In my view, superstitions are much like placebos.
For example, an individual takes a sugar pill and believes that it actually has therapeutic value. In fact, science discovered that placebos, under favorable conditions, can have an effect identical to conventional treatments.
Comparatively, superstitions are concocted around the same placebo philosophy. “If you believe in something strongly enough, it may come to pass.” Of course, that goes for both good and bad luck; however, in this exposé we are focusing on bad luck superstitions—the hara-kiri of superstitious beliefs.
Here are 10 bad luck superstitions for the casual traveler and globetrotter who may find themselves visiting one of the mentioned countries below. Remember: forewarned is forearmed…!
1. Don’t sneeze on your way out!
Sneezing spreads germs, that much we already know. However in some cultures, sneezing is taken to a whole new level. For example, on the African continent, the aboriginals say “far from you” or “save you” while going through the motions of dispelling bad vibes. Others on the continent, like the Samoans, say “life to you.”
The conviction is that without a soul, nothing good can manifest. Losing the soul means losing everything.
In Germany, the word “gesundheit”—which means good health and is often used in English speaking countries—is spoken after a person sneezes. The belief is that the soul leaves the body for a moment during the sneeze. The words supposedly defend against demons entering the body. The expression “bless you” is also frequently used in English speaking countries, stemming from the same belief as in Germany.
In Scotland, if a baby sneezes during baptism, it’s bad news for little Johnny or Susie.
In some cultures, sneezing prior to going outdoors is another sign that bad luck is approaching. Not only that, an achoo gets a bad rap on Sundays too. Sneezing three times on Sunday is the prelude to some nasty action about to take place; that is, of course, if the individual sneezes a fourth time—then luckily, the spell is broken.
2. Forget about Friday the 13th. It’s Tuesday the 13th that can wreak havoc.
The mystery centered around Friday the 13th is not something many choose to ignore. It didn’t help things when the terrifying slasher movie “Friday the 13th” was released in 1980. The movie turned those who watched it into screaming memes. There are builders who refuse to construct a 13th floor and many airlines shun 13th row seating on their airplanes. Some pretty scary stuff indeed.
But few are aware of the enigma surrounding Tuesday the 13th in the southwestern European country of Spain. The number 13 is associated with bad luck if it falls on the second, and in some places the third, day of the week.
Weekdays in Spanish culture are founded upon Roman myths and the celestial bodies. The word Tuesday is “Martes” in Spanish, in reference to Mars, the planet of war. Place the war-like nature of Mars with the number 13, and a SHTF scenario is about to go down. The traditional story states that on Tuesday the 13th, the division of languages—“The Confusion of Tongues”—ensued due to the building of the Tower of Babel, which may be one of a number of reasons why the Spaniards dread this day, even now.
3. Bananas on a boat.
No one is exactly sure how this bad luck superstition came to be; however, one possibility goes back to the 1700s. A ship’s journey generally avoided misfortune unless bananas were on board the ship, sailors believed. In that case, all hell would break loose!
During the 18th century, scores of shipwrecks or lost vessels voyaged between Spain and the Caribbean carrying bananas. The bananas were hauled by decrepit, leaking, overloaded vessels unworthy of sailing the rough seas. Unfortunately, many incidents of overturned boats with no surviving sailors occurred. The only hallmark of the watery graves were, that’s right, drifting, yellowy, bruised bananas. Therefore, it was concluded, for obvious reasons, that bananas meant bad news for ships at sea.
Other bad luck stories regarding bananas from the same period assert that when bananas were transported in huge bunches and kept in humid cargo holds below, venomous snakes, spiders, and other pests crawled from in-between the cracks of the haul, freaking the crew out to no end.
4. Don’t sing Happy Birthday just yet.
In many parts of the west, we sing happy birthday when we darn well please, but not so in Russia. Rumor has it that many Russians are spooked by the notion that wishing happy birthday prior to a person’s actual birth date will end in bad luck for everyone who sang the popular tune. The same goes for Germany.
The Germans found a way around it though. The custom is known as “reinfeiern” where birthday wishers gather the night prior to a person’s birthday and celebrate precisely when the clock strikes twelve. It’s basically a variation of New Year’s eve with a twist. In fact, in order to avoid the bad luck reaper altogether, gifts aren’t given to children until the day after their birthday.
5. The sole of shoe superstitions.
One superstitious belief is that if you place a pair of brand new shoes on top of a table, prosperity will flee. What’s more, regardless of the age of the shoes, leaving footwear on a table can lead to quarreling or bad luck in general. Those who believe this superstition also believe that karma would be swift. Just imagine if someone left their shoes on your tabletop. It would, in all probability, end with a quarreling match.
Legend has it that when miners died during the peak of the mining industry, family members brought the dead miner’s shoes home and placed them on the table. Hence, the myth about shoes on the table being bad luck.
