25+ Common Superstitions And Their Fascinating Origins

Spilled Some Salt? Learn More About Common Superstitions And Their Origins

November 23, 2020 Updated March 18, 2021

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Looking for a little luck? Aren’t we all! While many of us say we’re not superstitious, we may not be telling the whole truth. Many superstitious habits are simply picked up from our families and close friends — things we’ve seen people do, like crossing their fingers or knocking on wood. Other common superstitions, like broken mirrors causing bad luck, happen so rarely that when they do, we can’t help but worry. If you’ve gingerly carried a mirror during a big move, you were no doubt doing your best not to “tempt fate” (even if you didn’t say it outright).

You’re not alone, though. In a 2019 poll from Statista, when Americans were asked if they were superstitious, only 35 percent could say they definitely were not. That means roughly 65 percent of your fellow Americans fell somewhere on the superstitious scale or just didn’t know where they landed on it (five percent). Here’s the thing: We all know that superstitions may not be a rational response. However, when you’re surrounded by spooky movies and scary games that show you what happens when you tempt fate or taunt evil, how can you not end up just a little superstitious, right?

Even if you do your best to steer clear of the scarier parts of life, you could still feel like bad luck is always around the corner. And sometimes the best way to make something less scary is to say it loud. Or, in this case, read it. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common superstitions. Just remember: In the immortal words of Practical Magic, “Curses only have power when you believe in them.”

Common Superstitions About Bad Luck

Common Superstitions: Bad Luck
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1. Black Cat Crossing Your Path

Surprise, surprise: The black cat superstition is related to witches. In the Middle Ages, most people believed that witches kept black cats as companions and spies. There was also a belief that witches could use the shape of black cats to move around and do their own spying. Because of this, many people believed seeing a black cat in their path was an ominous sign of something witchy coming their way. Sadly, this superstition is thought to be a reason black cats have lower adoption rates at animal shelters. Obviously, though, black cats are awesome and deserve all the adoption love. Don’t buy into the superstitious hype here!

2. Walking Under a Ladder

To a certain extent, the reason for avoiding walking under an open ladder seems like common sense. It really doesn’t take much for a can of paint to fall on you and turn you into a Mr. Bean skit. But there’s actually more to it than that. Many ancient religions and mythologies believe the triangle is the symbol for life. Since an open ladder forms a triangle, walking through the triangle tempts the fates.

3. Broken Mirror

Many religions believe a mirror shows the reflection of your soul. As such, breaking a mirror can have dire consequences. Don’t worry, though. There’s a simple and absolutely not-at-all wacky way to reverse your luck. Just gather up every single piece of the broken mirror and bury it under the moonlight.

4. Friday the 13th

Many people believe that Friday the 13th is a cursed day. While the Friday The 13th movies certainly escalated things, the superstition may be as old as Christianity. Per Christian theology, Judas was the thirteenth guest at the last supper, and Jesus was crucified on a Friday.

5. Opening an Umbrella Indoors

It’s so hard to not tempt fate with this one. After all, who wants to open an umbrella outside… when you’re already wet? Some people believe that it’s simply bad luck because of the big, abrupt movement of the umbrella opening, which can accidentally cause damage. Another theory is that umbrellas are already magical because they shade us from the sun and, therefore, opening one in the house offends the sun god.

6. Step on a Crack, Break Your Mama’s Back

For a long time, many folks believed that cracks in the ground were portals to another dimension. As such, stepping on one tempted evil spirits on the other side. And what’s more terrifying than getting hurt? Hurting someone you love.

Common Superstitions About Good Luck

Common Superstitions: Good Luck
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7. Tossing Spilled Salt Over Your Shoulder

Many people believe if you spill salt, it’s bad luck. However, taking a quick pinch and tossing it over your shoulder counteracts the bad juju. Why? Since salt has historically often been a valuable resource (and even used as money), it’s thought that spilling it attracts evil spirits who want to steal from you — and, alternately, tossing it over your shoulder wards them off.

