Head of Agency Mark Lewis explores the history of some of the most famous superstitions and how some can be very inconvenient for someone in this professional. So lock up your black cats, put away your ladders and read on.
When I was aged about seven I was told that if I didn’t do something the sky would fall on my head and bring bad luck to everyone concerned. It has stayed with me ever since and is particularly inconvenient.
Some people are very superstitious saluting a magpie, not treading on cracks in the pavement, never putting new shoes on a table or using a knife to stir food. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events.
But where does all this irrational behaviour stem from?
We can blame the Romans for encouraging some superstitions and the worshiping of the gods by ancient civilisations and druids also led to a belief that certain rituals could alter future events. Whether inserting a rusty nail through a lemon successfully warded off the evil eye, for example, may have worked but we will never know.
The most common superstitions are:
A fear of the number 13: This may be because Judas was the 13th disciple.
Itchy palms: Some believe that if the right palm itches you will meet someone new, while an itchy left palm means that money is coming.
Walking under ladders: The shape of an open ladder is a triangle, which signifies life in some mythologies.
When you walk through the triangle, it’s thought that you tempt the Fates. You also run the risk of awakening spirits that live within the triangle, including evil spirits who may not be happy with the disturbance.
Breaking a mirror: 7 years of bad luck unless you bury the mirror outside. This may be because the mirror is a reflection of the soul.
Finding a horseshoe: Usually good luck, so long as it is the right way up to catch the blessing. Throw it over your shoulder and make a wish. (Check there is no one behind you otherwise it is bad luck for them!)
Knocking on wood: This dates back to a time when people believed the gods lived in the trees and a knock would ask for luck.
Tossing salt over your shoulder: If you do this you will ward off evil spirits.
Black cats: Sometimes good and occasionally bad as witches were believed to keep black cats as a companion.
Saying bless you: Romans believed a good sneeze could release your soul into the world and a ‘bless you’ would keep it in. A sneeze during the black plague in 1665 usually meant someone was about to die.
Then there are people who salute a blackbird, never look at the new moon through glass, keep rabbits feet, wear lucky underwear, make a wish when they blow out candles, keep their fingers crossed and never pass another person on the stairs. The list can be endless.
The more I think about it the more ridiculous it appears, a load of mumbo jumbo, but that is not going to stop me visiting a house and leaving by the same door I enter. It is just not worth the risk but it is very inconvenient in my profession!