Superstitions – Origins, Explanations and Examples

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The superstition can be traced as far back as the seventh century BC, when the rabbit was considered a talismanic symbol, and the left hind foot was a handy way to benefit from the rabbit's luck.

The Origin Of The Most Popular Superstitions

Additionally, the Chinese consider it a sign of prosperity. In some cultures, the rabbit's foot is believed to promote reproduction, so women carry one around to boost their odds of getting pregnant. Photo by Getty Images. Knocking on wood, or simply saying "knock on wood" after making a hopeful statement, is rooted in the idea that you're tempting fate by acknowledging your good fortune. It's thought that the expression comes from the ancient belief that good spirits lived in trees, so by knocking on something wooden, a person was calling on the spirits for protection.

It's a near-universal sign of wishing for something, but there are many theories about its origin. One is that when Christianity was illegal, crossing fingers was a secret way for Christians to recognize each other. Another is that during the Hundred Years' War, an archer would cross his fingers to pray for luck, before drawing back his longbow with those same fingers.

Yet another, even older, theory is that crossed fingers were used as a gesture to ward off witches and other evil spirits. There are several theories here. The first is that the devil appeared at the door of a blacksmith, who agreed to remove a shoe from his hoof if he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is hung over the door.

The second belief is that witches rode on broomsticks because they were afraid of horses, so a horseshoe is a good charm to scare them off with. Universal symbols of good luck, four-leaf clovers exist—they're just hard to find. Legend says that when Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden, Eve snatched a four-leaf clover as a remembrance of her days in Paradise. Since then, lucky attributes have been assigned to all four leaves of the rare plant—each associated with St.

Patrick and the Holy Trinity in Irish legend. It sounds like a recipe for the ultimate bad hair day, but many people the world over believe that if a bird lets loose on you, good things are coming your way.


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One idea is that it's a sign of major wealth coming from heaven, based on the belief that when you suffer an inconvenience albeit a pretty gross one , you'll have good fortune in return. Type keyword s to search. Today's Top Stories. The 20 Most Ignored Cancer Symptoms. A superstition is the irrational belief that future events can be influenced or foretold by specific, unrelated behaviors or occurrences.

The earliest superstitions were created as a way to deal with ignorance and fear of the unknown. Superstitions are thus a way of attempting to regain control over events in one's life.


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Superstitious beliefs are more common among certain groups of people than others, and vary from culture to culture: For example, the number thirteen is considered by many in western society to be inherently unlucky whereas in Japan the number four is often considered unlucky. Some superstitions, notably the connection between mirrors and the soul , are however found to be almost universal, suggesting a deeper connection than mere happenstance or at least a universal experience and interest in such cases.

Many People Cross Their Fingers or Pick up Pennies. But Do You Know Why?

While most superstitions are harmless, and even may be helpful in encouraging people to achieve their goals, attributing results to an unrelated cause if it leads to a lack of responsibility on the part of the person can be somewhat dubious. Understanding the true cause of phenomena is the deepest desire of human beings, and people should not abandon that endeavor in favor of superstition. The term superstition is thought to derive from the Latin superstitio, meaning "to stand over in awe.

For this reason superstitions are often considered relics of outmoded ways of thinking. Many believe that superstitious beliefs originated during the earliest days of humanity. Faced with natural phenomena like thunderstorms and earthquakes , as well as the unpredictability of illness and food supply, human beings attempted to create an understandable world of powers that could be influenced by action.

What Is Superstition?

The earliest superstitions were created as a way to deal with the ignorance and fear of the unknown. Chance misfortunes could be ascribed a cause, and the potential to avoid or control them was created. Superstitions are thus a way of attempting to regain control over events, particularly when one feels helpless. Some groups are more prone to superstitious beliefs than others. Actors, miners , fishermen , and gamblers all tend to be more superstitious than average; the success of all these occupations tends to be more out of the control of the individual.

‎Superstitions – Origins, Explanations and Examples on Apple Books

Often, superstitions are born from casual coincidence. For example, if an athlete wears a particular pair of socks on a day he performs particularly well, he may continue to wear the same pair of socks in the belief that the socks were responsible for the success. Future successes reinforce such a belief. In some cases, it is certainly possible that the simple belief in success or failure can influence the outcome. The athlete who cannot find his "lucky socks" may, due to lack of confidence, perform poorly, further reinforcing the belief in the power of the socks.

Find out what's behind the most universal beliefs

Superstitions can also be learned behaviors. Children who watch those around them perform superstitious actions like "knocking on wood" or not walking under ladders may adopt these behaviors. The true origins of certain superstitions can be centuries old, having been passed down from generation to generation through such an observational learning process. In , Behavioral psychologist B. Skinner , known for his experiments using the famed "Skinner Box," published research on the behavior of pigeons in which he observed what he termed "superstitious" behavior.

The group of pigeons, kept hungry for the purpose of the experiment, were fed small amounts of food at regular intervals, unrelated to the pigeons' behavior. By the end of the study, three-quarters of the group of hungry pigeons had developed what he called "superstitious" behaviors.

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One pigeon practiced turning clockwise several times, apparently expecting the appearance of food; other birds developed specific head movements. Skinner suggested that the pigeons believed that they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their "rituals" and that the experiment shed light on human behavior:. The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition.