Tracing the 'Friday the 13th' root
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
By KARALEE MILLER, MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE
Are you superstitious?
Do you have faith in lucky number 7 or hang tight to a lucky rabbit's foot? Even if you don't adhere to these superstitions, you likely have heard of them.
So, exactly what are superstitions? Merriam-Webster provides a handful of definitions, including "... fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance" and "a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary."
With the supposedly unlucky Friday the 13th just days away, we thought this was an eerily perfect time to track down the origins of five common superstitions.
THE NUMBER 13
In Roman times, 13 became linked to bad omens, particularly those that brought death. Witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12 -- the 13th place was for the devil. In the biblical world, 13 was deemed bad because of Judas -- the 13th guest at the Last Supper. He went on to betray Jesus.
As for Friday the 13th, Friday and the number 13 used to be associated with capital punishment. In British tradition, Friday was the day for public hangings, and supposedly there were 13 steps leading up to the noose.
To this day, many hotels and skyscrapers go from the 12th to the 14th floor because guests and tenants don't want to be on the 13th floor. Also, some cities don't have a 13th Street or 13th Avenue.
BREAKING A MIRROR
In ancient mythology, mirrors were believed to hold the key to one's future. So to have one break was viewed as shattering your fate. And don't just simply toss the broken pieces in the trash can. That, some say, could mar your future even more. It's better to bury all the broken pieces underground.
In addition to the bad-luck-if-broken mentality, mirrors carry other superstitions, including this one for women: If you want to find out who your husband will be, eat an apple while sitting in front of a mirror and then brush your hair. Your "I do" guy will appear over your shoulder.
WALKING UNDER A LADDER
Pedestrians avoid looming ladders for varying reasons. Many, though, do so because they don't want to invite any unwanted bad luck into their lives. One origin of this superstition dates to medieval times, when a leaning ladder was seen to resemble gallows, a structure used to hang criminals. Walking underneath a ladder was like acting out your own execution.
For others, the triangular shape created by a leaning ladder against a wall symbolized the Holy Trinity. If you passed through the triangle, you were insulting God and coming under Satan's rule.
DON'T LET A BLACK CAT CROSS YOUR PATH
This notion depends on geography. Here in the United States, as well as in several European countries, a black cat passing in front of you means bad luck is on the horizon. However, in Britain and Japan, it's considered good luck.
Good luck is said to come by meeting three black cats in succession. Also, years ago, wives of sailors would keep black cats in their homes to ensure the safety of their husbands while at sea.
OPENING AN UMBRELLA INDOORS
Rain, rain, go away -- and come back with some good luck. According to this well-known superstition, you should never open an umbrella indoors or bad luck will befall everyone inside. It's said this superstition stems from when umbrellas served as sunshades. Opening the umbrella inside was viewed as an insult to the sun.