List of common superstitions

Contents

Introduction

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If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you’re likely not alone, as we humans are a superstitious lot.

Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can’t explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task.

Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.

Beginner’s luck

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Usually grumbled by an expert who just lost a game to a novice, “beginner’s luck” is the idea that newbies are unusually likely to win when they try out a sport, game or activity for the first time.

Beginners might come out ahead in some cases because the novice is less stressed out about winning. Too much anxiety, after all, can hamper performance. Or it could just be a statistical fluke, especially in chance-based gambling games.

Or, like many superstitions, a belief in beginner’s luck might arise because of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which people are more likely to remember events that fit their worldview. If you believe you’re going to win because you’re a beginner, you’re more likely to remember all the times you were right — and forget the times you ended up in last place.

Find a penny, pick it up …

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And all day long, you’ll have good luck. This little ditty may arise because finding money is lucky in and of itself. But it might also be a spin-off of another old rhyme, “See a pin, pick it up/ and all day long you’ll have good luck/ See a pin, let it lay/ and your luck will pass away.”

Don’t walk under that ladder!

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Frankly, this superstition is pretty practical. Who wants to be responsible for stumbling and knocking a carpenter off his perch? But one theory holds that this superstition arises from a Christian belief in the Holy Trinity: Since a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, “breaking” that triangle was blasphemous.

Then again, another popular theory is that a fear of walking under a ladder has to do with its resemblance to a medieval gallows. We’re sticking with the safety-first explanation for this one.

Black cats crossing your path

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As companion animals for humans for thousands of years, cats play all sorts of mythological roles. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered; today, Americans collectively keep more than 81 million cats as pets.

So why keep a black cat out of your path? Most likely, this superstition arises from old beliefs in witches and their animal familiars, which were often said to take the form of domestic animals like cats.

A rabbit’s foot will bring you luck

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Talismans and amulets are a time-honored way of fending off evil; consider the crosses and garlic that are supposed to keep vampires at bay. Rabbit feet as talismans may hark back to early Celtic tribes in Britain. They may also arise from hoodoo, a form of African-American folk magic and superstition that blends Native American, European and African tradition.

Bad luck comes in threes

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Remember confirmation bias? The belief that bad luck comes in threes is a classic example. A couple things go wrong, and believers may start to look for the next bit of bad luck. A lost shoe might be forgotten one day, but seen as the third in a series of bad breaks the next.

Don’t break a mirror

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According to folklore, breaking a mirror is a surefire way to doom yourself to seven years of bad luck. The superstition seems to arise from the belief that mirrors don’t just reflect your image; they hold bits of your soul. That belief led people in the old days of the American South to cover mirrors in a house when someone died, lest their soul be trapped inside.

Like the number three, the number seven is often associated with luck. Seven years is a long time to be unlucky, which may be why people have come up with counter-measures to free themselves after breaking a mirror. These include touching a piece of the broken mirror to a tombstone or grinding the mirror shards into powder.

666 = the mark of Satan

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Three sixes in a row give some people the chills. It’s a superstition that harks back to the Bible. In the Book of Revelation, 666 is given as the number of the “beast,” and is often interpreted as the mark of Satan and a sign of the end times.

According to State University of New York at Buffalo anthropologist Philips Stevens, the writer of Revelation was writing to persecuted Christians in code, so the numbers and names in the book are contemporary references. Three sixes in a row is probably the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew letters for the first-century Roman Emperor Nero.

Knock on wood

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This phrase is almost like a verbal talisman, designed to ward off bad luck after tempting fate: “Breaking that mirror didn’t bring me any trouble, knock on wood.”

The fixation on wood may come from old myths about good spirits in trees or from an association with the Christian cross. Similar phrases abound in multiple languages, suggesting that the desire not to upset a spiteful universe is very common.

Make a wish on a wishbone

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The tradition of turkey bone tug-of-war goes back a long way. Legend has it that first-century Romans used to fight over dried wishbones — which they believed were good luck — and would accidentally break them, ushering in the idea that whoever has the largest bit of bone gets their wish. Bird bones have also been used in divination throughout history, with a supposed soothsayer throwing the bones and reading their patterns to predict the future.

Very Superstitious: 5 Popular Superstitions in Today’s America

Black cats, broken mirrors, four-leaf clovers. Superstitions are all around us. Heck, you can’t even spill some salt without summoning bad luck. But why do we have these collective beliefs and rituals? To begin to understand, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular superstitions in America, today. Many people believe in them. Do you?

Growing up in an Italian household, my childhood was filled with tales of the past. My grandparents shared stories of evil eye curses, strange deaths, and village jealousy. For me, superstition was not out of the ordinary. And I’m not alone. No matter where you’re from, you probably have a few superstitions of your own. Each culture, each country, and each time period comes with a set of weird behaviors and beliefs to promote good luck and to ward off misfortune.

But in a more secular and jaded time, do these superstitions maintain their hold? Strangely, yes. According to the documentary, Superstitious Minds, the percentage of people who identify as superstitious has risen by almost a quarter in the past decade, with people under 30 most affected.

Superstitions Have No Age Limits

It’s not unusual to see children hold their breath as they pass by cemeteries, or for adults to play “lucky” numbers when they purchase a lottery ticket. Irrational behaviors and rituals surrounding superstitious beliefs know no boundaries. Superstition is all around us. And while such beliefs are not limited by age, it is striking to see how different generations follow different rules.

Millennials, for instance, tend to focus on superstitions that invite good luck. Crossing their fingers for good luck and believing in “beginners luck” are two of the most widely held beliefs in superstitious, millennial minds. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are more likely to concentrate on avoiding bad luck. They fear the number 13, black cats, and open umbrellas indoors. It’s even reported that boomers avoid stepping on the cracks of sidewalks. (After all, who wants to break their mother’s back?) Generation X follows its own assortment of quirky rules. You’re unlikely to find a Gen Xer walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror, but, when they do, watch out for the salt they might throw over their left shoulder.

Age isn’t the only factor when it comes to superstitious beliefs. Trends also vary by region, with the South being the most superstitious. Of the Southerners surveyed, 42.7% admitted to be superstitious. The Northeast was close behind, with 42.2% reported. The farther west you move, however, the fewer superstitions seem to follow. In the Midwest, 38.4% of those surveyed reported being superstitious, and the number drops to 37% in the West. Perhaps the behaviors are regional, or perhaps some people are simply more likely to admit to their beliefs. Besides, everyone has some superstition in them. In the memorable words of The Office’s Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.”

5 Popular Superstitions in the U.S.

Whether you find yourself a believer or not, there is a large population of people who let superstitions influence their actions. In fact, common behaviors today are routed in past superstitions (like saying “bless you” after a sneeze, or constructing new buildings without a 13th floor). Don’t believe me? Here are five of the top superstitions practiced in contemporary America.

