The Background Behind Society’s Most Well-Known Superstitions

The Background Behind Society’s Most Well-Known Superstitions
In the U.K., instead of “knock on wood,” the locals say “touch wood” to bring fortune after making a positive statement. Picture via Pixabay

Superstitions have made their way into various societies all around the world, imposing themselves on our everyday vernacular and way of living without us even understanding their origins. For most people it’s second nature to “knock on wood” in order to prevent negative fate from coming their way, or to carry good luck charms before big performances, but what made people do these things so compulsively in the first place?

Below we’ll take a look at some of the most popular superstitions that exist today and how in the world they came to be.

 Broken mirrors

People who believe in this wacky superstition are convinced that breaking a mirror results in seven years of bad luck, but where did this idea come from in the first place? The bad fortune for a person associated with shattering a mirror most likely stems from ancient Greek or Roman cultures that believed spirits lived in reflective surfaces, hence mirrors, and were the gateway to their souls. As such, they believed fiercely that if broken, the spirit life would take seven years to reappear, bringing ill omens upon everyone in the process.

Interestingly, broken mirror superstitions have been preserved by many countries around the world, including Russia, China and India. Even though there are many ideas that exist concerning the superstition’s historical context, one thing is for certain: shattering a mirror produces a dangerous mess, whether there is bad luck involved or not.

The Lucky Rabbit’s Foot

Another common superstition across many peoples and cultures is the possession of a special item for luck during an important event or performance. You can find these charms utilized across job professions as well, especially when it comes to sports careers. From Michael Jordan’s lucky shorts to Tiger Wood’s repetitive use of red shirts, some of the oddest rituals exist in professional sports tournaments and games. Even star poker players have brought their own items, from jewellery to cuddly toys, to the table for support over the years.

While many of these examples include a piece of clothing or special accessory, a rabbit’s foot is one object that has been a popular symbol of luck for generations. Although there are many theories concerning its origin, the rabbit’s foot is said to have increased fertility within Western European tribes, acting as a symbol of good fortune and prosperity for its owners. The Celts believed that associations with rabbits who lived underground were essential because the animals could communicate with underworld gods, undoubtedly bringing an abundance of good fortune in the process.

Knocking on wood

Knocking on wood is the most common superstition used among people almost completely involuntarily. Responding with “knock on wood” after the exclamation of a positive statement is said to bring a person continued good luck, a superstition believed by millions all over the world.

This compulsive action is said to have originated from a variety of places, but one common belief is that knocking on wood derives from specific pantheistic religions and cultures that believed spirits and gods resided in trees. Therefore, knocking on tree’s wood would awaken and protect the people, bringing good luck with them.

Variations to the classic “knock on wood” superstition are represented in countries around the world. In Turkey, locals pull on their earlobes to prevent bad luck, while Italians believe that saying “touch iron” will ward of any incoming doom.

Opening umbrellas indoors

The people who believe that opening an umbrella indoors could bring a stroke of bad luck are most likely the same people who defend popular conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, neither of these groups are alone in their thinking. Many people refuse to even dry an umbrella while it’s open inside the house.

As is the case with most superstitions, origins are unclear. However, some of them suggest that opening the earliest form of umbrellas indoors would anger Ra, the sun god, or disable the goddess of the sky, Nut’s, protection over the earth. While both of these theories have roots in ancient Egypt, today people should avoid opening umbrellas indoors for the sheer fact of injuring someone with the object’s pointy spike.

Walking under a ladder

Finally, if you hate walking under ladders you may have ancient Egyptians to thank for that as well. Over 5,000 years ago, their culture believed that the shape ladders created when situated against walls (a triangle) resembled the trinity of the gods and, of course, walking under this symbol would be disgraceful to them.

The Background Behind Society’s Most Well-Known Superstitions
Are these superstitions seen as commonplace in your culture or society as well? Picture: Unsplash

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  1. Black cat crossing your path.

    Step on a crack, and break your mama’s back.

    Friday The 13th

    Drink seven sips of water to get rid of the hiccups.

    All kinds of old wive’s tales out there. I remember some.

    • One of my personal superstitions—no more funerals or weddings. Always bad luck happens. So, I quit doing them.

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