Superstition Ain’t The Way…

Posted on March 13, 2020


Rachel has been on placement with Clearbox for the last few months, fast becoming a valuable member of our team in both a professional and personal way. 

Honestly, she’s one of the nicest, most positive people you’ll ever meet. However, she’s let her dark side run wild with today’s blog post – it’s all about Friday 13th. Spooky. Or is it? Let’s be having you, Rachel Reilly…

Since the first Friday the 13th of 2020 is upon us, it really got me thinking, why is it considered an unlucky day in Western civilisation? 

The number 13 and Friday each have their own individual history of bringing about bad luck, and it is the combination of the two that really strikes fear into people. 

Friday is considered unlucky for a few reasons. Historically, Friday was known as Hangman’s day, for public executions in Britain. Whilst biblically, it was the day of the crucifixion. 

Why is 13 considered an unlucky number? This derives from another biblical notion and also from Norse mythology, in which a dinner party of gods was ruined by the 13th guest Loki, who cast darkness across the world. Today, many people would consider 13 people around a dinner table as unlucky, whilst some airlines refuse to have row 13 on their planes and buildings will not count the 13th floor.

So, who do we have to blame for paraskevidekatriaphobia (the fear of Friday the 13th)? Who decided to put these two superstitions together to torture us all? I can tell you now that the people to blame for this are The Victorians. Apparently, they were deeply intrigued by folklore and put the two together to create a doubly unlucky day. FUN! Thanks @TheVictorians!

Superstition – a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as leading to good or bad luck, or a practice based on such a belief.

Researching Friday the 13th got me thinking about superstitions in general. Where do they come from? Why are they a thing? Apparently, they spring from a time when life was a lot more uncertain and uncontrollable. Superstitions therefore presented a notion of fate, the idea you could effectively control your own life by doing lucky actions or avoiding unlucky actions. 

Realistically, superstitions are passed on from other people, and the only reason they still exist is because they provide strategy and sometimes comfort for situations in life that we can’t control. And we all know that once a lucky or unlucky notion gets into your head, it can be hard to forget.

They are notably common among people who have dangerous jobs and also with footballers. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, will always sit in the back row of the Real Madrid team bus and in the front row of a plane. He also only steps onto the football field with his right foot. Could these superstitious rituals be the reason he has five Ballon D’Or Soccer Awards? I mean probably not, but hey, who knows.

It is also important to note that superstitions vary heavily across cultures. Some cultural superstitions even contradict that of another culture. For example, it isn’t Friday the 13th that Italians dread, it’s Friday the 17th.

I asked the Clearbox team if they were superstitious about anything or have heard of any interesting superstitions, and it’s safe to say I got some interesting responses:

Claire Hamilton 

A few superstitions that I find interesting include don’t cheers with water, which apparently stems from Greek mythology, and be wary of full moons, which is a very common superstition in hospitals...and my household. I always joke that I can sense when a full moon is coming. While I try not to take superstitions seriously, I would also never say no to good juju.

Anna Irwin 

I’m one of the most superstitious people I know and am incredibly spooked out by Friday 13th. I fully intend to keep my head down, not take any risks and avoid crossing as many roads as possible! As for taking a flight? Forget it! Here are a few of the superstitions that dominate my life; single magpies (must say ‘Hello, Mr Magpie’), pillow creases must be on the outside of the bed, umbrellas can’t be opened indoors, make a wish at 11.11, with a wishbone or when birthday candles are blown out, avoid odd numbers, throw salt over left shoulder if it’s spilt, don’t place new shoes on a table, never whistle indoors, peacock feathers bring bad luck, don’t walk under a ladder or step on the cracks, say 'rabbit rabbit' at the start of every month, never sit on row 13 on a plane, knock on wood so as not to tempt fate, don’t pass anyone on the stairs, never enter a room with your left foot… Fully aware that this makes me a little crazy but I’d rather be crazy than have bad luck! 

Darryl Campbell 

I hate superstitions. Hate.

I remember one from school which was, ’step on a crack, break your mum’s back’, which I can’t even start to put to words how much pressure this was to cope with as a child. One day, I actually did step on a crack, and I remember my friend yelling about how I killed my own mother. Honestly, I was traumatised. 

Also, to this day, I have a friend that refuses to ’split the pole’ when we walk together, as she believes it’s some kind of separation thing whereby we won’t be friends anymore if we do split a pole. Honestly I don’t know, and the only thing it communicates to me is a weakness in this friend that I can exploit, so as the terrible person I am, I always go out of my way to split poles and make her double back to correct herself. 

I hope that communicates my sheer dislike for superstitions effectively.

Amy Robinson

When I was thinking about this, my automatic response was ’but I don’t believe in superstitions!’. When I thought about it more, though, I realised that even though I don’t necessarily believe it, the rule of the three superstition is always floating about in my head somewhere. Whether it’s bad things or good things, I always joke that they’ll come in a trio. Apparently, this kind of phenomenon is called apophenia and it’s got more to do with errors of perception and the human tendency to interpret random patterns as meaningful, but it’s still interesting how the mind jumps to a pattern that it thinks might help it to understand the world better. Or perhaps my interest in the rule of three is just the literary nerd in me coming out again...

