that also gave a sniper time to spot the light, take aim and fire, and kill the third man.

On the other hand, some claim, “Third time’s a charm”, so where does that fit in? The origin of this phrase is from Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and completely contradicts the bad luck comes in threes belief. 

Many of us knock on wood to avoid tempting fate after making a boastful observation. Some say the fixation on wood may come from old myths about the Christian cross. More likely, old English folklore explains that when people spoke of secrets, they went into the woods to do so privately and knocked on the trees while they spoke so the evil spirits could not hear them.

During the holidays, many of us argue over who will get to make a wish with the turkey’s wishbone. Tradition says that he or she who walks away with the biggest piece after breaking it will have good luck. It is believed that first-century Romans began the practice, although bird bones have been used throughout history as a way to predict the future.

How many times have you heard that it is bad luck to open an umbrella indoors? There are a few legends about how this superstition began, the most logical coming from the United Kingdom. Umbrellas in the 18th century were clunky contraptions that were not easily opened, and could be dangerous. Many Londoners experienced the bad luck of losing valuables or goring themselves with metal spokes if they opened it inside their homes. It was simply safer to open umbrellas outdoors where there was more space to maneuver it.

Finally, I was told that an itchy palm meant that money was coming my way. I liked this one because it was positive, where other superstitions focus on bad luck. According to folklorists, this belief originated with the Saxons, who felt that rubbing diseased skin with silver would cure it. Sounds gruesome, but logical.

While you might think it all seems ridiculous, research finds that people tend to believe that negative outcomes are more likely after they jinx themselves. Is that superstition or psychology? Either way, it’s enough proof for me, knock on wood.

2 thoughts on “Very superstitious

  1. Mom told us never to put your hat on the table.

    I found one explanation as to the origin of “not putting a hat on a table or bed” ……

    One reason was because hats could harbor head lice. The owner of the hat could spread their lice to the owner of the bed. YUK!

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