1. How Do You Solve a Problem like “13”?

Throughout human history, the number 13 has crept up as an infamous number. But how did it get such a bad rep? The origin of unlucky 13 can be traced back through millenia to different civilizations. For example, 13 was deemed unlucky by the ancient Sumerians. When they developed their numerical system, 12 was deemed to be the most “perfect” number. But that wasn’t lucky for the number 13. Because it followed in 12’s shadow, people began to think of 13 as lacking and strange – even unlucky. This belief stuck and found its way into the New Testament in the form of Judas – the betrayer – who was the 13th guest to arrive at the Last Supper.

Scared of Friday the 13th? Maybe Friday isn’t the day you should be worried about. Some countries (like Greece and Spain) actually believe Tuesday the 13th is the unlucky day.

While some have turned the superstition on its head and consider 13 a lucky number, it’s more commonly still feared. In fact, it is estimated that one third of people believe that bad things happen on Friday the 13th. The belief is so common there’s even a word for people with this fear: Paraskevidekatriaphobia. (Try saying that three times in a row, or even once!) People avoid traveling on Friday the 13th, stop doing business, and even refrain from getting married or celebrating special events. According to Superstitious Minds, it’s avoided so much that up to $2.4 billion a year is lost in the global economy. Is that just unlucky for the economy, or is it because people avoid business ventures and work on this day?

2. Who Spilled the Salt?

Has anyone you know ever spilled salt, only to pause what they’re doing and throw the salt over their shoulder? You know, to ward off bad luck? I know I have (which was particularly inconvenient during my stint as a waitress). And I’ve seen many people do this, automatically without knowing why.

While the origin of this practice is unknown, there are several theories. Let’s take it back to Judas again. We already saw how he may be associated with unlucky 13, and he just might have had a hand in this superstition as well. In Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” Judas is seen knocking over the salt. Because of his Biblical role, people began associating salt with deceit. And, sticking with the Biblical roots, some say that the devil waits behind your left shoulder. So, when you spill salt, it gives the devil an opportunity to step in. What can one do in this situation? Take that salt you spilled and throw it over your shoulder to blind the devil to save yourself!

We don’t know for sure what bad juju spilled salt brings, but if it’s already spilled it won’t hurt to toss it … you know, just in case.

3. Bad News Comes in Threes

Maybe it’s just confirmation bias, but bad news always seems to travel in threes. To this day, when a public figure dies, people wait to see who the next two will be. Why three? What is the significance? It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are intrigued by groupings of three. One is random. Two is coincidence. Three … well, three peaks our interest. We take this grouping, and we try to find meaning in it.

Is it number mysticism, or is it psychology? Sets of three are appealing and easily delivered. Finding patterns like this give purpose to some. We naturally look for patterns, after all.

While the origin of this superstition is debated, the pattern of three is still a superstition with a strong following to this day. Maybe we’re looking for patterns of three, or maybe there really is some truth behind this superstition. Who’s to say?

4. Brother, Can You Spare Some Luck?

“Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.” This simple children’s rhyme rings through the minds of young and old alike. I’ve heard several versions (with some believing that only a penny found heads up is lucky), but the message remains the same: A found penny is a lucky penny. Finding money is lucky, especially if it’s a large bill, but the penny is the currency that shines with special good fortune.

Back in ancient times, many cultures believed metals were gifts from the gods, bringing luck to all that found them. Naturally, metal coins were thought to be especially lucky because they increased your wealth. I know pennies won’t get you very far in today’s world (financially speaking), but I’ll cash in all the luck I can get.

And even if it is just superstition, I still flip over “tails” I find on the sidewalk with hopes of making someone else’s day fortuitous.

5. Don’t Forget to Knock on Wood

Have you ever said something and then quickly “knocked on wood” in order not to jinx yourself? You’re not alone. Perhaps the most common superstitious practice in America today, “knock on wood” is both a widely used phrase and action. In a survey conducted by the Crowdsourcing website, Ranker.com, 18,000 people ranked their top superstitions. Knocking on wood appeared as number one.

While this one is a long held belief, the original source didn’t require individuals to knock on wood – they simply had to touch wood. Medieval churches would often possess wood claimed to be from the Cross itself. By touching the wood, churchgoers would believe that they forged a link to the divine, and that they would receive good luck because of it. But this belief has roots that branch (no pun intended) far outside the Church’s influence.

One of the possible origins of this superstition can be found in pagan rituals. In pagan religions, trees were worshipped and seen as the homes of certain gods. Worshippers would lay their hands on a tree when asking for favors, or would touch the tree as an act of thanks after having good fortune. It was also done to ask for protection.

Both historical instances of this superstition are grounded in the same basic belief – touch a piece of wood to get good luck. It’s a belief that maintains a powerful hold on many people to this day.

So, Are You a Believer?

Of course, these are but a few of the innumerable superstitions that have influenced people from eras and cultures throughout human history. From avoiding black cats to collecting four-leaf clovers, strange traditions are practiced around the world in order to usher in good luck – or to avoid the bad kind.

Maybe these superstitions are just that: superstitions. Or maybe, there is some truth to the myths. Either way, I’m not going to test it. I’ll handle mirrors carefully and continue to toss my spilled salt. And I’d advise you do the same . . . knock on wood.

14 Good Luck Superstitions from Around the World

Finding a four-leaf clover, carrying a rabbit’s foot, and crossing your fingers are considered symbols of good luck by many. Athletes famously engage in superstitious rituals—basketball legend Michael Jordan reportedly wore the same pair of shorts under his NBA uniform for every game, and tennis star Serena Williams ties her shoelaces the same way before every match and always bounces the tennis ball five times before her first serve. Good luck superstitions, ranging from small gestures to elaborate observance, exist in cultures all over the world. Here are 14 of them.

1. THROW BROKEN DISHES AT HOUSES // DENMARK

In Denmark, people save their broken dishes throughout the year in anticipation of throwing them on New Year’s Eve. Danes chuck the broken plates at their friends’ and family’s houses as a way to wish the recipient good luck in the year to come. Some Danish (and also German) children opt to leave a pile of broken dishes on the doorsteps of their friends and neighbors, in a less aggressive manner of wishing prosperity.

2. SWEEP DIRT AWAY FROM THE FRONT DOOR // CHINA

In China, it’s believed that good fortune enters your life through your front door. Just before the New Year, Chinese people follow a tradition of thoroughly cleaning their homes to bid farewell to the previous year, but to avoid sweeping all that good luck out, the home is swept inward and collected in a pile to be carried out the back door, never through the front. In fact, no cleaning is performed at all during the first two days of the New Year so that no good luck can be swept away.

