Have you ever wondered where superstitions come from? And why they’re so wildly different from country to country?
While we weren’t able to track down an explanation for them all, there are certainly some colourful ones to consider.
Our personal favourite comes from Hungary: if you sing at the dinner table, you will marry a madman. Even Hungarians don’t know where this comes from but they’re still not singing over their supper.
Read on for 10 superstitions from around the world:
1. China: The number four is bad luck
Why? The Chinese word for for four (pinyin) sounds similar to the word for death. Real estate agents and car salesmen find this particularly problematic as Chinese customers generally avoid buying anything with this number in it, or with numbers that add up to four.
2. Ancient Sumeria (now Southern Iraq): If you spill salt, you will have an argument. To avoid this argument, you need to throw salt over your left should to ‘blind the devil’.
Why? Around 3500 BC, the ancient Sumerians first took to nullifying the bad luck of spilled salt by throwing a pinch of it over their left shoulders. This ritual spread to the Egyptians, the Assyrians and later, the Greeks. Spilling salt was considered bad luck because it was very expensive.
3. Europe: Black cats are unlucky
Why? During the Middle Ages, people in many parts of Europe thought black cats were the ‘familiars’ or companions of witches, or even witches themselves in disguise, and that a black cat crossing your path was an indication of bad luck and a sign that the devil was watching you.
4. Europe: Leaving shoes on the table is bad luck and welcomes death
Why? It’s believed that this belief may be tied to the mining industry. When miners passed away, their relatives would bring their shoes into the home and place them on the table.
5. Europe: Don’t cut your nails on a Friday or Sunday
Why? According to an old European superstition, you should never cut your fingernails on a Sunday. If you did, people would gossip about you and the devil would follow you for a week. Cutting your fingernails was considered ‘work’ and also an activity related to vanity, both forbidden on the day of rest.
Cutting your nails on a Friday was equally unlucky. It was said bad luck and sorrow would strike the home if anyone in the household dared to cut their fingernails on a Friday.
Even the Vikings had strong concerns about fingernails. It was believed there was a ship called Naglfar (nail-ferry) that was made solely from fingernails and toenails taken from dead humans. No dead man was to be buried with uncut fingernails. Every precaution had to be made to ensure that corpses did not supply more material for building the Naglfar.
6. Armenia: When someone is travelling abroad, throw water out the front door as they leave for good luck.
Why? So that the person’s journey will run as smoothly as the flow of water.
7. China: If you leave grains of rice in your bowl, every one will be a pockmark on your husband’s face
Why? Rice is a basic staple food and wasting it is considered bad luck.
8. France: It’s bad luck to lie a baguette upside down
Why? This superstition dates back to the Medieval era when capital punishment was still carried out by an executioner.
On the day of the execution, the executioner didn’t have time to go to the bakery to pick up his daily loaf of bread. Thus, the baker would reserve a loaf for him. In order to distinguish his bread from everyone else’s, the baker would turn one loaf upside down.
9. Europe: Wearing opals is bad luck if you’re not born in October
Why? Medieval Europeans feared opals because they resemble the ‘Evil Eye’ and bear a superficial likeness to the optical organs of cats, toads, snakes, and other common creatures with hellish affiliations.
10. Cuba and Ireland: Don’t leave a rocking chair rocking when you get up off it
Why? The Irish have always believed that rocking an empty rocking chair welcomes evil spirits into the home. The spirits fill the empty seat that you’re rocking and fill the home with dark forces and bad luck. Bizarrely, Cubans believe the same thing via African ‘glory’ beliefs.