Walking Under Ladders
Even though it's always tempting, everyone knows that walking under a ladder is cause for some very very bad luck. The origin of this practical myth comes from a few different sources depending on who you are to believe.
When a ladder is placed against a wall it forms a triangle, one of the holiest symbols to the Egyptians. (As can be seen by their pyramids.) The thought was that if one walked underneath a ladder they break the symbol and anger the gods. This concept was taken later by the Christians, but instead of the triangle, they called it the Holy Trinity. The consequences where the same though.
People believed this so strongly, that prisoners were forced to walk underneath the ladder that led to the gallows. This scared them more than the actual hanging itself.
In the end it's another superstition that just makes common sense, but it's probably just easier to scare someone rather than risk having a hammer fall on their head.
Knock on Wood
What do you do if you say something out loud that you want to come true? You knock on wood. It's strange, but of all the superstitions on this list, this is the one that is still most commonly done reflexively. (The most would probably have to be God Bless You when someone sneezes.)
The reason that people knock on wood comes from the pagan belief that good spirits lived in the trees. In order to get something that you want, you were to whisper the wish into the tree and knock two times to ensure the spirit was awake to take on the wish.
On the flipside, some people believed that you knock on wood to ward off bad spirits that would make the wish not come true.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue
This wedding chant became a popular mantra and symbol of good luck in a marriage in the 1500's. The full verse goes:
"Something old, something new
Something burrowed, something blue
And a silver sixpence in her shoe."
The old is to keep connected with the brides past and her family. The new means optimism for the life after marriage. The burrowed thing usually comes from a friend who is in a good marriage as a charm for good luck. The reason for blue was that in Roman times, blue was the color of love which the Christians turned into meaning fidelity. (Most bridal gowns were blue up until the late 19th century.) Finally, the sixpence in the shoe was another good luck charm, this one from the Scots who believe that a coin in the shoe guarantees money
This superstition states that if the right hand itches, money coming in, but if the left hand itches money coming out. Or you're having an allergic reaction to medication, and I don't know why the South paw gets the raw deal but this sounds a bit funny to me.
Again the origin for this one is unknown, but the earliest recording of it comes from Shakespeare, in Julius Caesar, Brutus says, "Let me tell you Cassius, you yourself are much condemned to have an itching palm." ooo sick burn Brutus.
Spilling salt may have been more of a manners issue than a bad luck issue...and then the it just became habit. Long ago salt was an expensive commodity, and one that had many useful purposes. Wasting salt was frowned upon, and so it is suggested that people just started saying it was bad luck so that people would be careful with it. Although, starting a rumor that to undo the bad luck is to waste more salt doesn't make sense to me...but I'm not from long ago.
So now you have this "throw salt over your shoulder" to undo the bad luck...but not just any shoulder you have to throw it over your left shoulder. Why left? You throw it over the left shoulder because in some Christian beliefs the Devil hangs about over the left side of the body, looking for an opportunity to invade. Spilling salt, seen as an invitation for the Devil to do his deeds, because it's such an abomination to be clumsy. The Devil needs to be put back in his place so you take the salt and throw it over the left shoulder (where he's been hanging out) and it puts it right in his face! So, basically you invite the guy to come in and when he gets to the door your throw something in his face and tell him to go away, no wonder he's so angry all the time. Another thought as to why spilling salt is bad is linked to the last supper. In Da Vinci's painting Judas is seen spilling the salt, so if you spill the salt you might as well just go turn in your best friend so they can be executed.
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