Many of us, whether we admit it or not, are superstitious. Don’t think so? Well, would you say “bless you” after somebody sneezed, or refuse to pass somebody on the stairs? If so, though you might not believe in bad luck, you are keeping ancient superstitious beliefs alive.
It’s all to do with feeling in control. Situations in which we have little to no influence on the outcome make us grasp for a way to control them. That is where superstitions come in. Little rituals which we may, at least in part, think will affect the future.
We were curious as to how many children are superstitious in this day and age. So, for this week’s survey, we decided to find out. We asked 1,390 schoolchildren whether or not they would walk under a ladder, as this is one of the better-known superstitions. Obviously, there are practicalities to this one. You may not be superstitious at all but still not walk under a ladder in case something falls from above. That’s just common sense. So we offered a choice of three possible answers: No, it is bad luck, No, something might fall but I don't believe in bad luck, and Yes, it wouldn't bother me.
What our survey found was that ancient superstitious beliefs are fading away in the modern, scientific world. A mere 18% of our respondents said that they would refuse to walk under a ladder because they feared it would bring bad luck. That means that a massive 82% of schoolchildren have no place for these irrational beliefs.
But are they completely irrational? Superstitions have been around for a very long time. So what is there origin and is there any basis for them in reality? Let’s take a look at some of the more common superstitions and how they arose…
Walking under ladders. There are two accounts for why this brings bad luck. The first is that ladders were once used as a method of execution. Criminals to be hung were tipped off a ladder and would fall to their deaths below. As you can see, being under a ladder was not a good place to be!
The other explanation is more “religious”. Triangles, with their three corners and three edges, were taken as symbols of the “holy trinity”. Therefore walking through the triangle formed by a ladder against a wall was seen as unholy and bad luck.
Crossed fingers. This action, used to summon good luck, also has two explanations. Some say it originated in the Roman Empire amongst persecuted Christians. To secretly bless themselves, and to show other Christians their faith, they would cross their fingers to form a makeshift crucifix.
Others say that the origin of crossed fingers is earlier. In pre-Christian times a cross was meant to concentrate benevolent spirits and act as a place to secure wishes and make them come true. At first two people would form this cross, then this evolved into one person crossing their arms until finally it became one person crossing the fingers of their hand.
Shoes on a table are supposed to bring bad luck. There are many explanations for this custom. The main one is that tables signify altars to the gods. Shoes being placed upon them would be seen as an unholy act and so one which brings the wrath of the gods in the form of bad luck.
Other explanations are offered for this. Many think that shoes on the table is an invite to death to visit the house. When a hanged man was cut down his shoes would touch the gallows’ wooden platform, reminiscent of a tabletop. Also, when miners died down a pit their shoes were placed on a table as a mark of respect. So, performing this act would evoke the grim reaper.
Touching wood is meant to evoke good fortune in much the same way as crossing fingers. Again there are two explanations for this. Many believe it is a nod towards our pagan ancestors who worshipped the spirits of the trees. They were called upon by laying hands on the bark of trees and touching wooden items is another way to summon their blessings.
The Christian explanation is similar. The cross on which Christ was executed was of course made from wood. So, evoking the protection of Christ became easier with wood acting as the catalyst for Christ’s invocation.
Breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck according to this superstition. The origin of this may be found in the Romans. They used mirrors as tools with which to foretell the future. If a mirror was broken during a “reading” then death was predicted.
Others believe that our reflections are our souls. So, breaking a mirror would damage the soul within. The Victorians, usually so logical, also believed that souls could be trapped inside mirrors. So much so in fact that mirrors were covered when someone died so that their soul did not become trapped.
Spilled salt brings bad luck allegedly, unless it is thrown over your shoulder. The origin of this is very ancient indeed. Salt has always been a prized item. It was valuable to our ancestors as a means of preserving food so any wastage was of course a bad thing.
The Christian myth that we have a devil on our left shoulder and an angel on our right, one recording our bad deeds and the other our good, adapted the “salt” superstition. Throwing salt over the left shoulder would blind the devil and so prevent him from recording our bad deeds.
The number thirteen is seen as unlucky. Many will tell you this is because there were thirteen people present at the last supper, and that did not end well. Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus leading to his crucifixion.
In fact this superstition is much older than Christianity. In Norse myth twelve gods were dining when the god of mischief, Loki, arrived. He brought about the death of the beloved god Baldur and since then the number thirteen has been synonymous with bad luck.
So there we have it. The origins of some of our most famous superstitions. None are based on logic or reasoning and all call upon “paranormal” powers to explain good or bad fortune. In reality they make no difference whatsoever so it is heartening to know that the younger generation give superstitions very little credence.FASCINATING CHILDREN’S SURVEYS
Here are the results from the 1,390 children who answered our question "Would you walk under a ladder?" The survey was conducted in the week ending 16th May 2021.
|Would you walk under a ladder?||Percentage of Respondents|
|No, it is bad luck||18%|
|No, something might fall but I don't believe in bad luck||36%|
|Yes, it wouldn't bother me||46%|