Are you superstitious? That might depend on how you define the word. The modern dictionary defines it as a belief in something that is beyond reason, an irrational fancy of sorts. It comes from the Latin word superstitio, which can mean an excessive fear of Gods? That doesn’t mean every time you crack a mirror you need to repent and save yourself seven years of bad luck. Nonetheless, superstition relates to an omnipresent being, or spirit, that can insinuate itself into your life after you’ve committed a certain act. But even non-religious people carry around lucky coins, totems, or avoid walking on cracks in the sidewalk. Today we’ll look at global superstitions, in this episode of the Infographics Show, The Craziest Superstitions Around the World? We’ll start by looking at the most common superstitions in the USA. The American website Ranker.com polled 18,000 people about their superstitions and apparently the one thing most of the respondents did, or believed in, was knocking on wood when they don’t want to curse themselves for something they said. As with most superstitions, the origins of knocking on wood are mostly guess work. It’s thought that in the past, pagans believed spirits lived in trees; you could knock on a tree and ask for forgiveness or even prevent bad spirits from hearing you. Another common superstition in the U.S. and much of the West is bad luck for breaking a mirror. While most people probably don’t believe in this, it still might arouse feelings of discomfort in the perpetrators of the broken mirror. Most experts agree that in ancient times it was believed the mirror held in it the soul of the person who looked into it. Break that and you’ve broken your soul. Mirrors were also magical things that could perhaps help you see into the future and so were not something you should break. As for seven years, that came from the Romans, who believed life is renewed every seven years.
Let’s now move across the pond to Ireland, a country noted for its superstitions. A type of crow, the magpie, is an important bird all over the British Isles. They even have a rhyme for how many you spot at one time. “One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for boy…” Seeing one of these noisy black and white birds is not a good omen, and an Irish superstition says that if you open the house door and see just one magpie you will soon be dead; a curse similar to watching that film in the movie The Ring, but before TVs and whatnot. Apparently the birds were related to witchcraft in the past, which may have come from their habit of stealing shiny things and eating other birds’ eggs. If you want good luck in Ireland, just find a four leaf clover, and if you see a solitary magpie while looking in the field, say “Hello Mr. Magpie” and you won’t get cursed, apparently. Incidentally, in China the magpie is a good fortune bird, and also in South Korea where it’s the national bird.
Sticking with Asia, let’s have look at Japan, a country fond of creating chilling ghost stories. Most cultures have death-related superstitions, but horror-laden Japan excels at creating deathly curses. Rather than explain each, we’ll tell you what you can do in Japan if you want instant death: Write your name in red ink, or if you want someone else to die quickly, write their name in red ink. Children shouldn’t clip their nails at night, lest they want to die before their parents do. Two more things you shouldn’t do is sleeping with your head facing north, that’s how the dead are laid to rest. And if you ever see a hearse in Japan, just be sure to hide your thumbs. If you don’t your mum and dad will soon meet the grim reaper.
Moving East to Russia we found that a survey taken by the Levada Center in 2013 tells us that the Russians are a superstitious lot. According to the poll, 52 percent of Russians believe in “omens, prophetic dreams, and astrology.” One thing you shouldn’t do in Russia is give someone a bouquet of flowers with an even number of flowers in it. According to the English language weekly The Moscow Times, even numbers are reserved for funerals, and so giving someone 10 roses is cursing them. Now you know what not to do on a date in Russia. The website understandingrussia.com says it’s common for Russians to observe superstitions, and dropping things features heavily. Drop a glass and if it smashes someone will wish you good luck. Drop a fork or a knife and a mysterious man will visit your house. If it’s a spoon an unexpected woman will arrive. Another thing you should not do is shake hands over a threshold. That will bring bad spirits to your house.
Speaking of houses and spirits, if you visit the South East Asian countries of Thailand, Burma, Cambodia or Laos you’ll find outside almost every house, office, hotel, or building in general, a spirit house. What’s more surprising to visitors to those countries is that every day locals will ply the spirit house with a snack and a drink. That is often a bottle of soda, fruit, and some rice and meat. Just about all people do this as the spirits need a place to stay, and of course they require something to eat and drink. This is a really superstitious part of the world, and superstition affects all walks of life. Throughout the year in Thailand, there are news reports about people queuing up to worship strange-shaped fruit. They might even sometimes pay to sit in front of the fruit as it’s apparently auspicious. Often the superstitious locals ask the fruit for the next day’s lottery numbers. Another superstition religiously followed in Thailand is that it’s bad luck to get your hair cut on a Wednesday. In fact, almost all barbers and salons in the country are closed on Wednesdays. Some people believe it’s because that’s the day kings would choose to get their hair done, and so commoners had no right to do the same.
Keeping with the hair issue, in parts of Africa people believe that cutting a baby’s hair before it reaches the age of one is bad luck. It might also mean that the child’s hair will never grow properly. Maybe the most amusing African superstition we came across is that pregnant women should never visit a zoo. The reason? Because if you do the baby will end up looking like one of the animals. Another way to apparently look and even act like an animal in Africa is when you eat goat’s meat in Rwanda. An old wives tale says that if women do that, they’ll grow a beard and start acting stubborn.
While most superstitions are strange, some are stranger than others and sometimes not easy to avoid. The sunny parts of Europe have lots of them. Take for instance in Italy and Portugal where you shouldn’t walk backwards. Do so and apparently the next thing you know is the devil will be dancing on your back. Another one that would be easy to slip-up on is chewing gum in Turkey after it gets dark. The Turks apparently don’t do this as the gum will represent dead flesh and for all intents and purposes you will become a zombie for the night. While this sounds crazy, expat-focused websites in Turkey say it’s true. If it’s easy to get bad luck in some places, it’s also easy to get some good luck. Across from Turkey in Greece one superstition taken seriously is spitting on people to give them good fortune. This might happen at a wedding to give good luck to the couple, as seen in the movie ‘My big fat Greek wedding’. One blogger who grew up in Greece writes, “I was last spit on when a family friend was telling me of a local girl who had ended up marrying a not-so-handsome or affable man.” Apparently by spitting on her, the friend made sure that wouldn’t happen to her. Thankfully, the spitters are generally releasing more noise than phlegm.
So there you go, these are some of the whacky things we believe in around the world. Are you superstitious? If so, how? What’s the strangest superstitions you’ve seen being upheld? Let us know in the comments!