From lucky underwear to broken mirrors, we are a nation harbouring countless superstitions. In fact, over 85% of us have at least one superstitious belief, with those aged 55 and over being the most superstitious. We surveyed our players to see which good luck and bad luck superstitions were most prevalent. Read on to find out which superstitions topped our poll, where these ancient beliefs originated from and even how to counteract them.
So what about Friday 13th? Well, believe it or not, a whopping 7 out of every 10 of us have some form superstitious belief surrounding Friday 13th. Whilst most people who believe the day to be unlucky consider themselves much more aware of potential dangers, some go as far as to stay at home, avoid travel and even cooking.
Women tend to be much more superstitious than men about Friday 13th – 64% compared to 15% of men. Nevertheless, men certainly take the lead in the superstition stakes when it comes to football. Citizens of countries like Cameroon, for example, have beliefs surrounding ‘juju’ – a West-African term for certain magical objects and rituals. These include rubbing palm oil on their ankles and eating koala nuts (which are considered to be a good luck charm). In an attempt to negate the juju of the opposition, they may even enter the field by walking backwards.
Countries like England are no different however; from being the last player on the pitch, to wearing the same aftershave when on a winning run – the quirks amongst football players and their fans are in great abundance, and we’re on the edge of our seats to discover what unusual superstitions will crop up this year…
Read on to discover the importance of numbers, which good luck and bad luck superstitions topped our poll and where they originated from.
A numbers game
- Number 13: Yet only 27% of respondents felt that the number 13 was an omen for bad luck
- Thirteen Good Luck: Surprisingly though number 13 is the second most popular number, with 1 in 10 people saying the number 13 brings them good luck.
- Lucky Number Seven: Number 7 is the most chosen ‘lucky number’ with 1 in 5 people choosing it.
- Lucky Odds: Two thirds of lucky numbers are odd
Striking lucky is a great feeling, but is there any truth behind it? Take a look at our most commonly held superstitions around good luck and discover their origins.
The top 3 ‘lucky’ superstitions are:
- Touching Wood
- Finding a penny
- Having itchy palms
- 62% of people in the UK Touch Wood.
- Some traditions suggest knocking on a tree wakes kindly fairies within.
Touching, or knocking on wood is something that many of us do without a second thought, usually after an admission like “I’ve never broken a bone” or “I’ve never been late for work.”
In fact, touching wood is our most popular good luck superstition and is often carried out to avoid ‘tempting fate’. Some people even stick to the superstition so strictly that not being able to touch a piece of wood can cause great distress.
Like many superstitions, the origin of knocking on wood is a bit of a mystery. Many believe that it stems from a Pagan belief that involved knocking on trees, supposedly containing wood gods, hoping for blessings and good luck. Other traditions suggest that by knocking on the tree you would wake up and set free the kindly fairies that dwelt within. Eventually these beliefs made their way into Christianity, where knocking on wood became associated with gaining protection from the cross.
In modern culture, touching wood is something practiced the world over for a variety of reasons. While here in England it purportedly stops the good luck from changing, in Italy they touch iron instead of wood after seeing something related to death. In Bulgaria, knocking on wood is said to protect you against evil, while in Serbia it is done while saying something positive about someone or something that you don’t want to change.
Finding a penny on the floor
- 57% of people believe it’s lucky to find a penny
- More common in the North West than in Northern Ireland
“Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. If you pass it to a friend, then your luck will never end.” We have all have heard this familiar rhyme at some point in our lives. Whether shiny and new or battered and grubby, a stray penny picked up from the ground is such a well-known symbol of good luck that it is our second most popular good luck superstition.
In ancient cultures people believed that metal was more than just a collection of tiny atoms; they believed that it was a gift from the gods, given to man as protection against evil. From here, this belief developed into some of the symbols of good luck that we see today, with everything from charm bracelets to horseshoes being considered good omens.
Unlike many superstitions, finding a penny on the floor actually comes with some guidelines. Many people say that finding a penny on the floor is only good luck if it is found heads up, in which case it should never be spent. Other people say that you can only reap the good luck that comes from finding a penny if you pass it on to a friend or a stranger that same day.
Some cultures believe that pennies found on the floor belong to leprechauns, pixies and other fantastical creatures, and should be spat on before being thrown into bushes for the small beings.
Having itchy palms
- 55% believe it’s lucky to have itchy palms
- 62% of 35 – 54 year olds believe itchy palms are lucky
Burning ears, a shiver up your spine, itchy palms – there are countless superstitions involving bodily sensations that seem to have developed out of nowhere. Our bodies are the one thing in our lives that we feel like we have command of, so it makes sense that such strange and apparently unprovoked sensations would make their way into our canon of superstitions. Having itchy palms in particular is our third most popular good luck superstition, with many people believing it indicates of their forthcoming monetary situation.
It is widely believed that to have an itchy left palm is a very promising sign, indicating that money will soon be coming your way. However, the same can’t be said for those with an itchy right palm, a sensation which is said to mean that money will be lost.
As with many superstitions, there are variants on the itchy palms theory across different countries and cultures. In Ireland, it is believed that you will only receive the money promised by an itchy left palm if you then go on to spit on it. In cultures other than our own, the hands associated with each fate switch, with an itchy left palm promising a loss of money and an itchy right palm promising an exciting influx of money.
Many people believe the left hand to be the unlucky hand because the Devil reputedly sat on the left hand side of God before being cast out of heaven.
Some of us feel as though we’re constantly the victims of ‘bad luck’ – but what is it we most regularly put these unfortunate turn of events down to, and where did these superstitions come from?
The top 3 ‘unlucky’ superstitions are:
- Breaking a mirror
- Walking under a ladder
- Opening an umbrella indoors
Breaking a mirror
- 69% of people would be concerned about bad luck if they broke a mirror
- Fear of 7 years of bad luck or death of a loved one
If a mere day of having to deal with unlucky incidents like flat tyres, missed buses and forgotten lunch is enough to deal with, just imagine having seven years of bad luck to get through.
This is exactly what many people believe will be their punishment for breaking a mirror, whether accidentally or intentionally. In fact, so entrenched in our culture is this belief that it is the most popular superstition regarding bad luck, and those who don’t necessarily believe it at least experience a niggling feeling of unease if it happens to them.
The association with seven years of bad luck is another superstition without clear origins. They differ between cultures and periods in history, with the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese first believing that when a person looked into a mirror, their soul would flee into the reflection. As a result, if the glass was broken while they looked into it, the soul within would also be fractured, with the only cure being the act of burying the pieces of the mirror.
Over time, the superstition evolved; a broken mirror was said to signify the approaching death of a friend or family member, and then the beginning of seven year’s bad luck. Experts believe that the idea originates from the fact that mirrors never used to be a home essential. They were a very expensive luxury, with any servant who broke one obligated to offer seven years of labour to repay the debt.
The belief that broken mirrors herald bad luck is most prevalent in Northern Ireland, with 46% of people believing in the superstition next to the UK national average of 39%.
Walking under a ladder
- 60% of those questioned would not walk under a ladder for fear of bad luck
- Those under 34 years old are most likely to believe this superstition
- