WRITINGS ON THE WALL
Whether or not you believe in bad luck, we all have entertained a superstition or two at one point in our lives. October 27, 2020, is National Black Cat Day, and that got me wondering about the origins of the belief that a dark-colored feline could bring you bad luck, as well as some other strange superstitions from around the world.
Cats have long been revered as omens of good luck rather than bad, and even worshiped as gods in ancient Egypt. But in 1232 AD Pope Gregory IX declared black cats an "incarnation of Satan"—and things got worse from there.
In the Middle Ages religious people all but steered clear of black cats, and during the Salem Witch Trials in America, they were branded instruments of the witches that were accused. This belief has basically died away, but a black cat crossing your path in the dark can still make the hair on your neck stand up.
Knocking On Wood
This is probably the most widely known superstition out there—the idea that to ward off bad luck or give yourself good fortune you "touch wood" or "knock on wood." There are few different explanations as to where this practice might have originated.
Ancient pagan cultures believed that spirits and gods resided in trees, so the idea that knocking on the roots or wood would wake them up to call for protection or show gratitude to them for a stroke of good luck.
In a 19th-century British children's game called "Twiggy Touchwood," players claimed immunity from being tagged if they touched the nearest piece of wood. Adults took on this habit as well and still say "touch wood" today to signify receiving good luck in a situation.
Another famous superstition, the idea that breaking a mirror would bring you bad luck, has its origins in antiquity. In fact, it was the ancient Romans that came up with the idea that a broken mirror would give you seven years of bad luck—if the last thing that was reflected in it was you.
The idea stems from the belief that only poor health could cause a mirror to crack, and the number seven was seen by the Romans as the amount of time one must endure to complete a cycle of sickness and renewal.
This bout of bad luck could be reversed, the Romans believed, if you buried the broken pieces of the mirror in the moonlight or touched the pieces to a tombstone.
Step On A Crack
Like many superstitions, this one is linked to evil and the underworld. Cracks in the pavement, or even in the Earth itself, were believed to be portals to the realm of the supernatural. So the act of stepping on one of these cracks would awaken the demons below and invite them up to our world.
This strange idea went further to say that these newly awakened dark spirits could not only haunt you, but your whole family as well. This is most likely where the famous rhyme originated: "Step on a crack, break your mother's back."
This superstition goes hand in hand with "throwing salt over your shoulder" and again has its roots linked to evil origins. Spilling salt has been associated with bad luck for a long time.
In Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting The Last Supper, Judas Iscariot is portrayed with spilled salt in front of him. Judas would go on to betray Jesus, and thus the salt was a signification of evil intentions.
(The Last Supper - Leonardo da Vinci)
The idea of throwing salt over your shoulder is to counteract the evil that you might have just let in by spilling the salt. The salt is usually thrown over the left shoulder because the early beliefs were that Satan himself was right behind your left shoulder, waiting for his invitation to step in and make you do evil deeds.
RELATED: The Secret Language of Cats