Friday 13th...Unlucky for Some?

It’s Friday 13th – supposedly the unluckiest day of the year! But why is this day associated with negative connotations and where do these common superstitions come from?

If you’re like most people, you probably participate in superstitious thinking or behaviour without even realising you are doing it. Just think, when was the last time you knocked on wood or crossed your fingers?

Whilst many of the origins behind superstitions date back hundreds of years, some are just plain practical! After all, it’s probably not a great idea to walk underneath a ladder or open an umbrella inside, whether it’s bad luck or not. 

Here are the origins behind 13 of the most common superstitions:

1) Beginner’s Luck : Good Luck

The belief that newbies are unusually likely to win when they try out a new sport, game or activity, has its origins in something called confirmation bias. If you go into something with a preconceived idea, you’re more likely to notice evidence supporting that idea.

2) Black Cats Crossing Your Path : Bad Luck

It is most likely that this superstition arises from the middle-ages and their association with witches as their feline friends. Witches were thought to be able to communicate with their companions and make them do their bidding. 

3) ‘Find a penny, pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck.’

Many ancient cultures believed that finding metal was a gift from the God and meant to protect you from evil. This is also evident in other superstitions like putting a silver sixpence in your shoe when you get married, hanging a horseshoe over your door frame or the wearing of a St. Christopher pendant to ensure safe passage at sea.

4) A Rabbit’s Foot : Good Luck

It is documented that early celtic tribes believed that since rabbits lived underground in burrows, they could communicate with the spirits of the underworld. This superstition also has roots in folk magic, which says that rabbit’s feet are lucky because of their reproductive habits and supposed to help with fertility.

5) Breaking a Mirror : 7 Years Bad Luck

In a more superstitious time, it was believed that mirrors are in some way a mirror to your soul, therefore, breaking a mirror was believed to be harmful to the soul. Another theory comes from a time when mirrors were considered as a luxury item and the cost of replacing one would be equal to 7 years of a peasant’s salary.

6) Bad Luck Comes in Threes

This is another example of confirmation bias, whereby if two unlucky events occur in a short time people start looking for the third.

7) Walking Under a Ladder : Bad Luck

The shape of an open ladder forms a triangle which is one of the holiest Egyptian symbols. It was believed that if a person walked underneath a ladder they would break the symbol and anger the gods. This concept is also present in Christianity, but instead of the triangle, they called it the Holy Trinity.

8) Knock on Wood : Wish for Good Luck 

The link to wood may come from old pagan beliefs that good spirits lived in trees and people would make a wish to the trees and knock on the wood for it come to true. This superstition is very common to this day, with people often uttering the phrase “Touch Wood” to avoid tempting bad luck.

9) Opening Umbrellas Indoors : Bad Luck

Other than the obvious risk of poking someone’s eye out or breaking valuable items, this belief also has ancient roots. One explanation comes from ancient Egypt when umbrellas were used as protection from the sun, if you were to open an umbrella inside, it was considered an offence against the sun god Ra.

10) Cross Your Fingers : Good Luck

This practice might come from early Christianity, which believed that anything resembling the cross was good luck.

11) New Shoes on the Table : Bad Luck

With origins in the mining industry, it is said that when miners passed away, their relatives would place their shoes onto the table. 

12) Spilling Salt : Bad Luck

At a time when salt was considered a luxury item, wasting salt was therefore frowned upon and it is suggested people started saying it was bad luck, so they would be more careful. The idea of throwing the salt over your left shoulder to undo the bad luck, comes from a Christian belief that the devils hangs about over the left side of the body.

13) Friday 13th : Bad Luck

Many people believe that the reason the number ‘13’ is considered unlucky stems from the Bible. At the Last Supper, Juda, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down at the table. Geoffrey Chaucer also referred to the apparent unluckiness of the day in his Canterbury Tales, stating that it was bad luck to start a journey or a project on a Friday.

Believe it or not, many of us still adhere to various superstitions, even if done so subconsciously. So, the next time you find a penny on the street, don’t ignore it – pick it up and smile because you’ll surely have a good day!

Sitting back and relying on good luck isn’t going to get you your dream job however, so have a look at this advice from education professionals on How to Secure That Teaching Job.

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