Charlotte O’Neill

I hate to say it, but I love a good superstition. I salute my magpies, don't put shoes upon the table and never split poles when I’m walking with someone.

I always liked the superstition that said rain on the day of a funeral is good, and that it’s a sign that the “heavens have opened.” I’ve always heard it from my older family members and think there’s something quietly comforting about it.

Alex Symington  

I am an extremely superstitious person, which stems from both my grannies being really superstitious, but my favourite superstition has to be ’see a penny pick it up all day long you’ll have good luck.’ I love that it’s recognised in so many places around the world and I love that you can share the luck with other people. I make it my point to pick up every penny I can although, recently I heard it’s only pennies with the head up…? So, I might not be getting all the luck I think I am...

Vicci Keenan 

This is a hot topic in my house with my mum seemingly knowing every superstition ever created. I could tell you them all but it would go on far too long, so I will sum up just a few of them up. The bad luck ones; seeing a single magpie, looking in the back of ambulance, stepping on the cracks of the pavement, walking under a sign or a ladder and putting new shoes on the table. Then we have other ones that I would say are more fortune telling; an itchy hand means you’re coming into money, an itchy foot means you are going travelling, an itchy nose means you will get into an argument or a burning ear means someone is talking about you, which ear indicates what they are saying, ‘Left for love and right for spite.’ 

Don’t get me started on kitchen utensils, the superstitions are endless there. After all this I have decided not to be superstitious, as honestly, I don’t think I have the time but I find them all equally interesting and I always like to do a quick online search to see where they originated from.

Mollie McLernon 

I have always been told to never ever put new shoes on the table - so I never do this! I also would avoid walking under a ladder!

Rachel Reilly 

It’s considered bad luck to cut your nails after dark in India, as it is to believe to summon evil spirits – spooky! I also found out that wishing someone a happy birthday too early is bad luck in Russia.

Kerry Gardner

I find superstitions incredibly interesting. In a world where so many of our beliefs are dictated by science, it’s amazing that we still place significance on superstitions, which from a rational viewpoint appear absolutely ludicrous. I like to say I am an extremely rational person and often refer to myself as a realist, but don’t you dare put those shoes on that table. There is honestly nothing that makes me feel more uncomfortable or compelled to speak out of place, than shoes on a table. Do not put new shoes on a table, do not put worn shoes on a table, do not put any kind of shoe on any kind of table. For me, it probably comes down to the fact that it was drilled into me as a child by my parents, who are definitely more superstitious than they would care to admit. 

After some research, I have found that apparently shoes on a table symbolises the death of a family member. Many years ago, when a miner passed away, his shoes would be placed on a table and this is often how his family would find out about his death. Due to this, people started to believe that putting shoes on a table was tempting fate. 

Who knew? I did not and yet it’s something I feel genuinely uncomfortable doing. Ultimately, I think all superstitions come down to the fear of tempting fate. If we can do something that we believe will prevent us from incurring a series of bad luck, what’s the harm in doing it?

John Megaughin 

I don’t believe in superstitions and have no issue with walking under ladders, umbrellas open indoors and broken mirrors. Having said that, I went for breakfast in McDonald’s once before a job interview and got the job. So for the next job interview, I did it again and it worked again. Same seat, same order. Tried it a third time and my luck ran out. My shocking performance was squarely to blame, not my Sausage & Egg McMuffin. Anything else I do is more habitual rather than driven by superstition. This is a really rubbish answer to the question, sorry...

Claire Best  

I have never been superstitious and would have no issue with walking under a ladder or opening an umbrella indoors. Although in saying that, I will always salute a single magpie and say “Hello Mr Magpie, how are you and your family?” - sounds ridiculous when you write it down! 

There are some really quirky superstitions that I find interesting like the Russians believe you should sit on your luggage before you travel, in Lithuania it is considered bad luck to whistle indoors as they believe it attracts evil spirits and Syria banned Yo-Yos in 1933 over fear they would cause drought?! 

Dani Hibbert

I am in the process of buying a new house and naturally there have been many discussions around moving day. While a weekend is the most convenient time to move, it is believed to be bad luck to move into a new home on a Saturday or Sunday. What I find interesting about this superstition though, is that it is some family members who informed us of it, so maybe they are trying to convince us as an excuse to get out of helping? Even though we do pay in beer, pizza and banter…

To conclude, in a world where science and advanced technology is at the forefront, scientifically irrational beliefs, or “superstitions”, have transcended generations. They still float about in our minds and in some cases, have transformed into cultural vectors.  It’s fair to say that as much they can cause us to think twice about our actions, they can offer comfort and if not, then a good laugh. I know the “no nail cutting your nails at night” one really me giggle, but equally…paranoid.