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Regardless of which part of the world you hail from, you’re bound to have heard of some superstitions or believe in some yourself! Every culture has its own unique superstitions that carry as much weight as their important cultural and religious rituals and thoughts.
While some superstitions such as Friday the 13th, broken mirrors, walking under ladders or black cats crossing one’s path may be common amongst people all over the world, there are some that are unique to the culture of a group of people or a particular country.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some interesting unique superstitions from various cultures across the world.
Superstitions in Japan
The Japanese are romantic at heart and believe that if a person sneezes once, it means that someone is talking about them. Sneezing twice means that the person who is talking about them is saying something bad while sneezing three times means that someone has fallen in love with them.
2. Hiding Thumbs
In Japan, it’s a common practice to always tuck in your thumbs when you visit a cemetery or hide your thumbs in the presence of funeral cars. It’s believed that this protects one’s parents from early death because the thumb is also called the ‘parent finger’.
3. Chopsticks in a Bowl
Sticking chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice is considered to be an extremely unlucky and rude practice. The reason is that the standing chopsticks resemble the incense sticks that are kept during rituals for the dead.
4. Tea Leaf
It’s a popular belief in Japan that if a stray tea leaf floats in a cup full of tea, it will bring good fortune to the person who’s drinking it.
5. Cleaning the House on New Year’s
For those who practice Shinto traditions, New Year’s Day is the day when gods and goddesses are welcomed into the house. It’s believed that if the house is cleaned on New Year’s, then the deities are pushed away and will not visit the house throughout that year.
Superstitions in the United States of America
6. Find a Penny, Pick It Up!
Throughout the US, there is no one, child or adult who hasn’t heard about finding the lucky penny. It’s a common belief that if you find a penny on the street, the rest of your day will be lucky.
It’s considered especially lucky if the penny is found with its heads facing up. If the penny has the birth year of the person who finds it, it means that the person will be extremely lucky.
7. Bad News Travels in Threes
In the U.S.A., it’s a popular belief that when something bad happens, it means that two more bad things will happen, since bad things always come in threes. This is because one time is random, two may be a coincidence but bad news three times is mysterious, and people tend to associate some form of meaning to it.
Superstitions in China
8. Cawing Crows
In China, the cawing of a crow is believed to have various meanings, depending on the time of day it’s heard. If it’s heard between 3-7 AM, it means that the person who hears it will receive some gifts. Between 7-11 AM means that there’s a storm coming, either literally or figuratively while between 11 AM – 1 PM means that there will be a quarrel in the house.
9. Lucky Eight and Unlucky Four, Seven, and One
While eight is considered the luckiest number, the Chinese avoid anything that relates to the numbers four, seven, and one as they’re considered unlucky. This may be due to the pronunciation of the number four which is deceptively similar to the Chinese word for death. Seven also signifies death while one symbolizes loneliness.
Superstitions in Nigeria
It’s believed that no one should fish in rivers where the Yoruba goddess, Yemoja, resides. She represents love, healing, parenting, and childbirth, and only women are allowed to drink from such rivers.
11. Rain, While the Sun is Shining
Superstitions in Russia
12. Yellow Flowers
In Russia, yellow flowers are never gifted to loved ones as they symbolize infidelity, separation, and death.
13. Bird Poop
This is quite common in many cultures around the world aside from Russia. It’s a popular belief in Russia that if bird poop falls on a person or their belongings, that particular person will be blessed with wealth.
14. Empty Wallets as Gifts
Although a popular gifting option, the Russians believe that gifting an empty wallet invites poverty and is a poor gifting choice unless a certain amount of money is placed inside.
15. Whistling Indoors
In Russia, it’s said that whistling indoors invites evil spirits and bad luck into one’s house. This stems from the belief that spirits communicate through whistling.
Superstitions in Ireland
16. Fairy Forts
In Ireland, a fairy fort (an earthen mound), is the remain of a stone circle, hillfort, ringfort, or any other prehistoric dwelling.
According to Irish traditions, disturbing a fairy fort has dire consequences and can bring you bad luck.
Archaeologists have explained such structures to be the living quarters of people from the Iron Age.
17. Magpies and Robins
Superstitions in United Kingdom
18. Saying “Rabbit”
In the U.K., saying the words ‘Rabbit Rabbit’ or even ‘White Rabbit’ at the beginning of the month ensures that your luck doesn’t run out for the rest of the month. This practice began around 600 BC when people considered rabbits as messengers of the underworld who could communicate with spirits.
Superstitions in Turkey
19. Nazar Boncuğu
The Turkish evil eye is used everywhere as a talisman against evil spirits. This is a charm with a blue and white eye that’s hung by most Turks on trees, in their homes, and in their cars. It’s also a common housewarming gift.
