Superstitions

Deep beliefs: Humans had superstitions as early as 3,500 BC. Ancient Sumerians threw a pinch of salt over their shoulder if they spilt it.

Lots of us have superstitions. From knocking on wood to avoiding the number 13, there are all kinds of different beliefs. But why do we have them? And what makes them so common?

  • What is a superstition?

    A superstition is a kind of belief. It is based on the future and the unknown. Sometimes a superstition affects your behaviour. For example, some people think that they should knock on wood when they have said something negative to make sure it does not happen. In Japan, people move their beds so that they do not face North.

  • Where do they come from?

    Superstitions are often thousands of years old. The idea that a horseshoe brings good luck goes back to the Ancient Greeks. They believed that iron used to make horseshoes was magic and could fight off evil.

    And if you think black cats can change your luck, you agree with the Egyptians. In Ancient Egypt, cats of all colours were loved and worshipped. People believed that if a black one crossed your path you would be lucky. Sadly, now, more people think black cats bring bad luck because they were connected to witches in Medieval England.

  • Are there any other superstitions about animals?

    Plenty! In Poland and China, people see bats as a sign of a long and happy life. One Native American tribe believes that putting an owl’s feather in a baby’s cot will protect it. In Germany, pigs are lucky. People give each other pig-shaped sweets at New Year.

    Not all beliefs about animals are positive, though. In Madagascar, people believe that when a lemur enters a village it is a sign of death to come.

  • What else brings bad luck?

    One of the strangest negative superstitions comes from Syria, where yo-yos are thought to cause drought. They were even banned by law in the 1930s.

    Another popular superstition is that the number 13 is unlucky. In Norse mythology, 12 gods were invited to dinner in the city of the gods. But Loki turned up uninvited and caused chaos.

    Christians also believe that there were 13 people at the last supper, making the number unlucky. Today, fear of 13 is so widespread that some airlines avoid row 13 on their planes.

  • What are lucky charms?

    A lucky charm is an object that somebody believes holds good luck. Lots of people carry them around or take them to tests and exams. One of the most famous of these is the four-leaf clover, which is lucky because it is so rare. The chances of picking one are 1 in 10,000.

  • Are any superstitions useful?

    Some beliefs could be related to useful advice. For example, the Mexican superstition that you must not put your wallet on the floor seems sensible. But others are not so reasonable. Studies have found that 13 is no less lucky than any other number.

    We live in a world where science tells us a lot about the world, but every culture still has superstitions. Some believe we like superstitions because they make sense of things science cannot predict – like luck, death, and making money.

You Decide

  1. Do you have any superstitions?

Activities

  1. Make a poster about a superstition. It can be one you have read about or one you already know. Draw a picture of it and make the writing big and clear.

Word Watch

Horseshoe
A flat, U-shaped piece of iron nailed to a horse’s foot to protect it.
Native American
A member of any of the tribes of people who have lived in North America, South America or Central America since the time before the Europeans arrived.
Norse mythology
The beliefs of people who lived in Norway and Sweden before the Christian religion came to Europe.
Loki
He was famously the trickster god. Loki was very mischievous and had lots of plans for causing trouble.
Chaos
A state of huge confusion and mess.
Last supper
Christians believe that Jesus had a final meal with his 12 friends before he died. One of them, called Judas, was the thirteenth guest. He turned Jesus over to the authorities and had him killed.
Fear of 13
Also called “triskaidekaphobia”, which is the Greek for “fear of 13”.
Clover
A common plant that has leaves in groups of three and small, rounded flowers. Clover is often grown in fields to help enrich the soil.

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