Are you afraid of black cats?
Would you open an umbrella indoors?
And finally, how do you feel about the number 13?
Whether or not you believe in them, you are probably familiar with a few of these superstitions.
So, how did it happened that people all over the world knock on wood or avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks?
Although they have no basis in science, many of these weirdly specifically believe and practices do have equally weird and specific origins. They involve supernatural causes, it’s no surprise that many superstitions are based on religion.
Want an example?
The number 13 was associated with the biblical last supper, where Jesus Christ dined with 12 of his disciples just before being arrested and crucified. This gave birth to the idea that having 13 people at a table was bad luck, eventually expanded into 13 being an unlucky number in general.
No, it also has nothing to do with Friday the 13th the movie also.
Now, this fear of number 13 called triskaidekaphobia. Yes. that’s an actual word. Well, this is so common that many buildings around the world skip the 13th floor, with the numbers going straight from 12 to 14.
There are other superstitions that are from religions that a few people remember or believe in.
Knocking on wood is thought to come from the folklore of the ancient Indo -Europeans or possibly people who predate them. People who believed that trees are home to sacred spirits, and by touching these woods. You gain the spirit’s protection.
And somehow this tradition survived long after the beliefs of these spirits had faded away.
Many superstitions common today in Russia to Ireland are thought to be remnants of the pagan religions that Christianity replaced.
But not all superstitions are religious.Some are based just on some random coincidences and unfortunate associations.
For example, the fear of number 17 in Italy.
Why, you ask?
Well, the roman numeral XVII can be rearranged to form the word ‘vixi’, meaning my life had ended.
Similarly, the Chinese number 4, it sounds like death, and combined with Chinese 1, which sounds like Chinese must, combined they sounds like “MUST DIE”.So people in southeast Asia hate number 14.
Believe it or not, some superstitions actually make sense or did once.
Like, theater scenery used to consist of large painted backdrops, raised and lowered by stagehands who would whistle to signal each other. Absentminded whistles from other people could cause an accident. But even today the taboo of whistling backstage still exists long after the stagehands started using headphones for proper communication.
Similarly lighting three cigarettes, from the same match really causes bad luck.
Can’t find the logic behind?
Well you won’t unless you are a soldier in a foxhole. By keeping the match lit for too long may draw the attention of a watchful sniper. Today most smokers don’t have to worry about snipers, but the tradition still exists.
So why do people cling to these bits of forgotten religion, practices, advice? Aren’t that being totally irrational?
Well yes, but for most people superstition is based more of cultural habit than conscious belief.
After all, no one is born knowing to avoid walking under ladders or whistling indoors, but if you grow up being told by your family to avoid these things, chances are they will make you uncomfortable even after you logically understand that nothing bad will happen.
And since doing something like knocking on wood doesn’t require much effort, following the superstitions is often easier than consciously resisting it.
Besides, superstitions often do seem to work. Maybe you remember hitting some awesome sixes while wearing your lucky socks.
This is just our psychological bias at work. You are far less likely to remember all the times you struck out while wearing the same, but believing that they work could actually make you play better by giving an illusion that things are under your control and you are invincible.
So in situations where that confidence can make a difference, like sports those crazy superstitions are not that crazy after all.