3. EAT A DOZEN GRAPES AND WEAR RED UNDERWEAR TO RING IN THE NEW YEAR // SPAIN

When midnight strikes to usher in a New Year, Spaniards eat 12 green grapes for 12 months of good luck. They eat one grape at each bell toll, chewing and swallowing quickly, and they wear red underwear while doing so. The superstition involving grapes dates back to century ago when there was a grape surplus, and the red underwear originated in the Middle Ages, when Spaniards couldn’t outwardly wear red clothing because it was considered to be a devilish color.

4. BIRD DROPPINGS ARE A SIGN OF GREAT THINGS TO COME // RUSSIA

Rather than view a bird defecating on them as a disgusting surprise, Russians welcome it as a sign of good luck and fortune. To Russians, bird droppings on you, your home, or your car signifies that money will be coming your way. Don’t worry, if multiple birds defecate on you, you’ll supposedly get more money.

5. SPILL WATER BEHIND SOMEONE // SERBIA

According to Serbian folk stories, spilling water behind someone is a great way to give them good luck. Because moving water is fluid and smooth, it confers good luck to the person you spill it behind. Serbians spill water behind their friends and family members who are preparing to take a test, face a job interview, or go on a trip.

6. HANG UPSIDE-DOWN TO KISS A ROCK // IRELAND

A woman kissing the Blarney Stone, circa 1950. Getty

The legendary Blarney Stone at Ireland’s Blarney Castle attracts visitors who kiss the stone to get the gifts of good luck and eloquence. Visitors who want its good luck must walk to the top of the castle, lean backwards, and hold on to a railing so their lips can reach the stone. Kissing the inconveniently located stone is a risky enough process that castle employees help visitors by holding on to their bodies as they lean back.

7. WEAR A SURROGATE PENIS // THAILAND

Boys and men in Thailand believe that wearing a palad khik, or surrogate penis amulet, under their pants will bring them luck. Carved from bone or wood, the surrogate penises are under 2 inches long and are thought to lessen the severity of potential injuries for the wearers. Some men wear multiple penis amulets—one for good luck with women and another for good luck when gambling or fighting, for example.

8. BRIDES SHOULD PUT A BELL ON THEIR DRESSES // IRELAND

Irish brides wear small bells on their wedding dresses or jewelry, or they put bells in their bouquets. The bells are worn as a symbol of good luck because the ringing allegedly discourages evil spirits intent on destroying the union. Guests may also ring bells during the ceremony or give bells to the couple as a wedding gift.

9. SAY THE WORD ‘RABBIT’ WHEN YOU WAKE UP // UNITED KINGDOM

A good luck superstition that originated in the United Kingdom involves saying “rabbit” right after you wake up on the first day of the month. Whether you say “rabbit,” “white rabbits,” or “rabbit, rabbit,” the ritual will supposedly give you good luck for the rest of the month. The superstition has been around since at least the early 1900s, and even President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly said “rabbit, rabbit” to usher in each new month. If you forget to say it in the morning, for the same results simply say “black rabbit” or “tibbar, tibbar” (rabbit spelled backwards) right before you go to sleep instead.

10. RUB SPECIAL INCENSE ON YOUR ACHING BODY PARTS // JAPAN

The front of the Sensoji Temple in east Tokyo, Japan has a giant incense burner that visitors go to for a “good luck” smoke bath. This ancient Buddhist temple, the oldest in Tokyo, was founded in 628 CE and Japanese people view the incense as holy for its healing powers. Visitors come to stand around the incense, waving the smoke around their bodies, to receive good health.

11. THE NUMBER EIGHT IS GREAT // CHINA

Speaking the number eight in Chinese sounds similar to the word for fortune and prosperity, so people in China love anything having to do with eight. Chinese people schedule marriages on dates involving the number, and everything from flight numbers to phone numbers are more lucky if they have eights in them. With this superstition in mind, the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing started at 8:08 p.m. on 8/8/2008.

12. EAT BEANS ON NEW YEAR’S EVE // ARGENTINA

Argentinians prepare themselves for the New Year by eating beans for good luck. Whether they eat them on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, Argentinians believe that the beans will bring them luck and security in their jobs. A cheap and deliciously easy way to gain a sense of job security and peace of mind for the year to come!

13. ACCIDENTALLY BREAK BOTTLES OF ALCOHOL // JAPAN

After he accidentally knocked a full bottle of Scotch off the shelf at the bar where he worked, a clumsy bartender in Okinawa, Japan felt humiliated and assumed he would be in big trouble. Instead, the owner and patrons cheered because they believed that breaking the bottle brings good luck and higher profits to the bar. Intentionally knocking alcohol bottles onto the floor isn’t auspicious, though—it has to be an accident.

14. PLANT A TREE TO CELEBRATE YOUR WEDDING // THE NETHERLANDS AND SWITZERLAND

In the Netherlands and Switzerland, some newlyweds plant a pine tree outside their home to bring good luck and fertility to the marriage. Other couples incorporate trees into their actual wedding ceremony, believing that the trees will bring good luck and bless their union.

All images via iStock unless otherwise noted.

Good luck superstitions in feng shui are based on the Chinese culture and philosophical belief systems. This is similar to lucky superstition beliefs in other cultures and covers a variety of areas.

General Chinese Superstitions for Good and Bad Luck

Like any culture, the Chinese have certain superstitions that are related to good and bad luck. These superstitions come in a variety of forms and can relate to specific kinds of luck, like energy or love, rather than general good or bad luck.

  • The Chinese believe that good luck can be found in pairs. Love/marriage can be enhanced with a pair of mandarin ducks on the nightstand.
  • Never point at the moon or you’ll pay the price by having your ear fall off.
  • You don’t want to build a home that faces north. This will bring financial ruin and other chaos in your life.
  • Staircases should have an even number of steps with no open risers since they symbolize loss of energy and also money.
  • A moustache is considered bad luck for the man.
  • The word is caution for marriage and numbers when it comes to the age difference between you and your spouse. If you want to ensure a happy marriage, you shouldn’t marry anyone who is 3 or 6 years younger or older than you.
  • The Chinese culture considers used or second-hand clothes, furniture, and other items is inauspicious. This superstition is believed to be founded in ideologies of honor, reputations, and pride.
  • Never beat a person with a broom. This will bring bad luck to the person for many years.
  • When traveling, always knock on the door before entering. This alerts any spirits of your presence so they won’t be startled by your presence and encourages them to leave.

What You Say Is Important

One of the things you don’t want to do is talk about the dead. The Chinese don’t talk about the dead or about anyone who is dying. This is considered very bad luck. Make sure your luck remains intact by not telling any ghost stories.

