Some people are very superstitious: they believe that “the writing’s on the wall,” and that the “ladder’s ’bout to fall.” However, those who really worry about broken mirrors and stepping on cracks often don’t quite know where those beliefs come from.
We’ve looked into the historical origins of some of the most popular superstitions around, and they’re fascinating. Check out the wild explanations behind these commonly held beliefs!
This superstition has relatively recent historical origins. Not too long ago, umbrellas were much more cumbersome objects than they are now (hard as that is to believe), and historians say that people in the 19th and early 20th centuries viewed opening the bulky, sharp-pointed contraptions indoors as a safety hazard to everybody in the room. Over time, this evolved from a safety concern to a more general sign of bad luck.
The suspicion about walking under ladders goes all the way back to ancient Egypt! In ancient Egyptian culture, triangles had magical symbolism and supposedly supernatural properties. Along those lines, the triangle shape formed by propping a ladder against a wall allegedly formed an area that would trap both living and nonliving souls, so passing through the triangle was to be avoided. Remnants of this belief persisted throughout history, becoming generalized into “bad luck,” rather than “soul-stealing.”
We can thank the ancient Greeks for this one, which says that breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck. Like Narcissus, many Greeks were prone to looking at the their reflections in the water, and over time a superstition developed that distortions in the water reflecting your image were symbolic of distortions of the soul. As mirrors became more widely used, this superstition evolved and eventually became associated with the number seven, which has numerological significance in Judaism and Christianity.
This superstition also goes back to ancient Egypt, where cats had religious significance and were thought to have supernatural powers. The interesting thing about the black cat superstition is that it represents different things in different places. In the U.S., a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, but in England, black cats are considered good luck…a belief given some merit when King Charles I was charged with high treason the day after his favorite black cat died.
In Norse mythology, there was a dinner in Valhalla to which 12 gods were invited. The 13th god, Loki, wasn’t invited because as a trickster he tended to cause problems for everyone else. However, Loki wasn’t too pleased about being snubbed and pulled off a trick that ended up “killing” the god Baldr, whose death set off a chain of events in which nearly all the gods “died” and the Earth drowned. Ever since, the number 13 has continued to be associated with trouble.