In Cappadocia, there’s a tree dedicated to the evil eye, where the amulets and trinkets are hung on every branch, and it’s believed to dispel all bad energy around the person.
20. Right-Sided Luck
The right side is a favorite of the Turks as they believe that anything started from the right side will only bring good fortune. They start their day by getting up from the right side of the bed, washing their right hand first, and so on for the rest of the day. They also enter a house by stepping on their right foot first.
When there is a ringing in the right ear, the Turks believe that it means that someone is saying good things about them. When their right eye twitches it’s said that good news is on the way.
21. Special Number Forty
In Turkish culture, forty is considered a very special number that brings luck to the Turks. It’s believed that if you do or say anything forty times, it will come true.
22. Throwing Out Bread
Bread also known as ekmek in Turkish is considered sacred and must never be thrown out. When old, it is usually fed to the birds and the Turks ensure to keep it safe without allowing it to come into contact with the floor.
23. Chewing Gum in the Night
According to Turkish superstition, chewing gum after it turns dark outside, will turn the piece of gum into the flesh of the dead.
24. Turning Thumbs at Hagia Sophia
Every historical place has a superstition of its own and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is no exception. It’s said that anyone who puts their thumb in the hole at a bronze column in the mosque and turns it, will have all their wishes come true
Superstitions in Italy
25. Love letter at Juliet Balcony
Casa di Giulietta at Verona in Italy is a place filled with superstitions. The Juliet Balcony was named thus as it inspired Shakespeare to write ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It’s believed that those who leave a letter for Juliet in the mansion will be lucky in love.
It’s now become a tradition for travelers from all across the globe to visit and leave letters at the mansion. Nowadays, there’s even a group called the Juliet Club that responds to these letters as seen in the movie ‘Letters to Juliet’.
Superstitions in Portugal
26. Walking Backwards
Never walk backward in Portugal because it’s said that by walking backward, a connection to the devil is formed. The devil will know where the person is and where they are going.
Superstitions in Spain
27. Eating Grapes During New Years’
The Spaniards wish for good luck in the new year, not by counting down the minutes or clinking champagne, but by eating twelve grapes when the clock strikes twelve. The number 12 represents the twelve months of the year.
Superstitions in Sweden
28. Unlucky Manholes
When in Sweden, pay attention to manholes when stepping on them. Manholes with the letter ‘K’ on them are believed to bring good luck in love to the person that steps on them.
The letter ‘K’ stands for kallvatten meaning clean water. However, if you step on a manhole with the letter ‘A’ which stands for avloppsvatten meaning sewage on it, it means that you will experience heartbreak.
Superstitions in India
To ward off all evil, lemons and chilies are strung up in most homes and other places in India. Legend has it that the Alakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Misfortune, likes spicy and sour foods, so this string of seven chilies and lemons satisfies the goddess without her having to step into the house.
In India, astrology is highly valued and there are certain gemstones for each birth month that are especially considered to bring people good luck. These gemstones are worn in form of rings, earrings, or necklaces.
Superstitions in Brazil
30. White Butterflies
31. Leaving Purses/Wallets on the Ground
Brazilians believe that leaving a wallet or purse on the ground would bring bad luck financially and leave a person penniless. This stems from the idea that keeping money on the floor is disrespectful and it’s said that this practice will only end in poverty.
32. Wearing Certain Colors on New Year’s
One superstition that has turned into a tradition over the years is wearing white clothes on New Year’s to bring good fortune and peace. Wearing yellow brings financial stability, green is for those who seek health, and red or pink is for love.
Superstitions in Cuba
33. Picking Pennies
Unlike the Americans, Cubans believe that picking up a penny found on the streets is bad luck. It’s considered to have ‘mal de ojo’ or evil spirits within it.
34. Last Drink
When drinking, Cubans never declare their last drink, called the ‘el ultimo’ drink, since it’s believed that doing so is tempting fate for an early death.
An amulet with an Azabache, an onyx gemstone, is common in Cuba to protect both children and adults from the evil eye and the jealousy of others. A baby starts its life wearing this onyx gemstone, worn as either a bracelet or necklace to protect its wearer.
36. Prende Una Vela
In Cuba, it’s said that lighting candles are the best way to drive away evil spirits and expel bad energy from the surroundings. All the bad juju is burnt off with the candle which is believed to have powerful purifying abilities.
Superstitions are commonplace in every corner of the world, some of these have been around for so long that they are now special traditions. Although some practices have traveled to become worldwide practices or beliefs, there are still some unique superstitions in certain regions of the world.