How powerful are superstitions? David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California tested the power of the ancient Chinese superstition that links the number 4 to death. It was found, after examining more than 47 million computerised death certificates that there were 13 per cent more deaths caused by heart attack than expected on the fourth of the month for Japanese and Chinese Americans.
David Phillips published the results of an extensive study of the effect of superstitions on the life of those who believed them in 2002 and stated that superstitions can raise stress and anxiety levels.
The scientists who conducted this study found that if superstitions are hard-wired into the human brain, regardless of education level or ethnicity, they do have an affect on people. It is, in effect, unlucky to be superstitious!
Some of the more prevalent superstitions alive in Western culture today include ‘touching wood’ to keep the good luck flowing, expecting seven years bad luck after breaking a mirror and it being bad luck for a black cat to cross your path.
What other superstitions still survive and how might they have originated?
Origins of the Superstition “Touching Wood”
There are several theories as to the origin of this superstition. It was thought that knocking on wood was a superstitious action to ward off evil throughout history both through Pagan and Christian times. Some believed that touching a wooden crucifix was a form of praying for good luck.
According to an ancient Celtic belief, trees can conduct evil spirits and some would knock on wood to thank mythical creatures for bestowing good luck on them.
Origins of Superstition “Expect Bad Luck if a Black Cat Crosses Your Path”
Some believe this superstition dates back to the days of Charles I of England who owned a black cat. He was fiercely protective of his cat until one day it fell ill and died. Charles I was heard to proclaim “Alas my luck is gone” and the next day he was arrested and charged with treason.
Contradictions of Superstition Regarding Black Cat
In some parts, it is believed to be a sign of good luck if a black cat crosses your path. In Yorkshire for instance, a black cat was said to bring the fisherman home safely from the seas. In parts of Europe if a black cat walks into your home you are considered to be blessed.
The origin of black cat and good luck may have begun in Egypt. Oagans-Bast was a sacred black cat god of the monotheistic belief system. His people courted and offered favours by acquiring black cats into their households in the belief that somehow the spirit of their god might enter the body of the black cat, therefore blessing them with prosperity.
Origins of Superstition “Breaking a Mirror Brings Seven Years Bad luck
The superstition regarding breaking mirrors bringing seven years bad luck goes back to ancient Rome. The Romans were the first to create glass mirrors and along with other cultures, they believed the mirror had the power to confiscate a part of the user’s soul. If a person’s reflected image became distorted in any way this could mean a corruption in his or her soul.
Origins of Finding a Penny and Picking it Up for Luck
It was once believed that metal was a gift from the Gods, given to man as protection against evil. All forms of metal brought good luck and this is one reason too, why horseshoes are sometimes hung over people’s doorways or charm bracelets are worn. Finding a penny is finding a good luck coin. There’s an old saying “Wrap a penny in paper and keep it to avoid your debtors,” and this is another that metal was thought to bring wealth.
Origins of Superstition that Putting an Umbrella up Indoors is Bad Luck
In ancient cultures, the umbrella represented royalty and power. African royalty for instance first used umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot rays of the sun. To open one in the shade was an insult to the Sun God. The superstition about it being bad luck to open an umbrella indoors may have originated because people saw it as an act that insulted the spirits of the household by implying their protection was inadequate.
Despite modern life, superstitions can still have a powerful affect on people and there are many who will avoid crossing people on stairs, walking under ladders breaking mirrors and many who will still carry a good luck charm.