Superstitions across different countries – An Overview
What is a superstition?
Some believe that a superstition is anything that people believe that is based on myth, magic, or irrational thoughts. They are beliefs that are steeped in lore or tradition, and it is usually difficult to pinpoint the exact origin.
Superstitions are also known as old wives’ tales, legends, and traditions. They may involve animals, graveyards, ghosts, inanimate objects, or even other people.
Superstition is also believed to be a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason, knowledge or experience. The word is often used negatively to refer to folk beliefs which are deemed to be irrational.
Here is a brief compilation of Superstitions which are prevalent across different countries.
During Chinese New year
- On the stroke of midnight, every door and window in the house has to be opened to allow the old year to go out is one of the Chinese superstition they adhere to.
- Many people also abstain from eating meat on the first day of Chinese New Year because it is believed that this will ensure a long and happy life. Some may eat a whole fish, that represents togetherness and abundance, or a chicken with its head and feet intact, which symbolizes prosperity.
- Any noodles in your bowl should be left uncut, as a sign of long life. Plants and flowers also play a significant role in symbolizing rebirth and new growth. A home is thought to be lucky if a plant blooms on New Year’s Day, as this foretells the start of a prosperous year.
- All debts had to be paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day, as anyone who does will be lending all the year.
- Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words. Negative terms and the word “four”, sounding like the word for death, are not to be uttered. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning.
- If you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year. Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked, even though they are mischievous.
- On New Year’s Day, you are not supposed to wash your hair because it would mean you would have washed away good luck for the New Year.
- Red clothing is preferred during this festive occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year’s sets the tone for the rest of the year. Children and unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given little red envelopes with crisp one dollar bills inserted, for good fortune.
- The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what the fortunes would be for the entire year. It is a lucky sign to see or hear songbirds or red-colored birds or swallows.
- It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the living room.
- Do not use knives or scissors on New Year’s Day as this may cut off fortune.
General Chinese superstitions:
When having a baby
- If you’re pregnant, use of glue will cause a difficult birth.
- If you strike an animal during pregnancy, the newborn child will look like that animal and behave like one.
- You should never praise a newborn baby because it will invite evil spirits and ghosts.
- A concave navel means a prosperous life.
- A baby with more than one hair crown will be mischievous and disobedient.
- A baby with wide and thick ears will live prosperously.
Before you get married
- Wedding clothes should be red, yellow and/or white.
- Couples with the same surname cannot marry; even if they are not related, they still belong to the same ancestry.
- A boy, preferably born a Dragon, must roll over the newlywed’s matrimonial bed to ensure good luck and a baby boy.
- Never marry someone who is older or younger by 3 or 6 years.
Good Feng Shui
- The number of steps in a staircase should be even-numbered.
- It is bad luck to have two room doors face each other.
- It is bad luck if your door or gate directly faces a road.
- Don’t build your house facing the north.
- The master’s bedroom should not be situated right above the garage.
- The dining area should not be under a second-floor toilet.
Going to funerals
- An improper funeral will bring ill fortune and disaster.
- Statues of deities must be covered with red cloth of paper.
- Mirrors must be hidden; a person who sees the reflection of the coffin will have a death in his/her family.
- White cloth must be hung across the doorway of the house.
- The deceased’s children and grandchildren should not cut their hair for 49 days.
- After leaving the place, do not go straight home lest the ghost of the dead follows you.
Lucky and unlucky colors
- Red is the color of blood or life and will bring happiness, wealth, fame, and good luck.
- Black is the color of feces and is associated with evil, disaster and bad fortune.
- White is the color of mother’s milk. It symbolizes moderation, purity, honesty and life and balances red and black.
Lucky and unlucky numbers
- The luckiest number is eight because its Chinese word also means “prosper”.
- The unluckiest number is four as it sounds like the Chinese word for death.
- Seven can also signify death.
- The number one means loneliness.
- The number “9″ is good, because nine in Cantonese sounds like the word “sufficient”.
- Clipping toenails or fingernails at night is bad luck; the person will be visited by a ghost.
- If a dog howls continuously at night, this means death.
