5 Spooky Superstitions & Their Origins

We’ve all grown up with our own peculiar superstitious beliefs, probably varying depending on our location and cultural background.

Of course many will write these things off and “irrational” and “unfounded” and a host of other such synonyms, but how did some of these strange beliefs come to be I the first place?

Let’s take a look at some common superstitions and their origins.

Opening Umbrellas Indoors

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This is probably one you’ve heard before, but have you ever stopped to think just how this came to be?

Well, some seem to believe it all has to do with Ancient Egypt – one of my personal favourite ancient civilisations. 

According to Brown University, Ancient Egypt is considered the possible birthplace of the umbrella, where it was more likely used as a parasol for royalty and priests. 

Such items were symbolic of divine power and their intricate designs were thought to be pleasing homages to the gods, as such, it is supposed that opening such a thing inside would draw the ire of the sun god, Ra. 

Similarly, the umbrella itself was thought of as symbolic of the sky goddess, Nut, and a non-noble stepping into the shade of such a thing was simply heresy.

This is, of course, the simplified version of the cultural importance of ancient Egyptian parasols and umbrellas, which is entwined with the belief in the Khabit – a person’s shadow and the centre of a person’s regenerative power.

However, as much as I’d like to believe this is the undisputed origin of all umbrella superstition, another, much more boring, but delightfully more gruesome beginning is likely the culprit.

Mid 19th century Britain saw the introduction of the umbrella as we know it today. It’s likely the dangers of the umbrella’s steel framed skeleton, deployed with a potentially unpredictable trigger mechanism towards the unprotected eyeballs of surrounding viewers is the most likely birth of this superstition.

To quote Charles Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things:

“A rigidly spoked umbrella, opening suddenly in a small room, could seriously injure an adult or child, or shatter a frangible object. Thus, the superstition arose as a deterrent to opening umbrellas indoors.”  

Walking Under Ladders

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Ah yes, the humble ladder and its perils. 

Obviously, walking under an occupied ladder risks a bonk on the noggin from a falling object above, but superstition holds of a more symbolic origin which is much more fun to discuss. 

There are of course several supposed origins to this superstition, the first once again attributed to the Ancient Egyptians, who apparently believed walking under a ladder would run the risk of risk disturbing a deity climbing their way up or down. 

Fast forward to medieval times, when a ladder resting against a wall resembled a gallows and walking under one was linked to the horrible end that waited upon the wrong end of the Hangman’s noose.

Others believe this particular superstition has a Christian origin. The triangle shape of a ladder against a wall was though to represent the Holy Trinity – father, son and holy ghost. Walking through this sacred triangle was said to be ‘breaking’ the trinity, and allowed the Devil to grab your soul on the way through.

Best to go around and save that bump on the head, though.

Broken Mirrors Bring 7 Years of Bad Luck

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the scariest everyday item linked to the supernatural, of all?

Mirrors and reflective surfaces have long been used in fortune telling practices such as scrying (the thing that’s done with crystal balls). 

Some say we can blame the Romans for the specifics of this one, as they believed the soul regenerated every 7 years, so breaking a mirror – thought by many to show the reflection of the soul – would cause bad luck for the rest of that soul’s ‘cycle’.

The relation between mirrors and souls is held in many traditions. Some say vampires do not have a reflection because mirrors were once backed with silver – a ‘pure’ metal that would reveal the vampire, as they’d have no soul to reflect.

Black Cats

Black cats are considered real superstitious critters, long believed to be familiars of witches or magic al shapeshifters in their own right.

In many western cultures, the saying goes that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck for this very reason, however, just to complicate matters, the same thing is considered good luck in traditional Celtic and Japanese folklore.

A Welsh rhyme from the 1896 translated to say: 

A black cat, I’ve heard it said,

Can charm all ill away,

And keep the house wherein she dwells

From fever’s deadly sway.

Some consider the direction in which the cat crosses your path is indicative to your fortune. For example, in Germany, a black cat crossing you from right to left is bad, but left to right is good.

In American animal shelters, black cats (and other black animals) often have the lowest odds of adoptions, so why not change theses odds if you decide to rescue your next best friend. They may bring some good luck into your life.

(Un)Lucky 13

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Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, something you’re likely familiar with if you grew up under the influences of Western culture. 

The number 13 has a rich folkloric history in itself. As such, it’s often said that some industries purposefully avoid labelling involving the number 13, the most well known instance of this probably being that certain hotels or high-rise building avoid numbering the 13th floor. Similarly, many hold the belief that Friday 13th is unlucky for all.

Origins of this belief has been debated, but some consider the number cursed due to its association with the number of sitters at the Last Supper. This though to be the origin of the belief that sitting 13 guests at a table is a big no-no, some going so far as to believe that the first person to rise from that table will be the first to die. A similar belief comes from Norse folklore, where Loki was said to be the 13th (and uninvited) guest at a feast in Valhalla.

Some believe the specific fear of Friday 13th arose from the order by Phillip IV of France for the arrest of the Knights Templar being signed on that day in October 1307. Whether or not the belief was seen prior to that is debated.

Some, however, consider 13 to be rather lucky. This has become particularly prevalent in  in modern France and Italy. Similarly, the number is considered lucky in Cantonese speaking areas, as 13 is pronounced similarly to the phrase “sure to live”. 

Similarly, the number 4 is considered unlucky and thus, avoided, in a variety of East Asian countries, as it’s pronunciation is similar to that of the word “death”

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