The origins of your favorite superstitions

Last time I walked under a ladder–make that the last several times I walked under a ladder–the person I was with commented on the bad luck that would ensue. Why is this bad luck? I consider it great luck that the ladder didn’t fall on me, or that a can of paint wasn’t dropped on my head, or that I didn’t trip and get my face stuck between the rungs. Continuing in the spirit of the spooky season, here are some of my favorite superstitions and their origins (my theorized origin, and the ‘official’ origin according to the internet):

Walking under a ladder is bad luck.

My theory: In 1509, a lonely ugly warlock had just assembled the first ladder in the world, and he put a spell on it–the first witch that walked beneath it would have to marry him. And it was so–Sabrina the middle-aged witch walked beneath the ladder and lo and behold they were married. Ten kids and one divorce later, it was forever known that walking beneath a ladder was the worst decision one could ever make. Ever.

Actual origin: The ladder forms a triangle, whose three points represent the Holy Trinity. By stepping into this holy space and breaking the Trinity you were ‘one with the devil’ and would incur God’s wrath. Now that’s a ladder.

Black cats are bad luck.

My theory: Someone who hated cats kicked a black one. Its brethren are out for revenge, and won’t stop until they’ve given every human being a heart attack. Black cats really are bad luck.

Actual origin: During the middle ages, it was believed that witches took the form of, or associated with, black cats. Therefore, they were affiliated with being demonic and being caught with one was blasphemous. (Note: Apparently black cats are sometimes good luck–but don’t ask me when)

Breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck.

My theory: Once upon a time, the evil Queen looked into her gorgeous gold-trimmed mirror and asked “who is the fairest of them all?” The mirror laughed and said “Queen, have you seen me?” It then shattered into a trillion pieces. Exactly seven pieces of glass got wedged into the Queen’s left foot and it took exactly seven years to dig them out with a safety pin.

Actual origin: Mirrors were once thought to be reflections of a person’s soul. A broken mirror meant the soul was disconnected from the body. The Romans believed that a person’s life went in seven-year cycles, and that after seven years was up, the ‘bad luck’ could be reset.

Thirteen is an unlucky number.

My theory: A man once took thirteen wives, each more beautiful than the next. The wives decided they were more into breaking mirrors than their husband, so they left him. He then spread a rumor around his village that no one should ever do anything involving the number 13 again.

Actual origin: According to MSNBC, “at the Last Supper in Christian theology, there were 13 dinner guests, so that number is unlucky because Christ was betrayed. And in Norse mythology, 12 benevolent gods were gathering in a hall and the evil god Loki attacked the group. Loki was the 13th guest, and the god Balder was killed in the melee.” My building doesn’t have a 13th floor. It also doesn’t have a 14th floor (4 is unlucky in Asian cultures, and I live right next to Chinatown). I feel like there are even more reasons people just don’t like the number 13 in general.

Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back.

My theory: It wasn’t a crack in the sidewalk they stepped on.

Actual origin: Apparently this used to be a racist superstition (and I hesitate to even call it a superstition). It sounds more like a rhyme created on the playground by a kid hopped up on prejudice. You can Google search this because I’m not posting it here!

And there you have it, folks–I strongly recommend my versions explaining the origin of these superstitions. Trust me, they’re as accurate as they come.

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