House Cleaning

How you sweep your home is very important. You can hold on to the good luck that enters your door by proper sweeping. When you sweep your home, you should sweep inwardly. You need to sweep all the dirt and dust into the center of your home and then physically carry it out of the house through the back door, never the front door. This keeps the good luck in your home.

Gift Giving

Whenever the Chinese give a gift, it’s done in pairs or multiples of pairs. If you wish to give a gift, then you’ll want to give two gifts. The more gifts, the more luck, such as giving four, eight, sixteen gifts, and so on.

  • Gifts are given for various occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and New Year.
  • Don’t give pointy items as gives, such as a knife set or cacti. These are symbols for severing a relationship.
  • A lucky bamboo arrangement is often given for house warming gifts, birthdays, anniversaries and other events.
  • Never gift with miniature objects or plants, such as bonsai. This type of gift bestows stunted growth in all areas of life to the recipient.
  • Don’t give a clock, hourglass, or other timepiece since this is a symbol of stealing time from the person and shortening their life.
  • Always insert money when giving a purse or wallet. If left empty, you’re bestowing a lack of wealth to the person. Never give empty decorative boxes, always put something of value inside.
  • Gift wrap is very important. Use only bright colored papers and wrap with either a gold or red ribbon. Traditionally, a gift is wrapped in silk fabric to signify your best wishes for prosperity and wealth to the recipient.

Flowers for Good Luck

Even flowers have specific superstitions tied to them and their use in everyday life.

  • Lotus: This is the most prominent flower and symbolism is powerful. The lotus flower lifts out of the mud and blooms in great beauty. Long life.
  • Peach blossom: The peach tree is a symbol of immortality producing the gods’ divine fruit. Love symbols.
  • Lilies: Lilies are used for weddings and even have a specific meaning that reads, “happy union for a hundred years.”
  • Narcissus: White narcissus placed in the north sector of your home will boost career ambition luck.
  • Hydrangea: This good luck symbol restores balance in home life.
  • Orchids: For a couple, orchids mean happiness and also presents wealth and great luck in fortunes.
  • Chrysanthemum: This flower is used for religious offerings on altars. When looking for a gift for an older person, chrysanthemums are an ideal choice since they symbolize longevity.
  • Peonies: The peony is a powerful symbol of love and marriage.

Auspicious Colors

While colors are used in feng shui for compass sectors, there are also various superstitions that drive other uses of specific colors. These include:

  • Red: This is an auspicious color and considered a symbol of good luck. Weddings feature red lanterns, wedding invitation envelopes, money envelopes, wedding decorations and even the bride’s dress.
  • Gold: This color represents wealth and is often used with red. It’s found in all monetary and wealth symbols.
  • Black: This color represents water and is used for career luck. It’s often used in a combination with red to create a powerful duo.
  • White: A mourning color, white is associated with funerals and a mourning period. It is never worn at a wedding.

Lucky Numbers

Numbers play an important role in feng shui and life is often ruled by the use of numbers. Some are auspicious and others are considered inauspicious.

  • Number 4: Four sounds like the Chinese word, death and should be avoided.
  • Number 8: Eight is lucky because it sounds like the word prosper.
  • Number 9: Nine sounds similar to the word sufficient.
  • Dates: Each Chinese zodiac sign has two most auspicious lunar months. These are used to select important dates such as weddings.
  • Address: The number 8 is associated with wealth while number 9 is associated with a long life. These are considered very auspicious numbers for a home address while 4 is inauspicious and homeowners avoid addresses with a 4.
  • Lucky numbers: The Kua number is your personal map to your four auspicious directions. You can take advantage of these directions and avoid your four inauspicious ones.

Food and Drink

Some foods and drinks are considered auspicious, and some are believed to be powerful aspects of important days and events.

  • Noodles: Long noodles are auspicious of a long life, and you should never cut noodles or risk shortening your life.
  • Oranges: The round golden shape of an orange is considered a symbol of gold and represents blessings and prosperity.
  • Whole chicken and fish: A chicken and fish should be cooked whole and served whole. Both are a symbol of family unity.
  • Spring rolls: The golden fried spring rolls are symbols of gold ingots.
  • Tea: Serving a visitor tea is the social sign that the visit is coming to an end.

Superstitions Surrounding New Year’s Day

One of the most auspicious times for the Chinese is New Year’s Day. The Chinese believe that the things you do on this day will determine your luck for the following year.

New Year Good Luck Tips

A few important tips can help you increase your luck for the upcoming year.

  • Don’t argue or cry on New Year’s Day unless you wish to cry and argue throughout the upcoming year.
  • Don’t use sharp objects, like knives, on this important day since pointed objects are considered inauspicious. Knives on New Year’s Day will slice and destroy your good luck.
  • Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and avoid rough patches by not buying any shoes on New Yea’s Day. The word shoes sounds like the word rough, so if you need new shoes, purchase a pair before the holiday.
  • You need to start the New Year off debt-free, otherwise, the you’ll be plagued with bills and more bills throughout the entire year.
  • Serve noodles for the New Year’s meal. The longer the noodle the longer and happier the luck will be.
  • The color red is considered to most auspicious color and brings the biggest and best luck. You’ll want to wear red on New Year’s Day.
  • To ensure you have a sweeter New Year, be sure to eat deserts, candy and other sweets.
  • Don’t get your hair cut during the week of the New Year. If you cut your hair, you’re cutting off good luck. Don’t wash your hair on the first day of the New Year unless you want to wash away all of your good luck.

Wedding Superstitions

You’ll find several superstitions surrounding wedding ceremonies.

  • A rainy wedding is auspicious and means a fertile and prosperous life together.
  • Don’t try on your wedding dress before the wedding or you won’t get married. There’s no answer for how a bride gets fitted for her wedding dress.
  • If the groom stands or sits in front of his wife during the ceremony, he’s doomed to life a married life constantly being henpecked.
  • It’s bad luck if the groom arrives at the ceremony after the bride.
  • Never give the bride and groom knifes or other pointed and sharp objects as a gift. Sharp objects are considered inauspicious.
  • Rice tossed at the couple ensures prosperity.
  • The bride should never wear pearls on her wedding day or suffer a sad and tearful marriage.
  • Wedding clothes are red, white or yellow to ensure a lucky wedding and marriage.

Babies and Birthday Superstitions

There are also superstitions surrounding births.

  • A baby shower before the baby is born is bad luck. These are held after the birth.
  • You can ensure the gender of your baby by eating certain foods.
  • Be careful what you think and do because this will affect who your child becomes.
  • Refrain from rubbing your abdomen too often, or suffer a spoiled child.
  • There can be no construction or work done in the home of a pregnant woman without risking the health of her unborn child.
  • Your baby’s destiny is determined by the very first object she or he picks up.