- Hearing a crow cawing between 3 and 7 am means the hearer will receive gifts; hearing a crow caw between 7 and 11am means rain and wind; and between 11am and 1pm means quarrels.
- If a man’s ears burn between 11pm and 1pm, there will be harmony between him and his wife; if they burn between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, a guest will soon arrive.
Things you should never do
- Beating a person with a broom will rain bad luck upon that person for years.
- Wearing a moustache is considered bad luck.
- Never point at the moon or your ears might get chopped off.
- Don’t sweep the floor on New Year’s Day lest you sweep away the good fortune.
- Don’t keep a pet turtle or it will slow down your business.
While many Chinese people today may not believe in these dos and don’ts, these Chinese superstitions (by the name of “traditions” and “customs”) are still practiced. They are kept because most families realize that it is these “old stuffs”, whether believed or not, that provide continuity with the past and provide the family with an identity.
- Although some of the Greeks believe that it brings bad luck to kill a bat, but keeping a bat bone is considered to protect them from evil eye.
- Other Islanders believe quite the opposite. They think that bats are unholy creatures and should be avoided at all costs, and would never dream of carrying a piece of one as a talisman.
- Every typical Greek house has a cactus growing near its door – they believe that it saves them from troubles.
- Any Greek knows that if he sneezes, somebody thinks about him.
- Bread is considered a gift from God.No bread is ever thrown away.
- Crows are considered omens of bad news, misfortune and death.
- The most commonly talked about ancient superstition in the Greek Isles are the evil eyes which can strike at any given moment. . Blue is the colour that wards off the evil of the eye, but it is also commonly thought that blue eyed people are exceptional givers of it. So beware when a blue eyed person pays you a compliment, according to the superstition, it could be disastrous.
- Another way to ward off the evil eye is with garlic.If you can’t brave the smell of garlic, there is an alternative. When you get a compliment remember to say ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under your breath and spit three times on your own person. If you know the individual that is complimenting you, tell them to spit on you too.
- Fish are believed to be wise and knowledgeable. But the Church also sees the fish as a revered symbol of silence. Fish don’t speak or make noise.
- It is thought that garlic not only wards off the evil eye but also keeps away evil spirits and demons.
- Never hand some one a knife. Set it down and let them pick it up, or else you will get into a fight with that person.
- Greeks believe that Money attracts money, so never leave your pockets, purses or wallets completely empty and never completely empty your bank account. Always leave at least a coin or two. It is also considered good luck that when you give a gift of a wallet or a purse, that you put a coin or two in it before giving it to the recipient.
- Greek Orthodox priests are very revered. When greeting one, it is customary to kiss his hand or ring in respect. But it’s considered a bad omen to see one walking in the street, and most folk whisper ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under their breath.
- We are all familiar with the superstition of throwing salt over our left shoulder to repel evil or a demon. In Greek Folklore, salt can be used to get rid of an unwanted human presence as well.
- If you have an unwanted guest in your home and you want them to leave. All you have to do is sprinkle salt behind them. The powers of the salt will chase him out.
- It is also customary to sprinkle salt in a new home before you occupy it, as the salt will drive any evil out and away from you and your family.
- Overturned shoes (soles up) are considered very bad luck and even omens of death. Never let your shoes lay upside down. If you accidentally take them off and they land soles up, turn them over immediately and say ‘Skorda (garlic)’ and a spit or two won’t hurt either.
- Greeks spit for a number of superstitious reasons. The most common is to keep evil away from you. For example, if you hear of some one speaking of misfortune or bad news, and fear the possibility of the same thing happening to you, you would spit three times on your own person.
- Talismans or ‘Filahta’ are regularly used in Greece. Most commonly you will see these charms pinned to the backs of small children’s and infant’s clothing. But you will also find that many of the older people carry them in their pockets and purses or have them discretely pinned to their clothing too.
- Different from Western cultures, it is Tuesday the 13th of the month that is considered unlucky in Greece and not Friday the 13th.
- In UK it is believed that you would be lucky if you meet a black cat.
- Unlucky are those who break a mirror, see a crow.
