The irrational fear of Friday the 13th is so well know it has even been given it’s own scientific name – paraskevidekatriaphobia (which never fails to invoke my irrational fear of spelling). And while we all know that Friday the 13th is an “unlucky day”, have you ever asked yourself why? Or ever done a deep dive into a few other common unlucky superstitions you may have held over the years? Well, here is your chance to explore the meaning and symbolism behind 13 unlucky superstitions we hold.
Friday the 13th
This common unlucky superstition actually has two roots. The Christian version is that Judas (the 13th guest at the last supper) betrayed Christ on a Friday – making Friday the 13th unlucky for all.
And ancient Norse mythology believed that the god Loki crashed a party of diners with 12 guests and started a fight in which he killed one person. Making the 13th arrival on that Friday night unlucky.
Either version would make Friday the 13th an especially bad day to plan a dinner party!
Black cats crossing your path
Cats were revered in Ancient Egypt as an incarnation of the goddess Bast, so how did they go on to get such a bad rap? This superstition dates back to Medieval Christianity’s belief that black cats were the companions of witches who were to be feared and avoided. Fortunately for the cats the superstition died off before they did!
Breaking a mirror
This superstition found it’s origins in Ancient Greece and Rome where a persons reflection was used by soothsayers to divine their future. A broken mirror (or waves in water) gives no reflection and signifies ill-fortune ahead.
It’s not hard to see how the total or partial eclipse of the sun would bode ill in ancient times – especially before we had the internet to predict, hype and share the event with others. It is a little surprising that in many places around the world today people still treat it with suspicion and wariness.
Whether it is your belief that werewolves turn on the full moon, or a belief that lunacy is madness induced by the rising of the full moon, or the ancient Greek and Roman practice of bacchanalia (a drunken outdoor party still practiced in many regions under the name of “Happy Hour”) observed on the full moon, it may be a good idea to stay inside with locked doors when the moon is full.
Left Handed People
Judeo-Christian traditions have long held that evil and bad luck are often delivered with the left hand making people who use that hand evil by extension, but don’t tell that to my saintly left handed mother!
The fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia and is so wide spread that buildings will “skip” the 13th floor, streets will “omit” the 13th house and many lotto players will never pick that number on their tickets. Whereas the number 7 is considered lucky - just ask a craps player. But other numbers take on hidden meanings depending on your geography. For example the number four is considered an unlucky number in China while eight is considered lucky. I don’t know if that holds true only for residents or if it attaches to you when you are traveling through – but you may want to be better safe than sorry.
Opening an umbrella indoors
Ancient Egyptians believed that an umbrella symbolized the canopy of the sky created by the goddess Nut and religious law prohibited them from being open indoors. In practical terms, it’s better not to risk poking someone’s eye out with one in a small room.
Stepping on a crack
Finally, we find a superstition with its origins in the United States. The saying is “Step on a crack, Break you mother’s back” has some loose affiliation with a crack in the ground being an entry point to the grave or underworld. I think it was just a fun rhyme to say when we were young!
Walking under a ladder
While this may be considered just common sense today, the origins of never walking under a ladder dates back to early Egyptian times. A ladder against a wall forms a triangle, which was considered a magical shape inhabited by a god or spirit and walking in that space was just plain rude!
Placing a hat on the bed
As with so many, this superstition on never placing a hat on a bed has roots in Christianity. It is believed to have started in Italy where a priest’s hat is only removed when putting on his vestments – which means someone is receiving their Last Rights thereby foretelling bad fortunes.
This superstition can be tracked far back into ancient Roman times with just about every civilization since having some version. This is probably traced to the fact that salt was a rare and valued spice so spilling it was a costly mistake. Evil can be cast off again by throwing a pinch over your left shoulder – just don’t hit someone in the eye with it, that’s bad luck for them and you!
Giving someone the evil eye
Many cultures believe that a look of envy can cause bad luck for the person it is directed at – and many believed that certain groups had the power to cast the evil eye on others on your behalf. I just know that growing up, my mothers evil eye could get my sister and I to do anything she wanted.
Never whistle on a ship
Sailors working on rigging of ships communicate by a method of whistles and calls with commands being issued with use of a small fife. A casual whistle could cause an unintended action with the bad consequences of a boom or mast falling unluckily down on your head.
And if you are keeping count, you may notice there are 14 unlucky superstitions listed here. I didn’t want to tempt fate with 13. I’m superstitious that way!
Happy Friday the 13th – if there is such a thing!