Superstitions are part of our heritage, transporting us to a distant past that links with the roots of our culture. The ancient lores of our forefathers are still very much alive, many having remained unchanged for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years.
Rational thought and the advance of science together cast doubt on the real dangers involved yet many of us still feel we ought to be careful.
There are hundreds of common daily activities which are linked to superstition, each culture having its variations. Even those of you who say “I'm not superstitious!" have probably at some point tried to avoid walking under a ladder, stepping on cracks, knocked on wood, blessed a person sneezing, or crossed your fingers. Just in case.
Here are some of the more common superstitions and their meanings:
1. It's bad luck to walk under a ladder.
A leaning ladder forms a triangle with the wall and ground. Triangles represent the Holy Trinity, and violating the Trinity by breaking it (walking through it) would put you in league with the devil himself. Considering what Christians did to those who were considered to be in league with the devil, it's hardly surprising that leaning ladders were avoided at all cost.
2. Friday the Thirteenth
The idea that a this particular date would bring bad luck has its roots in both Norse and Christian beliefs. The Scandinavians believed that the number 13 was unlucky due to the mythological 12 demigods being joined by a 13th, an evil one, who brought misfortune upon man.
Christ was said to have been crucified on Friday and the number of guests at the the Last Supper was 13, with the 13th guest being Judas, the traitor.
3. God Bless You
The blessing of those who sneeze started when the great plague took hold of Europe. Sufferers would sneeze violently, a sign that they would soon die. As a result, The Pope passed a law requiring people to bless the sneezer
At the same time it was expected that anybody sneezing would cover their mouth with a cloth or their hand. This was obviously to stop the spreading of the disease but many believed that it was to keep the soul intact. Sneezing ‘into the air’ would allow the soul to escape and death would be imminent.
Until the plague struck things were very different. Those who sneezed were congratulated on expelling evil from their bodies.
4. Black Cats
In ancient Egypt, the Goddess Bast was a black, female cat. Christians, wanting to rid society of all traces of other religions, convinced the ignorant that black cats were demons in disguise and should thus be destroyed. The kindly ladies who cared for the cats were often destroyed in the process, being condemned as witches.
A demon black cat crossing your path would create a barrier of evil, cutting you off from God and blocking the entrance to heaven.
5. Spilling Salt
During the middle ages salt was a very expensive commodity used mainly for medicinal purposes. Spillage was to be avoided at all costs. The idea that it is unlucky to do so probably stems from the belief that Judas spilt salt during the last supper.
Throwing spilt salt over the left shoulder is linked to its medicinal use. If it could not be administered, the next best thing was to throw it into the eye of the evil spirits that brought sickness upon us. These spirits were believed to lurk behind a person's shoulder, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
6. Fingers Crossed
Probably the most widely used superstition these days and used by making the sign of the Christian faith with our fingers thus preventing evil spirits destroying our chances of good fortune.
7. Knock on Wood
This goes back to the days before Christianity made its entrance. It was believed that good spirits lived in trees and that by knocking on anything made from wood we could call upon these spirits for protection against misfortune. There are many, many more such superstitions. Every culture has them. Perhaps they have survived in our world of scientific explanations due to our desire to keep the child inside us alive. Through superstition, we are able to take part in the world of make believe.
I couldn't possibly say that I still believe in Father Christmas, but I can say “God Bless You" when anybody sneezes. And just for the record, I don't like walking under ladders either. Who knows, a tin of paint may just fall down and hit me!
About The Author
Sharon grew up in East London but moved to Norway at the age of 19, returning to England in 1998. She now lives in Cheshire with her partner and two of her three children. Besides writing, she is currently studying Social Science with The Open University, runs a web site where women in the UK can meet other women for platonic friendship (www.friendsyourway.co.uk ), potters in her garden, knits and reads everything she comes over.