- Not one Englishman will open his umbrella near the door or will put his new shoes on the table.
- Any Irish knows that a werewolf is afraid of water.
- The Irish place metals on high levels. Blacksmithers are respected, since they are considered to dispose of bad spirits and diseases.
- Italians think you’re lucky to hear a cat sneezing.
- It’s not good if a bird enters through your window.
- If an Italian sees a nun, he will seek to touch a metal, so that the luck doesn’t leave him.
- Japanese are afraid to be photoed in three. The one from the middle is expected to die. For avoiding misfortune, Japanese will not talk to man who talks while sleeping.
- If you play with fire, you will wet your bed.
- If you rest just after eating, you will become a cow/pig/elephant.
- If you whistle or play a flute at night, snakes will come to you.
- A cold mid-section will cause diarrhea
- The first dream of a new year will come true
- Breaking a comb or the cloth strap of a “geta” wooden sandal breaking is an omen of misfortune.
- Stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck.
- If you drive past a funeral, you must hide your thumb in a fist. This is because the Japanese word for thumb literally translates as “parent-finger” and hiding it is considered protection for your parent. If you don’t, your parent will die.
- There are several unlucky numbers in Japanese. Traditionally, 4 and 9 are unlucky. Four is sometimes pronounced shi, which is also the word for death.
- Nine is also sometimes pronounced ku, which can mean suffering.
- 13 is also occasionally thought of as unlucky, although this is imported from Western culture. Because of these unlucky numbers, sometimes levels or rooms with 4 or 9 in them don’t exist in hospitals or hotels, and particularly in the maternity section of a hospital, the room number 43 is avoided because it can literally mean “still birth.” Therefore, when giving gifts such as sets of plates, they are normally sets of three or five, never four.
- If you go to a funeral, you should throw spread salt over yourself before entering your home. This is believed to be cleansing.
- You should never sleep with your head in North position or you will have a short life
- Chopsticks should not be stuck upright into food, especially rice. Chopsticks are only stuck upright into rice in the bowl on the altar at a funeral.
- Cutting your fingernails or toenails at night is bad luck. If you do so, it is believed that you will not be with your parents at their deathbed.
- You should never write a person’s name in red ink
- Use of the Maneki Neko or “lucky cat.” Many businesses such as shops or restaurants have figures of such beckoning cats. These are considered to be lucky and bring in money and fortune.
- If u see a spider in the morning, it means good luck so you shouldn’t kill it, but if you see one at night, it means bad luck so you can kill it.
- If you catch a crow’s eyes, something bad will happen.
- If a black cat crosses your path, something bad will happen.
- People born on:
Sunday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Friday.
Monday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Sunday.
Tuesday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Monday.
Wednesday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Tuesday.
Thursday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Saturday.
Friday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Wednesday.
Saturday, aviod doing anything auspicious on a Wednesday at nighttime.
- Another auspicious occasion is the choosing of a Thai name. Most people consult an astrologer or monk to select a name that will bring the child good fortune, health and happiness.
- If you make jokes when eating a ghost will steal your rice
- A ghost will enter your house if you stand in the doorway
- A ghost will curse you if you sing while eating
- You will see a ghost if you bend down and look between your legs
- Never say a baby is cute because a ghost will come and take it away.
- Do not look at naked people because your eyes will become swollen
- Do not throw money away because you will lose your finger
- The moon contains a rabbit
- Bite your shoes before you wear them for the first time to prevent them from biting your feet
- Your finger will fall off if you point at a rainbow
- Do not taste food with a large serving spoon because it will make your child ugly “
- Bad luck will come to a house if you enter through the window
- Another thing most visitors to Thailand notice is that many people wear amulets. Amulets are special Buddha images, often gold-plated and worn around the neck. They are believed to possess a variety of sacred powers such as the ability to protect the wearer from accident or ill-health.
when you are going out -these are considered bad—
some one asks you ‘where are you going?’
some body sneeze odd no; of times
a widow, a single Brahman or a man carrying oil or milk or a cat crossing your path.
going below the ladder.