Feng Shui and Chinese Good and Bad Luck Superstitions

Most of these Chinese superstitions are observed in feng shui. Be sure to use the auspicious ones to increase your good luck in specified areas of your life.

The next time you cross your fingers or tell someone to break a leg, you may actually be bringing some luck.

Superstitious ways of bringing good luck are found in cultures around the world, and it turns out they may be ubiquitous for a very good reason: To some extent, superstitions work. New research shows that believing in, say, the power of a good luck charm can actually help improve performance in certain situations, even though the charm and event aren’t logically linked.

This is what a team of psychologists at the University of Cologne in Germany report in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science. In a series of experiments employing tasks involving memory and motor skills, the scientists studied the effect of behavior and “object superstitions” – which rely on good luck charms – in college students.

Cross your fingers

The first experiment looked at the influence of the concept of good luck in a test of putting a golf ball. Experimenters handed participants a ball, and those who were told the ball was lucky tended to outperform those who weren’t. In another experiment, participants were given a cube containing tiny balls and a slab with holes. The goal was to get as many balls in the holes as quickly as possible. Again, participants who were told, “I’ll cross my fingers for you,” by the experimenter performed better.

The final two experiments involved a lucky charm brought by each participant. In a memory test and an anagram test, the participants who were permitted to keep their lucky charms with them performed better.

Boosted confidence

To find out if superstitious beliefs were truly giving students an edge, the scientists surveyed them before the final two experiments to gauge their confidence levels. The participants who kept their good luck charms set higher goals for what they wanted to achieve on the tasks, and said they felt more confident in their abilities.

“Engaging in superstitious thoughts and behaviors may be one way to reach one’s top level of performance,” the researchers write in the journal article.

People often become superstitious when faced with unknown and stressful situations, possibly explaining why athletes and students are often superstitious, the researchers say. Engaging in a superstition could reduce tension related to a high-stakes competition or an exam.

As the study showed, superstitious beliefs may also increase a person’s belief in his or her own abilities and talents. And what may seem like a “lucky break” when the underdog team wins may really be the result of team-wide, superstition-induced confidence.

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This article was provided by Life’s Little Mysteries, a sister site to LiveScience.

Thirteen common (but silly) superstitions to savor

If you are spooked by Friday the 13th, you’re in for a whammy of a year. And it would come as no surprise if many among us hold at least some fear of freaky Friday, as we humans are a superstitious lot.

Many superstitions stem from the same human trait that causes us to believe in monsters and ghosts: When our brains can’t explain something, we make stuff up. In fact, a 2010 study found that superstitions can sometimes work, because believing in something can improve performance on a task.

Here, then, are 13 of the most common superstitions.

13. Beginner’s luck

Usually grumbled by an expert who just lost a game to a novice, “beginner’s luck” is the idea that newbies are unusually likely to win when they try out a sport, game or activity for the first time.

Beginners might come out ahead in some cases because the novice is less stressed out about winning. Too much anxiety, after all, can hamper performance. Or it could just be a statistical fluke, especially in chance-based gambling games.

Or, like many superstitions, a belief in beginner’s luck might arise because of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which people are more likely to remember events that fit their worldview. If you believe you’re going to win because you’re a beginner, you’re more likely to remember all the times you were right — and forget the times you ended up in last place.

12. Find a penny, pick it up,,,

And all day long, you’ll have good luck. This little ditty may arise because finding money is lucky in and of itself. But it might also be a spin-off of another old rhyme, “See a pin, pick it up/ and all day long you’ll have good luck/ See a pin, let it lay/ and your luck will pass away.”

11. Don’t walk under that ladder!

Frankly, this superstition is pretty practical. Who wants to be responsible for stumbling and knocking a carpenter off his perch? But one theory holds that this superstition arises from a Christian belief in the Holy Trinity: Since a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, “breaking” that triangle was blasphemous.

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Then again, another popular theory is that a fear of walking under a ladder has to do with its resemblance to a medieval gallows. We’re sticking with the safety-first explanation for this one.

10. Black cats crossing your path

As companion animals for humans for thousands of years, cats play all sorts of mythological roles. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered; today, Americans collectively keep more than 81 million cats as pets.

So why keep a black cat out of your path? Most likely, this superstition arises from old beliefs in witches and their animal familiars, which were often said to take the form of domestic animals like cats.

9. A rabbit’s foot will bring you luck

Talismans and amulets are a time-honored way of fending off evil; consider the crosses and garlic that are supposed to keep vampires at bay. Rabbit feet as talismans may hark back to early Celtic tribes in Britain. They may also arise from hoodoo, a form of African-American folk magic and superstition that blends Native American, European and African tradition.

8. Bad luck comes in threes

Remember confirmation bias? The belief that bad luck comes in threes is a classic example. A couple of things go wrong, and believers may start to look for the next bit of bad luck. A lost shoe might be forgotten one day, but seen as the third in a series of bad breaks the next.

7. Careful with that mirror

According to folklore, breaking a mirror is a surefire way to doom yourself to seven years of bad luck. The superstition seems to arise from the belief that mirrors don’t just reflect your image; they hold bits of your soul. That belief led people in the old days of the American South to cover mirrors in a house when someone died, lest their soul be trapped inside.

Like the number three, the number seven is often associated with luck. Seven years is a long time to be unlucky, which may be why people have come up with counter-measures to free themselves after breaking a mirror. These include touching a piece of the broken mirror to a tombstone or grinding the mirror shards into powder.

6. 666

Three sixes in a row give some people the chills. It’s a superstition that harks back to the Bible. In the Book of Revelation, 666 is given as the number of the “beast,” and is often interpreted as the mark of Satan and a sign of the end times.

According to State University of New York at Buffalo anthropologist Philips Stevens, the writer of Revelation was writing to persecuted Christians in code, so the numbers and names in the book are contemporary references. Three sixes in a row is probably the numeric equivalent of the Hebrew letters for the first-century Roman Emperor Nero.

If you knock on wood when you say something presumptuous or freak out when you see a broken mirror, you’re not alone — Americans are still very superstitious. Here’s why. (Image: Nadeen Nakib for Yahoo Health/iStock)

They may seem old-fashioned, but superstitions are still alive and well, according to a new survey. Crowdsourcing website Ranker.com polled 18,000 people on the superstitions they believe in and found that, as a whole, people are still very superstitious.

Here are the top 10 most widely believed superstitions, per the survey:

1. Knocking on wood
2. Wishing on a star
3. Breaking a mirror
4. Four-leaf clover
5. Bad news comes in threes
6. Don’t open an umbrella inside
7. Lucky penny
8. Beginner’s luck
9. Saying “bless you” when someone sneezes
10. Wishing on a wishbone

The top superstitions also varied by age and gender: Women ranked tossing salt over your left shoulder after you spill it as one of their top superstitions, while men and millennials said wishing on a star was theirs. People from Generation X and baby boomers said the lucky penny (getting good luck after you find a heads-up penny) was their No.1 superstitious belief.

