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Superstitions are based on beliefs, not facts, but we pay attention to them – just in case. Writer Bruce Kahn lays out the common and obscure beliefs from around the world.
Text: Bruce Kahn
Country: USA

o you think walking under a ladder or opening an umbrella indoors gives you bad luck? Does finding a penny or having a horseshoe bring you good luck?

I don’t really believe in superstitions and yet I will go out of my way to avoid walking under a ladder. Why?

Superstitions are beliefs or practices for which there is no rational or reasonable explanation. Most people agree that these events are not really valid and that the “bad things” associated with the event are just coincidences. But they follow the beliefs – just in case.

Superstitions are associated with both good and bad luck. Finding a four-leaf clover is believed to be good luck. Wishbones — the v-shaped bones found in the breast of chicken (and other birds) – are good luck too. Each person makes a wish and pulls one side of it, and the one who ends up with the larger half will have his wish come true.

Some cultures have attached special meaning to numbers.

● 13: The fear of the number 13, called triskaidekaphobia, is a common superstition in North America. Fear of the number 13 can be traced back to ancient times in many cultures. Next time you are in a high-rise office building, look for the 13th floor. The numbers in the elevator may go 11, 12, 14, 15, etc. Have you ever sat in row 13 on an airplane? Some communities that number their streets or avenues jump from 12th to 14th. How do you feel about Friday the 13th?

● 4: In China, the pronunciation of the word for the number 4 is similar to that of the Chinese word for death. Many buildings in China skip a fourth floor, just as U.S. builders sometimes omit floor 13.

● 9: Just as the number four has a bad-luck sound-alike in Chinese, 9 is feared in Japan because it sounds similar to the Japanese word for torture or suffering.

● 9: Just as the number four has a bad-luck sound-alike in Chinese, 9 is feared in Japan because it sounds similar to the Japanese word for torture or suffering.

● 17: Some Italians are superstitious about Friday the 17th because rearranging the Roman numeral XVII can create the word “VIXI”—translated from Latin to mean “my life is over.”

● 666: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia means fear of the number 666. In the Bible’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation, John the Apostle refers to 666 as “the number of the beast.” This “beast” is often interpreted as being the Antichrist—and thus the number is a sign of the devil.

Here are some other popular superstitions.

● Having a horseshoe brings good luck and keeps nightmares away, if you hang a horseshoe in the bedroom or on a doorknob with its ends pointing upwards. This belief stems from the fact that a horseshoe has seven holes, which is considered to be a lucky number, and is made of iron, so it can supposedly ward off evil spirits that may haunt you in your dreams.

● Bird poop brings good luck! There is a belief that if a bird poops on you, your car or your property, you may receive good luck and riches. The more birds involved, the richer you’ll be! So next time a bird poops on you, remember that it’s a good thing.

● Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. This popular wedding tradition is said to have originated during the Victorian era and involves giving the bride various gifts. One is something old and represents continuity; another is new and represents hope and the future; the third is borrowed and symbolizes borrowed happiness while the last is blue and is supposed to bring purity, love, and fidelity.

● Fingers crossed. Crossing one’s fingers is commonly used for good luck. It was used when ancient Christians were persecuted, and believers used it to identify other believers as a sign of peace. Today however, this has evolved to excuse the telling of white lies, which may have its roots in the belief that the power of the Christian cross may save a person from being sent to hell for telling a lie.

Wishing upon a star. The superstition involving wishing on the first star you see in the evening is somewhat uncertain, however Europeans believed that the gods would occasionally peer down, and when they moved the sky, a star would escape and fall down. The Greeks also believed that the stars were falling human souls, making a wish on them brought luck.

● Opening an umbrella indoors. According to superstition, if you open an umbrella indoors, you are literally asking for bad luck to “rain on you”. One explanation comes from the days when umbrellas were used as protection from the sun; opening one inside was an insult to the sun god, who would then curse you with bad luck. Another theory states that an umbrella protects you against the storms of life, so opening one inside your house insults the guardian spirits of your home (who also protect you from the storms of life), causing them to leave you unprotected.

● Itchy palms. There seems to be a lot of variations on this superstition, but the idea of having an itchy palm generally refers to someone who is greedy or has an insatiable desire for money. Some people believe that if the right palm itches, you will lose money, while an itchy left palm means that money is coming your way.



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Are you feeling lucky?

Superstitions are beliefs or practices for which there is no rational or reasonable explanation. Most people agree that these events are not really valid and that the “bad things” associated with the event are just coincidences. But they follow the beliefs – just in case.

Superstitions are associated with both good and bad luck. For example, finding a four-leaf clover is believed to be good luck. But walking under a ladder is considered to be bad luck. Some people attach special meanings to numbers. In North-America the number 13 is considered to be very unlucky. In some buildings they even skip the 13th floor and go from the 12th to the 14th. In other countries, other numbers are considered unlucky.

Other popular superstitions are hanging a horseshoe in the bedroom for good luck. Crossing your fingers can also bring good luck; but opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck. And finally, if your right palm itches you may lose money, while if the left one itches you may soon receive money.

 

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