Friday 22 September 2017

It's Friday the 13th: 13 superstitions and their origins

13 is unlucky - Although there is no statistical evidence that 13 is unlucky, it is one of the most enduring superstitions. It has its origins in Norse mythology. The tale says that 12 gods went to dine at a magnificent banquet hall when they were interrupted by Loki, the god of evil, making the number present 13. During the struggle to kick him out, their favourite god Balder was killed. The unlucky association with the number was reinforced by Christianity, when Judas was the 13th guest at the dinner table at the last supper.
13 is unlucky - Although there is no statistical evidence that 13 is unlucky, it is one of the most enduring superstitions. It has its origins in Norse mythology. The tale says that 12 gods went to dine at a magnificent banquet hall when they were interrupted by Loki, the god of evil, making the number present 13. During the struggle to kick him out, their favourite god Balder was killed. The unlucky association with the number was reinforced by Christianity, when Judas was the 13th guest at the dinner table at the last supper.
Black Cats: The Egyptians revered all cats, however believed a black cat crossing your path would bring you good luck. However Europeans held a different interpretation, they believed black cats were companions of witches, or even witches in cat form, and so the association with bad luck began. It was the dominant belief held by pilgrims who emigrated to America, and so the superstition continued there.
Horse Shoe: The horse shoe as a sign of luck has its origins in ancient Greece, who thought iron had the ability to ward off evil. It passed from the Greeks to the Romans and onto the Christians over the generations. When Europe was gripped by a fear of witchcraft in the Middle Ages, people began to hang horse shoes on their doors to ward off witches, as they believed witches feared horses.
'God bless you' - It has become common in most English speaking countries for people to say 'God bless you' after someone sneezes. In early times a sneeze was believed to be good luck, as it was thought it was the body expelling evil spirits. However as a bad flu infection spread through Europe in the sixth century, its meaning changed. The first sign of the flu, which was often fatal, was the person sneezing. Pope Gregory ordered prayers to be said for the sick when they sneezed, however the public replaced it with the shorter 'God bless you'.
Knock on wood: Although one of the most common superstitions, its origins aren't fully clear. However most historians accept it was probably linked to touching the wood of the cross to ward off bad luck. Other historians argue it could have its origins when peasants in Europe used to knock loudly to keep out evil spirits.
Spilling salt: The origins of this superstition lay in how much value was placed on salt as a seasoning for food, therefore spilling it was bad luck. It also is responsible for the origin of the phrase for someone to 'not be worth their salt'.
Broken Mirror & seven years bad luck: In ancient Greece it was common for people to consult 'mirror seers' for information on their health, who would make predictions based on a person's reflection. If their reflection appeared distorted, they would suffer ill health. The Romans believed that people's health experienced seven year cycles. This is where the current superstition comes from. It was believed that as a broken mirror shows a distorted image, the person who broke it would experience seven years of ill health.
Don't walk under a ladder: Originating with the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago, a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, with the shape being seen as sacred. It represnted the trinity of the gods, therefore walking through it desecrated them. It was re-enforced by Christianity, as a ladder was rested against the cross during the crucifixion of Christ. It then became a symbol of wickedness, and walking under it caused misfortune. During the middle ages in England, criminals were forced to walk under a ladder on the way to the gallows.
Opening an umbrella indoors: This superstition is actually a relatively recent one, originating in Victorian England. As the apparatus began to become popular, people opening umbrellas indoors were knocking down small ornaments, and the metal spokes injuring children and adults. It is believed that this led to an association between opening umbrellas inside and bad luck.
Magpie as bad luck: Magpies became a symbol of bad luck during the Middle ages in Europe. It's believed that their propensity to steal shiny objects as well as their harsh call led to their designation as bad luck. They also inherited their association with predicting the future at the same time, with the number seen being a prediction of a person's future.
Step on a crack: The origins of stepping on a crack as a sign of bad luck are actually racist. The phrase 'Step on a crack, break your mother's back' was actually originally 'Step on a crack, and your mother's baby will be black'. The phrase originated at time of huge racial prejudice, with inter-racial marriages and relationships taboo.
Fingers crossed: Crossing the fingers as a symbol of good luck has its origin in Christianity. The cross was believed to bring good luck, and so crossing your fingers was believed to bring good fortune.
Brian O'Reilly

Brian O'Reilly

FRIDAY the 13th is seen as the unluckiest day of the year, so to celebrate all things superstitious we take a look at the origins of 13 of the most common superstitions.

From knocking on wood to saying 'God bless' after someone sneezes, we still observe many superstitions even today.

Scroll through the gallery above to read about the origins of 13 of the most famous.

Tweet us @independent.ie with the superstitions you observe!

#Fridaythe13th has been trending on Twitter today and below you can see some of the best tweets under the hashtag.

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