Whether you believe them or not, superstitions are still very present in everyday life. Just try to open an umbrella indoors without someone commenting on how it's super bad luck. As it turns out, though, these beliefs tend to have a pretty interesting history. And as the superstitions that are actually based on truth go to show, some of these old-school beliefs originate from serious circumstances.
For the most part, superstitions exist to bring some sense of order into an uncontrollable world. "We are often in situations in life where something really important is about to happen, we've prepared for it as best we can, but it's still uncertain; it's still unclear," said Stuart Vyse, PhD, in Psychology Today. "Superstitions provide people with the sense that they've done one more thing to try to ensure the outcome they are looking for." These beliefs can provide a bit of comfort during times of uncertainty.
With this in mind, plenty of superstitions have an interesting backstory that's based in reality. And oftentimes these beliefs originate in very difficult and trying circumstances, such as times of war, scarcity, or sickness. Read on to learn about the reasons these superstitions developed in the first place. You might never look at a ladder quite the same way again.
1. Saying "God Bless You" After A Sneeze
Centuries ago, saying "Bless You!" after someone sneezed wasn't just polite. It was an order given by the Pope. When a pestilence swept through Italy in the sixth century A.D., Pope Gregory the Great urged healthy people to say "God bless you!" after someone sneezed, according to Live Science. Severe sneezing was one of the first symptoms of that particular sickness, so the statement was an earnest attempt to keep the sneezing person safe and healthy. This practice has continued long into the age of hand sanitizer.
2. Opening An Umbrella Indoors Is Bad Luck
What harm could come from opening your little umbrella in the living room? Well, it looks like the modern versions of these devices are much safer than they used to be. The early versions of modern umbrellas had sharp spokes and spring triggers, making them a potential danger to people or objects in close quarters, according to Wonderapolis. They could easily break something or smack your friend in the face if opened inside.
3. Spilling Salt Is Bad Luck
Throughout history, most people would have tried to avoid spilling salt, bad luck or no. Thanks in part to its uses in baking and food preservation, salt was once a highly prized and expensive resource. In fact, the words salt and salary are related, dating back to the time when people were paid in salt, according to The Salt Institute. Spilling it would have been like dropping money down a drain, and nobody wanted that.
4. Walking Under A Ladder Is Bad Luck
Plenty of people will go out of their way to avoid walking under a ladder. This habit might date back to a medieval belief that the leaning ladder resembled the gallows, and walking under one was tempting fate, as explained by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. But ladders generally aren't the most stable structures, and a tool (or the whole ladder) might fall on your head if you walk under one. Plus, you'd probably make the person working on the ladder very nervous. So really, steering clear of ladders might be more about common sense than any superstitious belief.
5. Put Empty Bottles On The Floor For Good Luck
In Russia, it's considered bad luck to leave empty bottles on the table. This idea may date back to the early 1800s, when Cossack soldiers learned that Parisian restaurant owners charged customers by the number of empty bottles left on the table, as noted in The Moscow Times. The clever soldiers began stashing their empty bottles underneath the tables, and then brought the practice back to Russia. Even if this story is apocryphal, this habit does make for a neater tabletop during a night out.
6. Lighting Three To A Match Is Bad Luck
Another superstition states that lighting three cigarettes to one match is bad luck. This idea may date back to World War I. “If three soldiers smoked together, snipers could easily find them. If they used the same match to light their cigarettes, the shooters would notice that the match was still burning after the first lighting and had enough time to load their weapons, target and shoot the unlucky third smoker," said Harry Oliver, author of Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers, in Learning Mind. Presumably, the soldiers refrained from lighting three to a match once they got back home, and the superstition spread from there.
7. Keep Bananas Off Boats
Sailors have all kinds of nautical superstitions, and apparently it's bad luck to brings bananas on a boat. There may be some real truth behind this idea, though. Bananas ferment quickly, and a large shipment of them could create terrible fumes in the storage hull of a ship, according to BoaterExam.com. Or a species of deadly spider might hide among the bunches of bananas, waiting for some poor sailor to happen by, as further noted in BoaterExam.com. Whatever the case, there are still plenty of boaters who won't allow this beloved fruit on board today.
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