Saturday, May 5, 2012

15 Crazy Superstitions People Used To Believe


Back in the old days (you know, the 1990s), science, medicine and technology were in their infancy and most people had no explanation for why bad things happened. Their ignorance made it easier for outrageous rumors and secondhand information to take hold of the community psyche, and caused them to seek solutions in bizarre everyday practices to try to prevent death, or to bring luck and good fortune.

To hear these old wives' tales, most women in olden days were probably witches. Luckily, many of these WTF-worthy old superstitions have passed into the history books — but there might be a few you (or your great-grandmothers) still believe.


Seafaring men relied on luck more than most and thus had many superstitions. This reverence for the bird and the fortunes it can bring is dramatized in the Coleridge poem (and Iron Maiden song), "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."


Albatross (Cont'd)
In the poem, the mariner shoots an albatross, things go horribly wrong aboard the ship, and his doomed shipmates make him wear the albatross around his neck.


Bobbing For Apples
Apple harvest coincides with Samhain, the Celtic New Year, and is celebrated on October 31st. On Samhain, the veil between our world and the world of magic is thinner than at any other time of the year. The story goes that people wishing to cross over to the other side had to survive an ordeal by water and capture an apple. So be careful when dunking your head in a tub filled with fruit and spit — you may end up in the land of the fairies. Also, if you peel an apple in one long strip and then toss it over your shoulder, the letter it forms will be the initial of your future lover.


During the Middle Ages, the only reason a woman would want to be an independent cat lady was obviously because she was a witch. It was even believed that witches could become cats. Therefore, having a black cat cross your path is bad luck. Cats are also just an idle moment away from stealing the breath of a sleeping baby. Today you can find a direct correlation between the number of cats a woman has and the number of years she is likely to remain single.


From the Crimean War through World War I, it was considered bad luck among soldiers to light three smokes with one match. The reason was because a sniper would have his sights trained on the smokers by the third cigarette. This story was included in an episode of Mad Men, in which it was theorized that the superstition may have been invented by match tycoon Ivar Krueger to drum up more business.


Counting Crows
Not just an insufferable 90s band, counting crows are also something people did before TV existed. A murder of crows apparently has amazing predictive powers. Here's what they "mean"...


Counting Crows (Cont'd)
"One's bad / Two's luck / Three's health / Four's wealth / Five's sickness / Six is death."

More than six crows? Eh, just make it up. That's what everyone else seems to be doing.


In The Hound of the Baskervilles a murderous hellhound prowls the British moors. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the vision of a large black dog portends an ugly and early death. Evil ghost dogs have a long history in British folklore. They are seen on roads and bridges, and while occasionally benevolent to travelers, they are much more likely to be the ghosts of evil souls. The howls of a ghost dog foretell death and disaster. The best way to avoid the sinister side effects of seeing a devil dog is to drop down, close your eyes, and pretend it never happened.

10. EGGS

In the 16th century, it was important to crush the shells of eggs after eating them. If not, it was believed that a witch would collect those discarded shells, make a boat out of them, and sail out to sea to cause storms.


Hats On The Bed
Obviously, finding a severed horse head on your bed is bad luck, but what about a hat? In Italy, when a priest would rush to the side of a gravely ill parishioner, he would put on his vestments at the bedside. Where would he put his hat while pulling on his robe? Why, the nearest flat surface — the bed. Thus, a hat on the bed became associated with sickness and death.


"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" In folklore and mythology, mirrors are endowed with supernatural powers. They can not only tell the future, but they also hold the soul of the person looking into them. That is why the evil queen uses the mirror to harm Snow White, why Narcissus was ensnared by his own reflection, and why soulless vampires have no reflection. In more "modern" times, a mirror was used to predict the plot against King James I in 1605.


Mirrors (Cont'd)
Breaking a mirror means seven years bad luck because the mirror holds power over your future. Burning or burying the broken mirror can break that power. If a mirror falls and breaks on its own accord, a death will soon follow. When somebody does die, you need to cover all the mirrors in your house to prevent the newly deceased's soul from getting trapped inside of one. This may also be a method for getting your teenager out of the bathroom in the morning.

14. OWLS

At one time, seeing an owl during the day meant that someone would die. One lesser known owl superstition: a man who eats roasted owl will be docile and a slave to his wife. Today the "wise old owl" image has been reinforced through Harry Potter, Winne the Pooh and that old-school Tootsie Pop commercial.


New technology is always met with resistance. When photography was first invented in the early 19th century, people all over the world feared taking someone's picture was akin to taking his soul. In the practice of sympathetic magic, a doll (or photograph) stands in for a living human. Therefore if an enemy was able to obtain a photograph of you, he was also able to hold power over you. Photos still wreak some havoc — think of the amount of time you spent untagging Facebook photos of your bachelor party.


Salt Tossing
As Mark Kurlansky tells us in his book Salt: A World History, this seasoning used to be a rare and precious commodity with the power to bring down empires. Spilling the salt was once a costly, and potentially deadly, faux pas. Throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder is then a punishment for wasting it in the first place. If you're lucky, you'll also manage to hit the devil in the eye — that horned troublemaker is believed lurk over your left shoulder.


In 1911, someone came up with a name for the phobia so many people still have: Triskaidekaphobia, a fear of the number 13. Of course, there are "Lucky 13" theories, too, backed up by the many champion athletes who wore the number, rendering the whole belief pretty silly.


Many people avoid toads and frogs because they're slimy and kind of gross. Years ago, when cats weren't available, a witch could use a toad as her familiar. Frogs were key ingredients in many a witchy spell — "eye of newt and toe of frog," etc.


Toads (Cont'd)
Frogs were also associated with the devil and devil and were rumored to inhabit the souls of dead children.


We all know that eating ketchup is good for us because it contains lycopene. Just what lycopene does is more of a mystery. After all, the prefix "lyco" means wolf in Latin. So… eating ketchup makes you more wolf-like? Those crazy old wives in the Middle Ages saw that tomato plants looked similar to deadly nightshade.


Since nightshade is poisonous, ipso facto so are tomatoes. Where it gets really freakish is when they started believing tomatoes were squishy werewolf eggs. Tell that to theTwilight gang.

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