Psychologist Stuart Vyse, PhD, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, tells Yahoo Health that superstitions are more common than we think. “Some polls have found that over 50 percent of Americans consider themselves at least a little superstitious,” he says.

Many people believe in superstitions because life is uncertain. “When we really want something to happen yet we can’t make it happen for certain, we grasp for things that seem unlikely,” Vyse says. “Superstitions offer a feeling of control where control isn’t possible.”

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Superstitions are also learned and spread around societies, Donald A. Saucier, PhD, a professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University, tells Yahoo Health. “If we knock on wood, and then something bad doesn’t happen, we may think that we stopped a bad event by knocking on wood,” he says. “As we learn these associations, we may discuss them with others, and over time, may embed them in our culture.”

But where did these come from in the first place? Superstition expert Benjamin Radford, a research fellow at the Center for Inquiry and member of the American Folklore Society, tells Yahoo Health that some origins are clearer than others.

Here’s what’s behind these common superstitions, per Radford:

Knocking on wood
Knocking is a modern spin on it — originally, the superstition just involved touching wood. “Medieval churches would be filled with wood that claimed to be from the cross,” explains Radford. The devout believed that touching the wood would give them a link to the divine and, consequently, good luck. The superstition grew from there. (Radford notes that pagans also revered wood for its strength.)

Wishing on a star

Once upon a time, pointing to a whole host of things (including people) was considered rude. At the same time, twinkling stars were considered to be supernatural beings. “Since it was considered unlucky to point to the star, people would wish on it to petition good luck from it without offending the supernatural being,” Radford says.

Breaking a mirror

The mirror was once considered to be divine and supernatural, and breaking the image was thought to violate its divinity. As a result, the breaker would receive bad luck.

Four-leaf clover

Clovers were once believed to keep away witches and allow the finder to see fairies. “A four-leaf clover was especially rare, and therefore even more powerful,” Radford explains.

Bad news comes in threes

There are a few theories behind this one. One ties to the holy trinity of father, son, and holy ghost or spirit, with the notion that important things (good and bad) come in threes. The second is that three establishes a pattern. Something happening once could be random, twice could just be chance, but three times means something, Radford says.

Don’t open an umbrella inside

Radford says it’s not entirely clear where this came from but it could be that earlier umbrellas had a tight spring that could catch and injure a finger. If you were going to use one, it was best to do so when you actually needed it.

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Lucky penny

There are several reasons this may have come about, but Radford points out that finding any money is lucky and pennies are common; therefore there are many opportunities to find some kind of significance with them (like the year you were married, your birth date, and so on).

Beginner’s luck

This could have been as simple as a way to encourage people to try something new, Radford says.

Saying “bless you” when someone sneezes

It was once believed that evil spirits could enter a person’s body when they sneezed, Radford says. By saying “bless you,” a person bestows blessings on the sneezer that ward off the evil spirits.

Wishing on a wishbone

Fowl were once used as tools of divination, Radford says, including a practice called haruspication, in which soothsayers inspected the entrails of a recently killed bird. Afterward, the collarbone would be laid out in the sun to dry. A person would make a wish upon it and snap it with another person. Whoever received the larger piece of the collarbone got a sign that the gods heard him or her.

People may eventually discard superstitions if they find they’re no longer “working” for them, Saucier says, but often all it takes is one instance of that superstition to bring it back again.

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What superstitions do you secretly believe? This superstitions list includes a lot of pretty common false beliefs that many superstitious people will recognize. Do you stop each day at 11:11 to make a wish? Do you find yourself throwing spilled salt over your shoulder without even stopping to consider why? Then you might be a superstitious person. Vote for the superstitions you secretly believe, vote down any that seem silly, and remember: You can always rerank this list in any order you want!

Common superstitions might not be based in actual fact, but that doesn’t matter one bit to some: If we see a ladder, we’re not walking under it. We will not, under any circumstances, open an umbrella indoors. And if a black cat crosses our path? We’re pretty sure we’re doomed. Superstitions, it seems, are strongly based in (often unfounded) fear – and a belief in luck. Is there such a thing as beginner’s luck? If you find a four leaf clover, will your luck change?

If you’re curious about how some of these superstitions came to be, check out this really interesting list of the 13 origins of the most common superstitions. You should also read and go vote on some of these superstition quotes and sayings.

  • Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day
  • A rabbit’s foot brings good luck
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away
  • To find a four-leaf clover is to find good luck
  • If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck
  • If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck
  • To break a mirror will bring you seven years bad luck
  • To open an umbrella in the house is to bring bad luck
  • To find a horseshoe brings good luck
  • Step on a crack, break your mother’s back
  • You can break a bad luck spell by turning seven times in a clockwise circle
  • Garlic protects from evil spirits and vampires
  • Our fate is written in the stars
  • At the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold
  • Clothes worn inside out will bring good luck
  • Wearing your birthstone will bring you good luck
  • If you blow out all of the candles on your birthday cake with the first breath you will
    get whatever you wish for
  • To have a wish come true using a wishbone, two people make a wish, then take hold of
    each end of the bone and pull it until it separates. The person with the longer end gets
    his or her wish
  • An itchy palm means money will come your way
  • A beginner will always have good luck: beginner’s luck
  • A cat has nine lives
  • Eating fish makes you smart
  • Toads cause warts
  • A cricket in the house brings good luck
  • Crossing your fingers helps to avoid bad luck and helps a wish come true
  • It is bad luck to sing at the table
  • It is bad luck to sleep on a table
  • After receiving a container of food, the container should never be returned empty
  • A lock of hair from a baby’s first haircut should be kept for good luck
  • A bird that comes in your window brings bad luck
  • To refuse a kiss under mistletoe causes bad luck
  • Goldfish in the pond bring good luck
  • Goldfish in the house bring bad luck
  • For good luck, wear new clothes on Easter
  • An acorn at the window can keep lightning out of the house
  • If the bottom of your feet itch, you will make a trip
  • When a dog howls, death is near
  • It is bad luck to chase someone with a broom
  • A sailor wearing an earring cannot drown
  • To find a penny heads up, brings good luck
  • To cure a sty, rub it with a gold wedding band
  • Animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve
  • A drowned woman floats face up, a drowned man floats face down
  • A person cannot drown before going under three times
  • To drop a fork means a woman will visit
  • To drop a knife means a man will visit
  • To drop a spoon means a child will visit
  • To drop a dishcloth means bad luck is coming
  • If you shiver, someone is casting a shadow on your grave
  • To make a happy marriage, the bride must wear: something old, something new, something
    borrowed, something blue
  • The wedding veil protects the bride from the evil eye
  • Washing a car will bring rain
  • You must get out of bed on the same side you got in on or you will have bad luck
  • Evil spirits cannot harm you when you are standing in a circle
  • A cat will try to take the breath from a baby
  • Warm hands, cold heart
  • Cold hands, warm heart
  • It is unlucky to rock an empty rocking chair
  • To kill an albatross is to cause bad luck to the ship and all upon it
  • Wearing an opal when it is not your birthstone is bad luck
  • Smell dandelions, wet the bed
  • To give someone a purse or wallet without money in it will bring that person bad luck
  • A forked branch, held with a fork in each hand, will dip and point when it passes over
    water

