13 Lesser-Known Bad Omens From Around The World

Ravens, broken mirrors, and walking under ladders. These three things are symbols of bad luck pretty much anywhere you look in the world, but many countries around the globe also have their own unique versions of bad omens. Some countries see specific birds as harbingers of death, while others see the particular placement of bread as a potentially devastating omen. Though countries vary wildly in what they see as heralds of doom, there's almost always a fascinating explanation. 

So why do superstitions exist? You've surely encountered several in your life, and they usually come from older people. Oftentimes, bad omens and superstitions relate to shady history - for example, cats are considered bad luck because they were seen as companions to witches during the early days of Puritans in America. Other bad omens and superstitions, however, are related to very sensible and logical pieces of history. Though mostly scary and kind of creepy, the omens in this list are totally fascinating, and they might even teach you a thing or two about how humans are and always have been. 


  • While In China, Never Give A Clock As A Gift

    There are many bad omens in China - namely, the number four, facial hair, and the howling of a dog late at night. But one of the worst omens in China involves a commonplace human necessity: clocks. 

    If you give a clock to someone in China, it's considered very rude. That's because it implies you're counting the gift recipient's time left on earth. Interestingly, the Mandarin word for "clock" is also a homonym for attending a funeral or a wake. The omen is familiar to Cantonese speakers as well, and it is observed by all classes of people in the country.

  • On The Isle Of Man, Don't Speak This Euphemism For "Rat"

    On the Isle of Man, an autonomous UK country in the Irish Sea, rats are especially bad omens. However, it's not so much the sight of them; rather, it's locals speaking the euphemistic word for them that brings the bad luck. That euphemism is "longtail," and when spoken, it has been purported to bring bad luck and extended bad weather to all those on the islands. The omen can be traced back to nautical days when rats were a sign of disease aboard sailing vessels. If a sailor spoke the word aloud, it could mean storms and rough seas for the rest of the journey.  

  • If You See A Priest Walking In The Street In Greece, You'd Better Know The Secret Word

    Staunch Orthodox Greeks know that seeing a priest walking in the street is bad luck - or at least a foreboding sign. A priest in the street could mean any number of bad things - perhaps he's heading to a death or an exorcism - but if you say one particular word, it may ensure that he's not coming to pay you a visit.

    That word is the Greek "Skorda." It translates to "garlic." Across many cultures and traditions, garlic is thought to ward off evil spirits. Vampires are famously averse to garlic. And, apparently, so must be priests.

  • Sweeping Your Home After Sunset Is A Big No-No In India

    In India's Hindu culture, the goddess Lakshmi brings wealth to her devotees. Supposedly, if you sweep your house past sunset, it will drive the goddess out, sending away the good luck from your family and inviting bad luck in. It's believed Lakshmi only visits after sunset, so of course she wouldn't visit while you're trying to clean. It's rude.

  • In Russia, Don't Sit At The Corner Of A Table If You Ever Want To Get Married
    Photo: Gunilla G / Flickr

    In Russia, Don't Sit At The Corner Of A Table If You Ever Want To Get Married

    Interestingly enough, there are relatively few omens that apply to a specific gender. In Russia, however, there's at least one. If an unmarried girl sits at the corner of a table, she'll stay unmarried for the rest of her life - or at least seven years, depending on who you hear it from. Some people of Russian descent believe the omen applies to young men as well, but in the popular sense, it's directed toward girls and women.

    Sitting at the head of the table's fine, though. Russia has plenty of other superstitions, such as not stepping over someone and not leaving your purse on the floor. 

  • In Mexico, Owls Are Harbingers Of Death
    Photo: DIVA007 / Flickr

    In Mexico, Owls Are Harbingers Of Death

    According to Mexican tradition, owls are bad luck. When you hear the call of the owl or see one in Mexico, it means death is near - either for you or for a loved one. There's a famous saying in Mexico relating to this: "Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere." Translated, this means “When the owl cries, the Indian dies.”