Where Do Superstitions Come From?

Superstitions are on the periphery of our lives where they kind of lurk until something forces them up to the surface. They represent fear and ignorance, two powerful forces in the human psyche. They are everywhere: under ladders and open umbrellas, on the backs of black cats, in the spirit of four-leaf clovers, in the composition of carrots and between crossed fingers. But where did these superstitions come from, are they real and… worse, what do they want from us?

British author, Harry Oliver, explores the origins of superstitions in his book, Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers. Here are some of his findings about some of the world’s most famous superstitions.

Don’t Walk Under a Ladder

Oliver states this superstition may have religious roots, which stem from the idea of “a ladder forming a triangle with the wall and the ground, suggesting the Holy Trinity.” The belief is that walking through the triangle is a sign of disrespect and therefore a purveyor of bad luck. It may also just concern, however, the probability of an accident occurring underneath while someone is working on top of a ladder.

Black Cats and Bad Luck

Unfortunately, this superstition has proven to be more bad luck for poor cats that happen to be born black than anyone ever encountering such a creature. Author, Oliver believes this superstition was borne in witchcraft. Taking this one step further, if a black cat crosses your path, it is an unlucky omen the only way out of which is “to spit,” but if a black cat should walk in your direction, it is an omen of good luck. So, go figure (unless you are a cat and the entire matter is just too complicated in the first place).

Carrots and Benefits to Eyesight

This old wives tale has some truth in it because carrots contain Vitamin A, which is good for the eyes, but vegetables alone will do nothing to improve vision. It is thought that this myth dates back to World War II, when, according to Oliver:

“British pilots were rumored to be eating enormous amounts of carrots in order to see from high altitudes and in the dark. The rumor was widely spread to throw the public off from the fact that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.”

Four-Leaf Clovers and Good Luck

Four-leaf clovers are lucky only because they are scarce and it is very rare to find one. In myth, it represents all of life’s wildest desires for love, prosperity, health and fame.

Cross Your Fingers

This superstition, author Oliver also believes is one with religious beginnings. Crossing fingers forms a type of holy protection with a “slanted cross.” There are many variations of this quirky ritual throughout the world. People in Switzerland are known to fold their thumbs in and wrap their other fingers around them instead of the more common index-and-middle-finger combination.

So walk around that proverbial ladder to pickup that four-leaf clover, but smile at black cats. You might even offer one a carrot if your fingers were free and not crossed.

Take everything, including superstitions, with a grain of salt.

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