The history of superstitions

Nicole Bolla ‘20 Opinion Editor

From believing black cats are bad luck, to knocking on wood, to avoiding walking under a ladder, it is clear that superstitions are everywhere in society. Even though most people do not truly believe in the superstitions and their fictitious consequences, we partake in them anyway. Junior Kate Kimmble said, “It’s sort of like we believe in them, but no one really believes in them. You just do it because you can.” So why do we engage in them? These little superstitious sayings have just become simple social gestures that lack meaning. At one time, most superstitions were taken seriously by many people and for good reason, but where does this odd array of seemingly random actions and phrases stem from?

The superstition against opening an umbrella inside was born in Victorian era England when umbrellas had metal tips and very faulty spring-loaded opening mechanisms. Thus, when utilized, umbrellas would fly open at the speed of a freight train, and could seriously injure those unfortunate enough to be around its sharp, metal spikes. That’s something that would definitely put a damper on your mid-afternoon tea.

 While this superstition has practicality, many have beginnings that –like everything else that happened before the year 1700– are far more religious in origin. The ancient Egyptians believed that the triangle was a sacred shape of the gods. When a ladder leaned against the side of a building, it would create the shape of a triangle. Consequently, walking under said ladder was seen as walking through a triangle and desecrating the gods with one’s insignificant, mortal body. In the Middle Ages, people were incredibly intelligent and logical, so of course, they wholeheartedly believed in magic and witchcraft. Black cats were associated with witches and the Devil, so if a black cat crossed your path, it was a sure sign you did not pay enough attention in Catholic mass and were being watched by Lucifer himself.

 Even the famous saying ‘knock on wood’ was born out of spiritual beliefs- this time, going all the way back to ancient Celts. They believed that trees had spirits and knocking on that tree would invoke protection from the tree’s spirit. Many would do this while bragging about their skills to others to avoid punishment by other spirits for being boastful. 

Superstitions have evolved over the years from rules of religion, to practical advice, to just silly social gestures, but now that you know about the strange origins of all these superstitious myths and their connections to different historical eras, maybe now you can decide whether superstitions are just silly gestures perpetuated by society or omens of shifting luck and bad fortune. 

Photo courtesy of Pinterest

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