What many consider to be the unluckiest date has arrived, as the first Friday the 13th of 2023 is officially upon us.
While the day isn’t unluckier than any other, the superstition lingers, with millions both wary and fearful of the ominous calendar date.
Whether you believe in the unluckiness of the date or not, it is far from the only widely held superstition found today, as people all over the world still allow beliefs that originated thousands of years ago to dictate their behaviours, habits and fears.
From avoiding any path that takes one under a ladder to throwing salt over one’s shoulder to ensure bad luck is reversed, these are some of the most common superstitions and their origins.
Friday the 13th
The bad luck associated with the date is believed to originate with the Last Supper, when Jesus Christ dined with his 12 disciples the night before his crucifixion on Good Friday. The attendance of 13 at a dinner has also come to be considered a bad omen.
Interestingly, the number 13 is also frequently associated with bad luck on its own, as it follows 12, which is typically considered favourable for its association with “completeness,” according to the History Channel’s History.com.
A broken mirror will lead to years of bad luck
As the saying goes, breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck. The superstition likely originated in either ancient Greece or during the Roman Empire, when reflected images were thought to have powerful implications, according to the University of South Carolina, which notes that Roman artisans believed their gods could see their souls through the mirrored surfaces of polished metal.
According to the university, damaging a mirror was considered disrespectful, with the belief being that to do so would cause the gods to retaliate with bad luck.
As for why the misfortune is said to only last seven years, it stems from the Roman belief that the body renewed itself every seven years.
Beware a black cat that crosses your path
While the unluckiest encounter with a black cat is commonly believed to be if the animal happens to cross your path, many consider all black cats to be associated with bad luck and spooky omens.
The cats are also often associated with the occult, with witches frequently depicted as having black cats as either pets or familiars.
According to History.com, the origins of the belief that the animals are linked to sorcery can be traced back to Greek mythology, as the goddess Hecate, who presided over magic and spells, was often depicted as having a cat.
The unlucky characteristics of black-coloured cats specifically can be found as early as the 13th century, according to the outlet, which references “an official church document called ‘Vox in Rama’” that was issued by Pope Gregory IX on 13 June 1233, and which Layla Morgan Wilde, author of Black Cats Tell: True Tales And Inspiring Images, says declared black cats “an incarnation of Satan”.
Friday the 13th and other superstitions
“The decree marked the beginning of the inquisition and church-sanctioned heretic and/or witch hunts. Initially it was designed to squash the growing cult of Luciferians in Germany, but quickly spread across Europe,” she writes.
The link between witches and cats eventually transformed into a belief that witches could take the form of the animals, which then morphed into the fear that a black cat crossing one’s path might actually be a witch, or an animal on a mission for a witch.
The superstition is also based in the belief that the devil can take the form of a black cat.
“Therefore, a black cat crossing your path might very well be on a mission from a witch,” Phoebe Millerwhite, an artist and folklorist, told the outlet. “Just as easily, it could be the devil in disguise - and no one wants to cross paths with the devil. This explains why a black cat crossing your path is considered a bad omen.”
Avoid walking under a ladder for fear of misfortune
As with many superstitions, the origins of the fear that walking under a ladder will trigger bad luck stems from the beliefs of those thousands of years ago.
In this case, the belief originated with the ancient Egyptians, according to LiveScience, which notes that a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, a shape that Egyptians regarded as “sacred” and considered a representation of “the trinity of the gods”.
As a result, walking under the ladder, and thus through the triangle, was believed to “desecrate” the gods.
The superstition was later applied to the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity, with followers fearful of breaking the holy triangle. According to LiveScience, author and scientist Charles Panati also once wrote of the unfavourable symbolism of the ladder after it was used during Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
“Centuries later, followers of Jesus Christ usurped the superstition, interpreting it in light of Christ’s death,” Panati said. “Because a ladder had rested against the crucifix, it became a symbol of wickedness, betrayal, and death. Walking under a ladder courted misfortune.”
Throw salt over your shoulder after it’s been spilled
Spilled salt is also linked to bad luck, a superstition that is believed to stem from the Last Supper, during which Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ, is depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci in his famous painting as having knocked over a bowl of salt. Thus, spilling salt became associated with disloyalty.
Fortunately, the bad luck that comes when salt is spilled is easily remedied, as the superstition goes that a pinch of salt thrown over one’s left shoulder is all it takes to reverse the misfortune.
Don’t open an umbrella indoors
The belief that opening an umbrella indoors can trigger bad luck has murkier origins, as it is not entirely clear where the superstition came from.
That being said, Panati previously linked the superstition to Victorian England, according to LiveScience, as the author noted that the umbrellas of the time were “veritable hazards to open indoors”.
“In eighteenth-century London, when metal-spoked waterproof umbrellas began to become a common rainy-day sight, their stiff, clumsy spring mechanism made them veritable hazards to open indoors. A rigidly spoked umbrella, opening suddenly in a small room, could seriously injure an adult or a child, or shatter a frangible object,” he wrote in Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. “Even a minor accident could provoke unpleasant words or a minor quarrel, themselves strokes of bad luck in a family or among friends. Thus, the superstition arose as a deterrent to opening an umbrella indoors.”
While many superstitions are linked to unfavourable outcomes, not all of these beliefs are negative, as there are a few that promise to bring good luck instead of bad.
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One such superstition relates to pennies, and the day-long luck associated with finding one. As the saying goes, finding a penny and picking it up means “all day long, you’ll have good luck”.
As for where the belief originated, it is not entirely clear. However, Reader’s Digest notes that one theory suggests the superstition persists because people in ancient civilisations believed that metals such as copper were gifts from gods intended to protect people from evil.
The outlet also notes that there is another theory that suggests a penny signifies the battle between good and evil, and that finding a heads-up penny means you have luck on your side.