Why Black Cats Are Bad Luck and the Origins of 6 Other Common Superstitions


Why do we cross our fingers behind our back and hope for good luck? Why do we think that a broken mirror could lead to 7 years of bad luck?

Human behavior is full of superstitions that we learn about and start doing when we’re young kids. But where do these superstitions come from? It turns out a lot of them actually date back centuries and have been passed down through the generations.

Read on to learn about the origins of 7 common superstitions that we have all been familiar with our entire lives.

1. Black cats

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Avoid black cats! They’re bad luck! I remember learning about this one when I was very young. This superstition originated in the 14th century, when black cats were thought to be associated with the devil and the plague.

The devastating Black Plague of the 14th century killed millions of people across the world, and back then people believed that black cats were the cause of the deadly epidemic. Black cats were killed in huge numbers as a result.

The superstitious prejudice against cats with black coats reared its ugly head again during the witchcraft hysteria of the 16th century. People believed that witches could take the form of black cats, and it was bad luck to cross their paths.

2. Broken mirrors

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Break a mirror and you might get 7 years of bad luck, right? Well, it depends on who you talk to. But one thing is for sure, a lot of people believe that is the case.

Actually, the story goes that in ancient Greece, China, Africa, and India, people believed that a broken mirror would cause someone to lose part of their soul. These ancient cultures thought windows were mirrors to the soul, and breaking them would bring very bad luck.

But it was the Romans who started the idea that it takes 7 years to get rid of bad luck after breaking a mirror.

Why 7 years? The Romans believed that’s how long it took a soul to regenerate.

3. Spilling the salt

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There are several possible origins as to why spilling salt is regarded as bad luck. The first dates back centuries. In Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting “The Last Supper,” Judas, who we all know ended up betraying Jesus, is seen knocking over a bowl of salt. People assumed because Judas was the unlucky 13th guest at the last supper, that his spilling the salt is linked with evil and bad luck.

Another origin story states that salt can be used as a weapon against the devil, to either blind or disorient him, which is why people throw salt over their shoulders after it is spilled.

A final theory dates back to the days when salt was very expensive. If it was spilled, it was seen as very wasteful and therefore, unlucky.

4. Walking under ladders

If you happen to be walking down a busy city street, you’ll see people go out of their way to avoid walking under ladders. This is partly for safety reasons and partly because we’ve been programmed that the practice is bad luck.

Walking under a ladder was seen as a sacrilegious act or even of tempting fate. When a ladder is opened, it forms a triangle, which some consider the symbol of life. People who did take a chance and pass beneath a ladder were seen as tempting fate, playing with the delicate balance between life and death.

Christians view the triangle as representative of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and believed that walking through it was offensive.

5. Opening umbrellas inside

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People seem to get really offended if you open an umbrella indoors. But why? This superstition actually dates back to ancient Egypt. Back then, umbrellas were usually reserved for nobility who used them to shield themselves from the intense Egyptian sunshine.

If a common person was seen using an umbrella, it was viewed as bad luck. And opening an umbrella inside, where it was unnecessary, was looked at as disrespectful to the Egyptian sun god.

6. Knock on wood

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You might catch yourself doing this without even realizing it. I know I do.

People used to believe that good and kind spirits lived in trees, and that knocking on tree trunks was a signal to these spirits to protect you and bring good luck.

7. Cross your fingers

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This superstition has a couple of different explanations. The first: people used to believe that crossing your fingers could help ward off witches. The second originated during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries. During the conflict, archers would cross their fingers for good luck and then shoot their arrows using crossed fingers.

The third theory behind crossing your fingers for good luck dates back to when Christianity was illegal and Christians used to secretly identify each other by crossing their fingers.

It’s amazing that history still weighs so heavily on our thought processes today, even if we have no idea. Did you know about any these?

It definitely makes me want to think a little more critically about what was ingrained in me growing up.