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How to Understand the Origins of Common Superstitions

There are so many superstitions that it's hard to keep track of them all. Understanding where they came from may help you decide which ones to observe.


  • Step 1: Carry a rabbit's foot for good luck. As long ago as the 7th century BCE, rabbits were considered enchanted, so carrying the left hind foot of a rabbit would siphon some of the rabbit's luck to the carrier.
  • Step 2: Say "Bless you" when someone sneezes. Superstition dictates that, when you sneeze, your soul leaves your body and your heart momentarily stops. Invoking a blessing welcomes the sneezer back to life.
  • TIP: Rabbits also symbolize reproduction so, in some cultures, women have been known to carry a rabbit's foot to increase fertility.
  • Step 3: Avoid bad luck by never opening an umbrella indoors. A possible origin of the superstition is that, since umbrellas used to commonly be used to protect against sunlight, opening one inside would insult the sun god.
  • FACT: In 590 CE, Pope Gregory the Great was known to say "God bless you" when people sneezed to protect them from death by the bubonic plague.
  • Step 4: Don't walk under a ladder if you want to avoid bad luck. An open ladder forms a triangle, once considered a symbol of life and also representing the Christian Holy Trinity. If you walk under the ladder, you symbolically break the trinity, causing bad luck.
  • Step 5: Avoid breaking a mirror, or you will have 7 years of bad luck. This superstition likely comes from the ancient Romans, who believed that part of the user's soul was contained in their mirror reflection. If the mirror was broken, they believed, the user would lose part of their soul.
  • TIP: This superstition was also likely perpetuated by da Vinci's representation of the Last Supper, in which Judas Iscariot is portrayed overturning the salt.
  • Step 6: Toss a pinch of salt over your shoulder if you happen to spill it. Legend has it that the devil is always standing behind you, so salt thrown over your shoulder will land in his eye, blinding and distracting him.
  • Step 7: Understand that the unlucky nature of the number 13 probably stems from early Christianity, also having roots in the Last Supper -- there were 13 people at the table.
  • TIP: Many buildings skip the 13th floor and go from the 12th to the 14th.
  • Step 8: Know that the idea that spilling salt is bad luck likely developed from the notion that it was bad luck when salt, ritually placed on the head of a sacrificial animal, spilled off the animal's head.

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