hitting your head or feet on the thresh hold.
the following are considered to be good:
eating curds with jaggery
a married lady with flowers on the head & kumkum on fore head.
an elephant or braying of a donkey.sound made by lizards
milk over-flowing except on sankranthi day
spilling of oil, turmeric, kumkum
hair-cutting on Tuesdays or in evenings
lizard falling on head
keeping money inside the bag meant for carrying your purchase.
doing things during Rahu-kala or travelling during
in auspicious time
getting married on New moon day,or during certain months
not lending or borrowing after sun set ( lighting the lamp in the evening )
exchanging things across the the threshhold.
giving or taking with the left hand.
not crossing the broken pumpkins or coconuts on the road.
cries of dogs & hooting of owls.
cawing of crow- itching of right palm-arrival of guests
itching of left palm–money gain
right eye twitching –good for men
left eye twitching good for women.
And the list can goes on & on. Kindly note that all the points mentioned above are not to be taken as sacrosanct and is only a compilation and readers should apply their wisdom in believing them.Please find below the more common superstitions known across regions & their meaning :
1. It’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.
A leaning ladder forms a triangle with the wall and ground. Triangles represent the Holy Trinity, and violating the Trinity by breaking it (walking through it) would put you in league with the devil himself. Considering what Christians did to those who were considered to be in league with the devil, it’s hardly surprising that leaning ladders were avoided at all cost.
2. Friday the Thirteenth
The idea that a this particular date would bring bad luck has its roots in both Norse and Christian beliefs. The Scandinavians believed that the number 13 was unlucky due to the mythological 12 demigods being joined by a 13th, an evil one, who brought misfortune upon man.
Christ was said to have been crucified on Friday and the number of guests at the the Last Supper was 13, with the 13th guest being Judas, the traitor.
3. God Bless You
The blessing of those who sneeze started when the great plague took hold of Europe. Sufferers would sneeze violently, a sign that they would soon die. As a result, The Pope passed a law requiring people to bless the sneezer
At the same time it was expected that anybody sneezing would cover their mouth with a cloth or their hand. This was obviously to stop the spreading of the disease but many believed that it was to keep the soul intact. Sneezing ‘into the air’ would allow the soul to escape and death would be imminent.
Until the plague struck things were very different. Those who sneezed were congratulated on expelling evil from their bodies.
4. Black Cats
In ancient Egypt, the Goddess Bast was a black, female cat. Christians, wanting to rid society of all traces of other religions, convinced the ignorant that black cats were demons in disguise and should thus be destroyed. The kindly ladies who cared for the cats were often destroyed in the process, being condemned as witches.
A demon black cat crossing your path would create a barrier of evil, cutting you off from God and blocking the entrance to heaven.
5. Spilling Salt
During the middle ages salt was a very expensive commodity used mainly for medicinal purposes. Spillage was to be avoided at all costs. The idea that it is unlucky to do so probably stems from the belief that Judas spilt salt during the last supper.
Throwing spilt salt over the left shoulder is linked to its medicinal use. If it could not be administered, the next best thing was to throw it into the eye of the evil spirits that brought sickness upon us. These spirits were believed to lurk behind a person’s shoulder, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
6. Fingers Crossed
Probably the most widely used superstition these days and used by making the sign of the Christian faith with our fingers thus preventing evil spirits destroying our chances of good fortune.
7. Knock on Wood
This goes back to the days before Christianity made its entrance. It was believed that good spirits lived in trees and that by knocking on anything made from wood we could call upon these spirits for protection against misfortune. There are many, many more such superstitions. Every culture has them. Perhaps they have survived in our world of scientific explanations due to our desire to keep the child inside us alive. Through superstition, we are able to take part in the world of make believe.
I couldn’t possibly say that I believe in Father Christmas, but I can say “God Bless You” when anybody sneezes. And I may not enjoy walking under a ladder as well, there can be a good chance of a tin of paint falling in my head !! Jokes apart, these are only age old beliefs and scientific basis of most have never been established.
As long as it doesn’t interfere with you living a healthy & sensible life you are most definitely free to believe what you want.