Many of our most long-lasting superstitions—like avoiding ladders, Friday the 13th, or spilling salt—date back centuries and have surprising origin stories. Here’s how some of our biggest superstitions gained a foothold in our modern minds.
In early Roman calendars, Martius (March) was the first month of the year and dates were expressed by lunar phases as Kalends (Kal), Nones (Non), and Ides (Id). Ides of March referred to the first full moon of the year. Full moons have their own association with bad juju, but the real negative context of March 15 started with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Centuries later, the day by everything from catastrophic weather events to the cancelation of the Ed Sullivan Show.
Animals was adapted from German culture when settlers arrived in the U.S. and chose Pennsylvania as their home. The old Candlemas Day tradition in Germany involved members of the clergy distributing blessed candles which were used to determine how long the winter weather would last. Animals were also observed to see how long their hibernation periods lasted. Germans closely tracked badgers and found groundhogs to be the next best thing.
The stigma attached to Friday the 13th is widely believed to have . The number 12 is seen in many cultures as a sort of “perfect” number and adding one more to that throws things off a bit. According to the bible, Judas was the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper and Friday was widely believed to be the day Jesus was crucified (but has since been brought into question.)
Similarly in Norse mythology, Loki was the 13th guest to arrive at a dinner for the gods in Valhalla and wreaked havoc on the whole event. The Friday superstition also has origins in the U.S. where (in the 19th century) all executions took place on Friday.
There's even a word for people who fear Friday the 13th: friggatriskaidekaphobics.
Ancient Romans believed that mirrors held pieces of your soul. This, coupled with the myth that our body “renews” itself every seven years that breaking a mirror means you are damning your soul to seven years of bad luck.
Many cultures throughout history actually regarded all cats as good luck omens, but black kitties got a in the Middle Ages when they were associated with witchcraft and actually viewed as demons. That demon thing snowballed into an idea that if a black cat crossed your path, they were blocking your connection to God and path to heaven.
It’s become a reflex to bless someone after they sneeze. Little do you know, you could be saving them from damnation. This custom originated with an that a person’s soul separated from their body when they sneezed. Saying “Bless you” was a way to keep the devil from swooping in to steal their soul before they recovered.
This lucky superstition started back in the pre-Christian days when crosses were symbols of power and unity and there was power in the middle area of the cross. They would cross their fingers and make a wish while focusing on the center area.
This one has a . Back in medieval times, ladders were associated with the gallows where people were hanged. A person who made the mistake of walking under a ladder was believed to be facing their own death by hanging in the near future. There was also the belief that because people were hanged from the top of the ladder, the area underneath was haunted.
Like many others on the list, wishing on candles to the ancient Greeks when they would bake cakes and top them with candles to ask Artemis (the mood goddess) for a favor. The smoke from the extinguished candles was believed to carry the message up to the gods as it rises.
Ancient pagans that there spirits living the trees and knocking on the trunks would summon them for protection. The gesture was also used to thank them when something good happened. The tradition later took shape in other cultures. Some Christians associated the tradition with the cross and Jews associated it with knocking on the wooden doors of synagogues while seeking shelter during the Spanish Inquisition.
You can thank the ancient Egyptians for this bad omen. They used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, but opening them indoors was considered an insult to the sun god. It was equally as offensive to open one in an area that wasn’t sunny. Another theory to 18th century England when the mechanics of the "modern" umbrella made them straight-up dangerous when opened in close quarters.
Most people wouldn’t consider a single cent on the ground to be good fortune, but back in ancient times it was . Old civilizations believed that find any metal on the ground was a gift from the gods. Some people believe holding onto the penny will bring good luck and others think the good luck comes when you give the penny away. Either way, that’s a lot value to place on.
There are why spilled salt is supposedly bad luck. The simple explanation is that salt was once used as an expensive trading commodity, so spilling it was just plain wasteful. The other theory is that it was considered a magical substance in ancient times where it was used to perform rituals. Spilling it meant you were inviting the devil in.
Clinking glasses with water in your cup has been bad karma since the ancient Greeks who only toasted with water to honor the dead. with the myth that the dead drank from the River Lethe in the Underworld to leave behind their corporeal lives. This toasting tradition evolved over time into a superstition that you are wishing bad luck (or death) upon someone when you cheers with water in your glass.
This gambling superstition is rooted in a called confirmation bias. It’s the theory that if you have some preconceived idea about something, your mind is on the lookout for evidence to back that up. In this case, losing at a game against someone who has never played before sticks out in your mind more than all of the times you won.