The Weirdest Superstitions People Use Every Day

It’s nice to imagine that humanity has evolved into an intellectually sophisticated bunch of people who base decisions on sound rationale and proven science. But in ways large and small, many remain beholden to the folk tales and unfounded superstitions of bygone eras.

Why do people still kiss across thresholds, for instance? There’s literally zero peer-reviewed, conclusive evidence to suggest that it can inflict a curse. Same goes for the whole breaking-a-mirror-gives-you-bad-luck thing. And yet, in countries and cultures the world over, we’re paralyzed by such actions. Here, learn the 25 that permeate humanity in the weirdest, most illogical ways.

1 Don’t Toast With Water

You may know of the belief that you should always make eye contact with whom you are clinking glasses, but Germans add another wrinkle to the belief: Bad luck will befall you if there’s water in that glass. While some say that’s rooted in an Ancient Greek belief about the dead drinking from the River Lethe, it’s probably more likely that some Germans just didn’t see much fun in toasting with something that’s not a big mug of beer.

2 Don’t Whistle Indoors

You’ve heard of the bad luck that can be invited by opening an umbrella indoors, but you may not have realized that similar dangers supposedly lurk when you whistle. Well, that’s a popular belief held among Lithuanians, at least. In their country, the act of whistling indoors is believed to be a call to “little devils” and it’s considered rude to do so.

3 Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Straight Up

In Japan, it’s considered not just rude to set your chopsticks in your bowl sticking straight up. It’s considered deadly. “It looks like the number four spelled out, and in Japanese culture, four is a very unlucky number—it means death,” a Japanese-American woman explained to folklore researchers from the University of Southern California. “If you go to Japan you’ll never find anything grouped or sold in fours, it’s just superstition, like how in America people are scared of the number 13. Also, you never point your chopsticks at people, like if you’re talking at the dinner table. It’s rude, and a little threatening.”

4 Don’t Kiss Across Thresholds

While one of the big moments of a relationship is a partner carrying their spouse across the threshold of their new home, this area between the outside and inside can also hold danger, at least in Russia. “Never shake hands or kiss across a threshold; you’ll become enemies,” advises David Filipov, the Washington Post’s Moscow bureau chief.

5 An Itchy Nose Means Bad News Is Coming

A number of cultures held that an itchy nose is a sign of bad luck or bad news being on the way. If you think that’s ancient folklore nobody much believes anymore, then would you believe there are actually professional telaesthists, who study itches and what they mean? As The Sun explains, “An itch inside your nose hints at trouble and sorrow heading your way—and an itch on the outside is just as unwelcome. It symbolizes that it won’t be long before you’re annoyed, cursed, or meet with a fool—which some people prefer to dress up as ‘you will have a visitor’.”

6 Itchy Hands Impacts Your Finances

In Turkey, itchy hands can have important repercussions on your bottom line. As the beliefs go, an itchy left palm means you’ll be paying money out or losing money while an itchy right hand means money is soon going to be coming in.

7 Don’t Flip Over Cooked Fish

A common superstition in fishing regions of China, this belief grows out of the idea that turning over a full cooked fish is likely to result in the capsizing of a fishing boat. To get the meat on the other side of the fish, as one book on Chinese dining explains, “gently pull the bone away from the tail end as it is considered bad luck to turn the fish over.”

8 Breaking a Mirror Means Bad Luck

Speculative fiction writer Madelein D’Este explains that a broken mirror is common in cultures throughout the world, from Russians believing the mirror will release evil spirits in the home to Swiss believing the last person to look in a broken mirror is the first to die (or suffer some sort of misfortune). “However, the time period of seven years of bad luck seems to come from the Romans,” she explains. “The Romans believed the body takes seven years to renew and similarly, palm readers in China believe that your destiny is renewed every seven years. Others claim the use of the number seven comes Christianity with a link to the seven days of God’s creation.”

9 Facing Mirrors Open the Door to the Devil

In Mexico and other areas, it’s believed that two mirrors set to face each other—which may look cool and create a pretty weird optical illusion—can in fact open a door to Hell. As Joshua Partlow, Mexico bureau chief for the Washington Post puts it, “they say that if you put two mirrors in front of each other, you open a threshold for the devil.”

10 Don’t Buy a Stroller Before Baby Is Born

A common superstition in both the United Kingdom and China is that getting a stroller before the baby is born is bad luck. You can choose it and even buy it, but don’t get it delivered until after the baby has safely been delivered unless you want to risk the wrath of the negative forces in the universe.

11 Don’t Laugh as a Hearse Goes By

As the creepy “Hearse Song” explains, “Don’t you laugh when the hearse goes by/For you might be the next to die.” While that might seem like a quaint throwback of a folk tune, take a look at how your friends react next time a hearse actually does cruise down the block. Chances are you and they will get a little more muted in conversation and a little less lively in laughter. Of course, it’s just a myth…but why test it?

12 Don’t Go Directly Home After a Funeral

Another funeral-related fear, this one is more common in the Philippines, where locals subscribe to the idea of “pagpag”—that those who go home directly after a wake can carry bad spirits along with them so they must “shake off the dust or dirt” as the term translates to in Tagalog.

13 Fear of the Number 13

A number of cultures look upon the number 13 with suspicion and superstition, and the discomfort with the number dates back to the Middle Ages, rooted, as some experts maintain, in the number of people present at Jesus’ Last Supper. Many hotels and buildings still skip the 13th floor to avoid freaking out guests and visitors who might still feel a nervousness about the number and party planners will to this day avoid having 13 guests at a table for similar reasons.

14 Beware Friday the 13th

We’ve covered 13, but why Friday? For similar reasons, according to anthropologists, who point out that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Even those who aren’t particularly religious have likely thought twice about scheduling an important interview or surgery on Friday the 13th and when something goes wrong, likely have at least considered the cursed date might have something to do with it. Interestingly, other cultures have their own versions of the unlucky day, including Friday the 17th in Italy and Tuesday the 13th in Greece.

