Superstitions: Are They Just Old Wives Tales?
A black cat crosses the path of Chicago Cubs player Ron Santo as he waits his turn at bat in a crucial game against the New York Mets. The Cubs went on to lose this game and the pennant after having a 9 game lead. Source: (gettyimages.com)
Watch Out for that Black Cat!
Black cats weren’t always considered bad luck. All cats used to be revered. It was in the middle ages that it all went south for black cats. In Europe, the churches starting accusing people of being witches. It was believed that witches could shape-shift into black cats in order to move about freely during the night. There is a legend about a father and son, walking home late at night and saw a black cat cross their path. The boy threw a rock at the cat and hit it on the left leg. The cat, hurt, gave out a shriek and ran to a house belonging to a suspected witch. The next day, the father and son saw the woman and she was limping on her left leg! That sealed the deal for this poor woman, as the townspeople thought this was proof she was a witch. When people began settling in America, they brought this belief with them. Even pirates believed that if a black cat walked on their ship then walked off, the ship would sink on their next voyage. Not everyone went along with this as many cultures believe cats bring good luck.
Don’t Walk Under that Ladder!
Besides the fact that it is obviously unsafe, the superstition of avoiding walking under a ladder comes from the early days of Christianity. As most Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, the number three is sacred and the triangle, with its three sides, was associated with this. A ladder up against a wall was seen as a triangle. To walk through the triangle was considered to be akin to breaking the Trinity. Anyone seen breaking the Trinity was labeled as being in league with the Devil.
You Broke a Mirror?!?!
The thought is if you break a mirror you will have seven years of bad luck. But why do we think that? This superstition began even before mirrors were invented. When people saw their reflections in water they believed it was an image of their soul, therefore you would not want to risk disturbing it. When mirrors became popular, many thought they had mystical powers to tell the future or a device of God. Breaking one would end the connection to God and your soul would leave your body. Bad luck would be brought to the one whose reflection the mirror last held. As for the seven years bit, we can thank the Romans for that. This came from an ancient belief that it took seven years for a life to renew. Hence the bad luck would last for seven years.
Knock on Wood!
Nowadays we say knock on wood to bring about good luck or to prevent something bad from happening. How did this become ‘a thing’? Throughout history, knocking on wood has been used to ward off evil. It was thought that spirits lived in trees and by knocking on the wood, those spirits would not be able to hear what was being said. Others believe that this superstition actually came from a children’s game. In the nineteenth century, kids played a tag game that if you touched wood, you were safe from being tagged. It was such a popular game that the phrase became part of everyday language.
A Rabbit’s Foot Means Good Luck
This is a relatively new superstition, going back to the nineteenth century. The rabbit was thought to be a shape-shifter animal that witches could transform themselves into. It became a part of ‘hoodoo’ culture stemming from the slave trade. By having a part of the rabbit you could ward off evil and it would bring you good luck.
Hold Your Breath!
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Hold your breath when walking past a cemetery so evil cannot enter your body. Another version of this superstition is if you do not hold your breath when passing by a cemetery you will not be buried. It is tough to nail down the exact origin of this superstition. It is considered an old wives' tale. It was fairly common for people to believe in spirits and bad omens. It is thought that this particular superstition was just a part of thinking that spirits were entities walking about and you definitely did not want one entering your body!