Why and How Come? 7 Common Superstitions Explained

On the plane, in the airport shuttle, and all the way to our floor in the elevator, my friend’s 5-year-old practiced her counting. She identified every number she saw. Her mother said, “You are so smart!” It was in the elevator that she paused long enough to notice there was not a number 13. “Why?” she asked. Her mother told her, “Because it’s an unlucky number.” “Why is it unlucky?” “Hum, I don’t really know why,” she replied. Then I heard the little girl whisper, “Well, you’re not so smart.”

Superstitions—there are so many. We know them, even abide by them, but where do they come from? Here are just a few:

  1. Why the number 13 is unlucky – Many cultures, many theories; one that is most common is that it is because Judas Iscariot was the 13th guest at the Last Supper, and we know how that story ended.
  1. Never open an umbrella inside the house – originated in the Victorian era when it was dangerous—someone could get poked by the spindles or get pinched by the tight spring.
  1. Why we say “Bless you” when someone sneezes – Attributed to “Pope Gregory the Great, who uttered it in the sixth century during a bubonic plague epidemic (sneezing is an obvious symptom of one form of the plague).” (Howstuffworks.com)
  1. Walking under a ladder brings bad luck – Possibly from the ancient Egyptians. A ladder leaned against a wall forms a triangle which was considered sacred. Walking under it was disrespectful.
  1. Knocking on wood – Medieval churches claimed their pews were made from the wood of a cross. Touching wood was for protection.
  1. Break a mirror and have 7 years of bad luck – Ancient mystics believed mirrors were divine and supernatural. Therefore breaking the image violated its divinity. 7 was considered a magical number.
  1. Four-leaf clovers are good luck – From the ancient druids; four-leaf clovers were thought to keep away witches and allow you to see fairies. Because they are rare, they are even luckier.