Bad Luck Superstitions
October 30, 2013

Bad Luck Superstitions

As a wrap-up to my series on superstitions, I thought I would write two more blogs: one with several bad luck superstitions briefly discussed and one with several good luck ones. Since I like to finish on a good note, I thought I would focus this penultimate article on looking at superstitions that bring bad luck. So, let’s get to it.

Step on a Crack, and Break Your Mothers Back

Many of us still hear that sing-songy way in which little kids say this particular superstition. As Urban Dictionary explains, “This is an old children’s game, anyone who trod on the cracks between the paving stones was out, until only one player was left, he or she was then declared the winner.” However, this particular superstition has roots that are darker and deeper and, frankly, racist. Here is what the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry says, “The original rhyming verse is thought to be “Step on a crack and your mother will turn black.” It was also common to think that walking on the lines in pavement would mean you would marry a negro and have a black baby. (Apparently this superstition only applied to Caucasians and because of the rampant prejudice against black people, was considered an activity to avoid.).”

Perhaps we should think twice about this telling this old superstition since we unwittingly (hopefully) propagate racism through its history.

Throwing Salt Over Your Shoulder When You’ve Spilled It

As far as I can tell, there are two main origins to this particular myth. The first comes from the Daily Mail. As that article says, “If you look closely at Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper, you can see that Judas has knocked the salt cellar over with his elbow. Thanks to Judas Iscariot, spilled salt is associated with treachery and lies.” The second is explained in a Women’s Day article about superstitions: “The belief that you should toss a pinch of salt over your left shoulder to get rid of bad luck originates from the legend that the devil is always standing behind you, so throwing salt in his eye will distract him from causing trouble. Nowadays, most people only do this after spilling salt—which is thought to be bad luck, because salt was an expensive commodity long ago and folklore linked it to unlucky omens in order to prevent wasteful behavior.”

If You Walk Under A Ladder, You Will Have Bad Luck

Here is a superstition with far more practical reasons. See, it is dangerous to walk under a ladder, so some of the origins of this superstition come about pragmatically. Women’s Day explains the other origins of this: “First, an open ladder forms a triangle, and triangles were once considered a symbol of life, so walking through that shape was considered tempting your fate. It is also thought that because it has three sides, the triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and “breaking” it by entering the triangle is bad luck.”

But there is some good news. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry provides some advice on how to avoid the bad luck if you walk under a ladder:

  • Spit three times through the ladder’s rungs
  • Cross you fingers until you see a dog
  • Spit on your shoe and continue walking, but don’t look down at the shoe until the spittle has dried
  • Walk backwards, out from the ladder the same way you came in, and make a wish as you go back out.

Maybe you should just risk the bad luck?

Of course, The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry lists many other superstitions associated with bad luck including:

  • To open an umbrella in the house is to bring bad luck
  • It is bad luck to sing at the table
  • A bird that comes in your window brings bad luck
  • To refuse a kiss under mistletoe causes bad luck
  • When a dog howls, death is near
  • It is bad luck to chase someone with a broom
  • If you shiver, someone is casting a shadow on your grave
  • You must get out of bed on the same side you got in on or you will have bad luck
  • A cat will try to take the breath from a baby
  • It is unlucky to rock an empty rocking chair
  • To give someone a purse or wallet without money in it will bring that person bad luck

And these are not all. There are so many other bad-luck superstitions in the world. A deeper look into their meanings and origins just might help us all to no longer fall prey to them.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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