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Common Superstitions from Around the World

Psychologists believe that superstitions are a product of the human brain trying to recognize patterns in randomness. So naturally, believing in superstitions is a common practice that has been around since the beginning of human civilization.

Just as the human settlements and civilizations developed into what they are today, superstitions too have developed and traveled around the world. The result is that there are numerous superstitions that are common amongst people of various nations and cultures.

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Here are some common superstitions that are as popular today as they were in the past.

Common Good Luck Superstitions

Crossing fingers for good luck

1. Crossing fingers to make wishes come true.

This is something that everyone has done throughout their childhood and even into adulthood.

It is so common that the phrase ‘keep your fingers crossed’ has become a popular way of wishing people luck and hoping that things work out for them.

Crossing fingers to bring luck is deeply rooted in Christian beliefs as well, where anything close to the shape of the Christian cross is believed to be very lucky.

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2. Beginner’s luck.

This is a belief, often proven true, that newbies or novices are more likely to win a game, sport, or activity when they try it for the first time.

This is the case especially for those games that require luck more than skill such as gambling games that are based on chance.

Many theorize why such a phenomenon seems to occur and believe it is because beginners are not stressed about winning and since they do not have this anxiety, they can perform better.

3. Wishing on the wishbone.

Something to try during the next Thanksgiving meal is breaking the turkey’s wishbone. If you end up with the longest piece, your wish will come true. In fact, Ancient Romans believed that birds possessed divine powers that could be accessed through their wishbones.

However, since the demand for the bones were high, people started snapping them in half and those with the bigger piece would have their wish granted.

4. Lucky rabbit’s foot.

A custom that began amongst the Celtic tribes of Britain, the belief that a talisman made with a rabbit’s foot fends off evil and brings luck has now spread through the world. It is also a prevalent practice within hoodoo, an African folk magic.

5. Picking up a lucky penny.

lucky penny

Many believe that picking up a penny that was found on the streets is a sign of good luck and the person who picks it up will be lucky throughout the day.

6. Having itchy palms.

It is believed to be a sign of good luck when the palm itches. However, the meaning changes according to which palm is itching.

When it’s the right palm, people believe that they are going to meet someone new and if it’s the left one, then good fortune is on the way and the person is bound to come into money.

But beware, if the itchy palms are scratched, all the promised good luck will be for naught and the only way to stop the itching without causing this to happen is by using brass or lucky wood.

7. Horseshoes.

A horseshoe is one of the luckiest symbols that can be found. It is used as a good-luck charm in many societies around the world and placed on the doors of houses.

If it’s placed with the open ends up, this is said to bring good luck for everyone living in that house. If it’s placed with the ends pointing downwards, it’s believed to shower good luck on all those passing under.

If a horseshoe is found on the street, the best thing to do is to pick it up with the right hand, spit on its end, make a wish and then toss it over the left shoulder.

Common Superstitions That Bring Bad Luck

Friday the 13th superstition

1. The unlucky day Friday the 13th.

According to Christianity, Fridays have always been unlucky, as it was the day on which Jesus was crucified. What’s more, the number 13 too has been considered an unlucky number for a long time, because there were 13 in total at the Last Supper when Jesus knew he would be betrayed.

Put these two superstitions together, and you have the unluckiest day of all. Of all superstitions, the one about Friday the 13th being an unlucky day is relatively new, with its origins dating back to the late 1800s. The phobia of Friday the 13th is known as friggatriskaidekaphobia.

2. Bad luck never comes alone, but always in threes.

Many people believe that if bad luck happens to strike them once, it is bound to happen two more times before they are rid of it once and for all.

3. Walking under ladders.

It is believed that those who walk under a ladder will be cursed with bad luck. This superstition has roots in Christian beliefs which link a ladder leaning on a wall to the triangle of the Holy Trinity. But the superstition goes further back to ancient Egyptian beliefs, which held triangles as sacred.

In both cases, the act of walking under the ladder was akin to breaking the triangle which was so blasphemous that the person who did so would be cursed for eternity.

Another reason this superstition came about is due to the resemblance of the ladders to the gallows of the medieval ages, striking fear into the hearts of the people.

Of course, the most practical reason to fear walking under ladders is that it’s just plain dangerous both for the person walking under it and for the person climbing it.   

4. Opening umbrellas indoors.

Opening umbrellas indoor

There is nothing worse than an open umbrella indoors that brings bad luck to a person. There are various stories to support this superstition, starting from an unlucky Roman woman who opened her umbrella inside her house, only to have her whole house collapse.

Then there was the British prince who was gifted umbrellas by a visiting envoy and died within a few months.

It is also believed to offend the Sun God and signifies that death is impending for the people of the house.

5. Breaking mirrors.

Everyone knows that breaking a mirror can cause bad luck for seven whole years. This superstition has been around since the dawn of the Roman Empire, when it was believed that mirrors reflected not just the image of the person but their soul as well.

6. The unlucky number 666.

The number ‘666’ has been long associated with Satan himself and is called the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation. It is also linked with Doomsday and seen as a sign of the end times.

However, in Chinese culture, 666 is a lucky number as it sounds the same as the words for everything goes smoothly.

7. Black cats crossing one’s path

Black cats, unlike all other felines, have the reputation of being a witch’s familiar or even a witch in disguise. They have been associated with black magic and witchcraft. Because of this, any form of interaction with them, particularly when a black cat crosses someone’s path, is unlucky.

In the Middle Ages, black animals such as ravens and crows were feared as they were thought to be messengers of the Devil that brought death.

Bonus: Common Remedies to Common Superstitions

Knock on wood

If you have unexpectedly done any of the above and are scared that bad luck is on the way, don’t worry! Here are some of the remedies that work really well in reversing the curse. Or so they say.

1. Knocking on or Touching Wood

Anyone having tempted fate can ward off evil by quickly finding some wood (get your mind out of the gutter!), either a tree or some sort of wooden item, and knocking on it.

This practice comes from the belief that trees were homes to good spirits that could reverse the curse. It is also closely linked to the Christian cross, often made with wood, and said to banish any evil.

2. Tossing salt over the shoulder.

In almost all cultures, salt is known for its purifying qualities. This includes getting rid of any evil spirits around or just bad vibes. It is said that by throwing salt over the shoulder, particularly the left one, you can rid yourself of just about any bad luck or curse.

3. Blessing the person who sneezes.

A common practice that is now considered polite behavior in most cultures is blessing a person after they sneeze. This is because many believe that the heart stops for a second when sneezing. In the olden days it was believed that the soul could leave the body upon sneezing and the person had to be blessed to ensure that the soul was kept intact within their body.

4. Walking backwards under the ladder.

If the evil spirits under the ladder have awoken, the only way to counteract their curse is by either walking backwards under the same ladder or by making a fist with the thumb between the index and middle fingers while walking under it.

5. Burying the pieces of the mirror under moonlight.

When a mirror is broken, a method to reverse the curse is to take the shattered pieces and bury them when the moonlight is shining brightly in the night sky.

Wrapping Up

Where there’s human civilizations, there’s always been superstitions. Most common superstitions of today have links to the past and show a vision to the lives of our ancestors. While some of these common superstitions are based on logic, many are not, but it is up to you whether they want to believe in them or not.

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Athira is a lawyer by day and a content writer by night. With her background in law, she has a keen interest in researching and writing about everything under the sun. The topics that interest her the most include mythology from around the world and conspiracy theories. When not lawyering or writing, you can find her learning a new language or trying out an anime theme song on her violin.