Being tagged in a social media post that says you need to tag other people or you’ll be doomed is pretty much a tale as old as time (in one form or another.) According to NPR, the world’s first chain letter was sent around hundreds of years ago and the falsely . The letter was supposedly sent down to earth after he ascended to heaven and included the line, “He that copieth this letter shall be blessed of me. He that does not shall be cursed.” Copies of the letter from the mid-1700s have been uncovered and the concept of the chain letter still lives on in new forms of communication.
The idea of rabbits being lucky is part of . The idea sprung from the fact that they live underground, which made people at the time think they had a direct line of communication with the gods. In more recent times, the animal’s reputation for being fertile made rabbit-themed charms popular among women hoping to conceive. Most rabbit foot charms today are actually just made of fake fur and plastic, but the association is still there.
There are some that this superstition actually had racist beginnings in the 19th century, but cracks have been something to avoid since far earlier. European and Early American folk tales spread the notion that the empty space in cracks (whether in sidewalks, floors, walls, etc.) were actually connections from earth to the spirit world and messing with them in any way would cause trouble and misfortune. This eventually gave way to the popular nursery rhyme, “Step on a crack and break you mother’s back.”
The wishbone superstition started with the Etruscan Italian empire. They predicted the future by observing chickens and viewed the collarbone as a sacred part of the bird. The Etruscans would let the collarbones dry out and then keep them to make wishes. Romans adopted this tradition and started breaking the bones among two people due to a lack of availability.
Horseshoes are considered symbols of good luck because of a Christian story about the 10th century saint Dunstan. He was a blacksmith who was approached by the Devil (in disguise) to put shoes on his horse but Dunstan saw through the disguise and put the shoes on the Devil’s feet instead. Dunstan agreed to remove the shoes only if the Devil agreed never to try and enter a home with a horseshoe hanging on its door. It is customary to hang your horseshoe with seven nails, but there is over whether they should be hung with the ends point up so the shoe catches luck or down so that the shoe pours luck onto everyone who passes through the doorway.
You might think the myth of the four-leaf clover has celtic origins, but you’d be wrong. The started with Adam and Eve when Eve took a four-leaf clover from the Garden of Eden as a souvenir from the beautiful paradise they were leaving behind when they were exiled. Other cultures including the ancient Egyptians and yes, the Druid priests of Ireland, who believed that the clovers had healing properties and could ward off evil. It is estimated that the chances of finding a four-leaf clover is one in 10,000.
This is another one you can . People have a tendency to take notice of the bad stuff to support this theory but in actuality, there is usually the same balance of good and bad stuff happening to person at any given time.
This superstition is . The good luck involved with a bird doing its business on you is supposedly just the simple fact that it happens so rarely that when it does, it’s a blessing. It’s also a sign that wealth is heading your way.
The origin of this one is . One theory is that putting a hat on your bed is too similar to the old practice of putting a dead person’s hat on their coffin and that doing so would bring death to your home. There is also an idea that people used to think that evil spirits lived in their hair (and hats) presumably because of the phenomenon we now know as static electricity and those spirits would transfer to the bed if you put your hat on it. It is also possible that the whole superstition came about to prevent the spread of lice.
It’s considered to be dealt a two-pair hand consisting of black eights and black aces (regardless of the hole card.) The dead man’s hand got its name because, according to legend, they were cards held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered in the Old West in 1876.
Among superstition among seafaring folks, bananas are taken very seriously. No one's quite sure how, exactly, the fear got started—theories include the notion that spiders and snakes would Trojan horse on board amid the bunches, or that the ethylene gas emitted by bananas as they ripen would spoil the other perishables on board—but some people still take it , going so far as to ban Banana Republic garb or Banana Boat sunscreen.
Wishing on shooting stars goes back way further than B.o.B. The 1st-century (yes, 1st) philosopher Ptolemy when meteors occurred, it meant that the gods were looking down and paying attention to Earth—and thus available to be pelted with wishes.
Called "The Scottish Curse," this belief is particular to actors—they get around it by referring to the Shakespeare play as "The Scottish Play" or "The Bard's Play." According to legend, productions of the play have been particularly accident-prone; an actor who slips up and invites disaster must engage in a cleansing ritual before being allowed back in.
Some people believe that your doppelgänger—your "double walker," per the German word's literal meaning—is an evil twin or even a harbinger of your impending death.
An old American superstition that all cleaning cloths should be burned before moving to a new home, so that you wouldn't bring any of the bad luck that you'd wiped up at the old place.