As believed by the Italians, Chinese, and a few other cultures, when sleeping, people should steer clear of lying feet first or placing new shoes facing the door. This is known as the death position. Hanging shoes from a nail with the toes facing the wall is a sign of bad luck, even death. Still today, shoes hanging from elevated wires in urban areas in the United States is a sign that a drug dealer is in the nearby area.
6. Bad luck will come pouring down according to these umbrella superstitions.
Legend has it that opening an umbrella inside will cause hard times to pour down upon the transgressor, and opening an umbrella above the head inside will end in death within one year. The root of this superstition hasn’t been established; nonetheless, some believe it began in ancient Egypt. Another tale states that a British prince accepted umbrellas from a royal visitor and died a few months later, reinforcing the bad luck superstition concerning umbrellas.
Another myth says that opening an umbrella indoors will negatively impact a home’s protective life force. Disrupting the safeguards of this benevolent energy will result in bad luck raining upon the home and its inhabitants.
The umbrella legend is probably one of the most practical on this list. Why? Well, opening an umbrella indoors is probably not a good idea, especially if the area is smallish. What with furnishings, knickknacks, and all, it’s much like the bull in a china shop scenario. Seeing that opening an umbrella inside is not a good idea, it’s little wonder the act is associated with bad consequences.
7. Never on Fridays.
There are a number of adaptations surrounding superstitions about Fridays. One myth alleges that flipping a mattress on Friday will result in nightmares. Another reason Friday is considered a bummer, even in North America, has a lot to do with religion. Christian societies in the west view Friday as bad luck for a variety of reasons, as according to the Bible, Friday was the day Jesus was crucified.
In addition, Friday is associated with apocalyptic misfortune: the obliteration of the Temple of Solomon, Eve screwing up on a Friday, the Great Flood befell on a Friday, and the muting of the Tower of Babel architects took place on a Friday.
During the 17th century, Friday really hit the skids. Well-known writers during that time associated Friday with everything from the worst day to launch a business or travel to the worst day to be born, have medical care, or cull crops. The clincher is that at one time, Friday was reserved for the guillotine in good ole’ England.
8. Is yellow the most vile color in existence?
“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the sun.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
The sun is the brightest, yellowest object in the solar system and the eye cannot focus on it for too long. Partial or complete blindness, damage to the eye lens, and the possibility of cataracts developing are just a few of the maladies that may result from staring at the sun for extended periods. No wonder so much superstition and bad luck surrounds the color yellow.
According to Spanish legend, giving yellow hued clothing will pass bad luck on to the receiver of the item, as they believe the color is associated with black magic. In addition, wearing the color yellow won’t sit too well in the fortune department either. Wearing this bright hue to a job interview, asking for a mortgage, or meeting potential in-laws for the first time may not be a good idea. The color is also said to symbolize sulfur and Satan. Ouch!
Not only that, a coward is called “yeller” and a yellow triangular sign signifies a warning or caution. Yellow is also associated with deceit. Yet, yellow is not all bad. The song “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” was released several decades ago. The yellow ribbon was used as a symbol of hope and nostalgia.
9. The bad taste of food superstitions.
Food superstitions abound. For example, it’s bad luck to leave food on your plate overnight, or the devil will invite himself in. Another myth asserts that dropping food on yourself unintentionally while eating will bring bad luck. This particular superstition does have some logic, as dropping food on a material like silk or linen can nearly ruin it, and if it’s new, it’s bad luck for sure.
Another superstition originating from England declares that when cutting open a loaf of bread, if there’s a whole in the middle, death will strike someone at the table. In China, cutting noodles before serving them is akin to cutting one’s life short. Also in China, turning a piece of fish over on your plate symbolizes an overturned boat and death. During the holiday season, cutting a Christmas cake before Christmas Eve will lead to bad luck.
10. Baby talk.
Babies are supposed to be cute and cuddly and all that stuff, but if you coo-coo over the little one too soon, you could spoil their chances of a prosperous life according to some cultures. Welsh tradition states that cutting a baby’s nails before the age of six months will result in the child growing up a thief. During the Middle Ages, it was accepted that dressing a newborn in new clothing would result in bad luck. In Egypt, relatives gather at what is known as a Sebou’ to celebrate a child’s birth after seven days. To celebrate before seven days is deemed bad luck.
An Indian superstition says that having an eighth child is bad luck and will bring misfortune to the entire family. In Vietnam, describing a baby as cute is a bad omen and will cause the child to turn ugly.
An Asian superstition advises older people not to praise a baby, particularly in the baby’s presence, or it will place bad luck on the infant. Oh, and don’t sit in the backseat when bringing a newborn home, as it will bring bad luck too. And in Bulgaria if a child is admired, it will bring out the envy of the devil.