5 of the Stupidest Superstitions

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Perhaps we’re being a bit unfair today, you might think? Perhaps it seems a bit insensitive to call a superstition stupid? Many superstitious beliefs are based on centuries of precedent or are predicated on perceived proof and/or plausibility, after all. Well, we say that when people frame their lives by superstition, basing large, potentially momentous decisions on what are essentially delusions—and this happens all the time, as we’ll demonstrate—we frankly can’t think of any other word than… stupid. Maybe moronic, idiotic or simplistic would work also. Call it what you will, but most superstitions look pretty damned foolish when put under the microscope.

5 Lighting a Smoke With a Candle

A maritime superstition has it that every time someone lights a cigar or a cigarette with the flame of a candle, somewhere a seaman will die. This belief seems to date back to either Northern Europe or Poland, and seems at least ostensibly rooted in logic. During the winter months when many sailors were on land, many turned to selling odds and ends, frequently matches. Using a candle to light your smoke thus kept a sailor from making a sale and would have him starving to death.

4 Spilling the Salt

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Did you know that the word “salary” is derived from the Latin word “salarium?” Salt was so valuable in the ancient world, thanks to its preservative properties, that any waste of it was seen as not only expensive but even as tantamount to inviting a curse on the spiller. Nice and practical for a change, eh? Another tradition holds that Judas spilled salt at the Last Supper, and we all know how that turned out. Today, with salt overly abundant, this persistent superstition lingers and has people tossing salt over their shoulders all around the globe.

3 Unlucky Numbers

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In Chinese culture, the sound of a number is as important as its numerical value, when it comes to luck. The number 4, for example, sounds quite close to the Chinese word for death, thus it is considered a horribly unlucky number. People will even refuse to buy houses or to sit in seats on flights or trains if the number 4 is associated with the purchase or the travel. And arbitrary as discrimination based on aural similarity may seem, consider the western aversion to the number 13, so hated it is often left off of construction floor plans and the like. That number’s vilification can be traced to so many sources (such as the number of attendees at the Last Supper or Mayan Calendar of Apocalypse) that it is now simply a cultural phenomenon invoked by the weak-minded.

2 Walking Under a Ladder

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Now here’s a superstition that should be based off of good old common sense: you shouldn’t walk underneath a ladder because you might get something dropped on your head, right? But that’s not the provenance of this silly belief. Instead, it dates back to Ancient Egypt, when the triangle was thought to be a sacred shape, thus walking through the triangle formed by a ladder leaning on a wall was a desecration. The notion persisted in Christian beliefs, with the triangle representing the Holy Trinity.

1 Breaking a Mirror

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For years, people have been saying that breaking a mirror will bring years of bad luck. Usually it’s seven years, to be precise. Why? The more general belief of a broken mirror leading to bad luck relates to the sense of self—or even the soul—being cracked along with the mirror. As for the seven years, we can trace that number to the Romans, who believed that it took a person seven years to renew a life gone astray. A more practical explanation for this superstition is likely that mirrors used to be expensive and difficult to make, that breaking one just pretty much sucked.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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