RELATED: 98 Truth or Dare Questions to Try When You Want to Tempt Fate

8. Itchy Palm

Most people believe that if you have an itchy palm, it means you’re about to get some money. Reason: You hold out your hand to accept money. Others believe it means you’re about to meet someone new. (You’ll extend and shake hands with the new friend.) In both cases, one stipulation remains: You can’t scratch it! That’s bad luck.

9. Knocking on Wood

Many see this more as a reversal of good luck or an act of “unjinxing.” The idea is pretty basic. Many superstitious people believe that saying things are going good or putting their hopes out into the world “jinxes” things and ruins it. Knocking on wood reverses or deletes that. The belief comes from times when certain religions believed that gods lived in the trees. They’d knock once, ask for their favor, and then knock again as a sign of gratitude.

10. Lucky Pennies

Metal has always held value and coins are, of course, valuable on their own. Because of this, many believed finding a penny on the ground was fortune’s way of smiling on you. Take note, though. Some people believe that good luck only happens when you find a penny with the head up. If you find one flipped tails up, you should flip it over and leave it for the next person. Is it good luck for you? Well… it’s not bad luck.

11. Rabbit’s Feet

Ever have one of those dyed “lucky rabbit’s foot” key chains when you were a kid? Us too. But, whyyyyy? The Celts believed rabbits were lucky because they lived underground, thus making it easier for them to communicate with the gods.

12. Inside Out Clothes

According to Russian superstition, putting your clothes on inside out makes you vulnerable to getting beat up. So, if you ever accidentally put your clothes on backwards or the wrong way, well, fix it. Then have a friend whack you on the shoulder to show the universe that you’ve already been beaten. This helps you avoid getting mugged or knocked out throughout your day.

13. Mixing Beer

It’s drinking 101 to never mix your alcohol, but beer always seemed to be fair game, right? Well, not in Czechia culture. It’s bad luck to pour one glass of beer into another one. It invites negative energy, which is totally going to ruin your buzz.

14. Beware of Tuesdays

And you thought Mondays were scary? In Latin American culture, Tuesdays are considered bad luck. It’s risky to do anything on that day like get married, go on a trip, or even leave the house.

15. Don’t Stand Your Chopsticks in Your Food

It may seem like a great place to keep your chopsticks, but in Japan, it’s very bad luck. When chopsticks are planted straight up in your food, they resemble the Japanese number four, which represents death.

16. Never Say “Happy Birthday” Too Early

In Russia, this is a big no-no. Celebrating or saying happy birthday before the person’s actual birthday brings on major bad luck. So, save all the festivities and well wishes for the actual day of birth.

17. Avoid Facing Your Mirrors Toward Each Other

A broken mirror is bad, but you never want to have two mirrors facing each other either. That reflection of the infinite mirrors may look amazing, but according to Mexican legend, it’s a doorway to hell the devil can climb through. So yea… don’t do that.

18. Keys and Tables

In Sweden, it’s bad luck to toss your keys on the table. Back then, prostitutes would leave keys on tables to invite clients to their chambers. So, to avoid any confusion, it was declared bad luck so people would stop doing it.

19. No Complimenting

In Serbia, it’s bad luck to compliment an infant. If you call a newborn cute, they will be cursed with misfortune! In order to save them, you must call the baby ugly.

Other Common Superstitions

20. Coming in a different door than you left = bad luck.
21. Crossing your fingers = good luck.
22. The number four (with the exception of four-leaf clovers) = bad luck.
23. Yellow flowers = bad luck.
24. Sweeping over your feet = bad luck.
25. Finding a horseshoe = good luck.
26. The number 17 in Italian culture = bad luck.
27. The number 39 in Afghan culture = bad luck.
28. The number 666 = bad luck.
29. Failing to respond to a chain letter = bad luck.
30. Giving a clock as a gift in Chinese culture = bad luck.
31. Hanging a horseshoe with the ends pointing down = bad luck.
32. Saying the word “Macbeth” or wishing someone good luck (in the tradition of the theatre) = bad luck.
33. Pointing at a rainbow = bad luck.
34. Throwing rocks into the wind = bad luck.
35. When a coyote crosses your path = bad luck.
36. An owl flying over your house = bad luck.
37. Seeing ravens, crows, or magpies = bad luck.