15 Upside-Down Bread Is Bad News

Laying a loaf of bread upside down or serving it upside down in a restaurant in France and Italy is not just bad etiquette; some consider it bad luck. Some assert that this grew from the Middle Ages when the baker would set aside a loaf for the executioner, flipping it upside down to ensure it would go to the right person.

16 Keep Keys Off the Table

In Sweden, it’s considered bad luck to put keys on tables. As one author on Scandinavian practices explains, “the origin of this superstition is that, back in the day, prostitutes used to indicate their availability by placing their keys on the table.” Not wanting to mimic such frowned-upon behavior, it became seen as inappropriate for the average Swede to do so, and today you’re unlikely to see many people using the dining room table as a place for keys.

17 Eating Goat Meat Causes Women to Grow Beards

That’s what some in Rwanda believed. As some researchers point out, traditional society there imposed many dietary restrictions on women and “It was prohibited for women to eat goat meat under the pretext that it would make them grow a beard.”

18 Bird Poop on You Is Good Luck

This counterintuitive superstition is believed to have originated in Russia, but has gained popularity throughout the west—and anywhere where seagulls and pigeons crowd the skies. While it may have grown out of a desire for those who got “dropped” on to make themselves feel better, it continues to be widely believed by everyone from movie stars to pro athletes.

19 Stepping in Dog Poop Is Good Luck

France has its own take on this what-seems-gross-is-actually-good-for-you superstition: That if you step in dog poop on the sidewalk (something that can be frustratingly common in Paris), you actually are in for a bit of good luck. But it’s not always a good thing. As the belief goes, stepping with your left foot is believed to bring good luck, while your right foot might result in “a life of despair.”

20 May Morning Dew Is Great for Skin

In Scotland and Ireland and elsewhere, locals maintain that the dew that collects on the morning of May 1st (and some say throughout May and into June) has special beautifying properties that leads many to get up early to gather the moisture and put on their face. Some will collect a bunch of it so that it can last them through the next few months and into the following May.

21 Avoid Black Sheep

Various European countries hold that a black-faced sheep bring bad luck for the rest of the flock. While Scottish farmers are not as likely to hold on to this belief as they perhaps were decades ago, the notion of a “black sheep” in a family or group has certainly continued to be believed and feared.

22 Don’t Get a Haircut on Saturdays

A common belief among Hindus is that getting their hair cut and nails done on a Saturday “brings the anger of Planet Shani (Saturn) upon us,” according to one writer.

23 Trust a Ground Squirrel to Predict the Weather

In this era of Accuweather and 10-day forecasts, the U.S. continues to trust in the weather predictions of a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, following the ritual that’s been going on in Pennsylvania every February 2 since the late 1800s, in which the groundhog is guided to the top of a stump and “tells” the official whether it saw its shadow—determining if spring will arrive or if there will be six more weeks of wintery weather. It’s a ridiculous ritual but everyone involved takes it surprisingly seriously and it’s been responsible for its own mini Groundhog Day industry (and a classic Bill Murray movie).

24 Don’t Cut Your Nails at Night

Cutting your nails after dark is considered bad luck in Japan and a bringer of death, according to a common superstition there. The reasons range from the possibility that it might be rooted in an actual fear from centuries before that you could injure yourself in the dark, especially considering the brutal instruments they used back in the day. But it may also relate to a literal superstition that shortening your nails might shorten your life or that it releases part of your soul into the night. Whatever the explanation, it’s not a good thing.

25 Don’t Wish Someone an Early Happy Birthday

You’d think wishing someone a happy birthday would always be a good thing. But in Germany, if you do it before the person’s actual birthday, you are inviting bad luck—even if it’s just a few hours before midnight of the actual day. With that in mind, the country has adopted the tradition of reinfeiern, or “to celebrate into,” in which guests gather with the person having the birthday and celebrate as the clock strikes midnight.

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5 spooky superstitions

Photo by See Inside licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

A lot of us have superstitions. They’re beliefs that a particular event or item will cause a good or bad thing to happen to us. While there’s no proof that these superstitions are true, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones to find out how they got started in the first place.

A black cat is bad luck

In ancient cultures, cats were often considered sacred animals. The Egyptians, for instance, believed cats were magical creatures that brought good luck. But people began to turn on black cats during the 14th century and they became associated with bad luck, likely because of their dark colour. Things only got worse for the felines in the 16th century. At that time, a fear of witchcraft spread throughout Europe. It was believed the so-called witches transformed into black cats, so they could prowl the streets unnoticed. Even today, many people are afraid of black cats and avoid them.

Photo by hehaden licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Breaking a mirror will give you seven years of bad luck

Smash! No one wants to hear the sound of a mirror breaking into a hundred pieces. Besides the mess, it’s thought that a broken mirror leads to seven unlucky years for the person who did the damage. This superstition is believed to have originated with the Romans. They were the first to create glass mirrors. They believed that if a person’s reflection became distorted in a mirror, their soul would be damaged and they have bad luck. However, the soul would eventually be renewed – seven long years later.

Photo by Zen Sutherland licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Knocking on wood will bring good luck

This superstition dates back centuries. Throughout history, several cultures believed trees were a home for spirits and mystical creatures. People often knocked on the bark of a tree or simply touched the trunk when calling on a spirit for a favour or a bit of good luck. It’s said they also knocked on wood to protect themselves from the evil spirits within the tree. It was thought that knocking loudly would keep the evil spirits from hearing your requests, so they wouldn’t interfere and bring you bad luck instead. Today, this superstitious knock for good luck is done on anything made of wood, not just trees.

Photo by Chris Ford licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

Opening an umbrella indoors brings bad luck

There are a few theories to explain this superstition. One says that is got its start in Egypt where umbrellas were used to protect people from the sun’s heat. It was thought that opening an umbrella inside away from the sun insulted the God of the Sun and brought about bad luck. A second theory dates back to England in the 18th century. At that time, large umbrellas with metal spokes became popular. Opening these big umbrellas indoors could hurt someone or break a nearby object and lead to arguments with friends or family. So people avoided opening umbrellas inside, and the superstition grew from there.

Photo by Kosta licensed CC BY-NC-SA

A horseshoe brings good luck

Horseshoes are believed to be a lucky charm in many cultures. This is likely because they were once made from iron. In ancient times, iron was considered a magical metal since it could withstand fire. Many thought this gave iron horseshoes mystical powers and the ability to ward off bad luck. To bring good fortune to a family, a horseshoe was often nailed above the entrance to a home. Some believed the horseshoe should point upwards like a “U” to collect good luck and prevent it from escaping, but others thought it should face down. That way, good luck could pour onto those who walked under it.

Photo by Antoine Coffinet licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

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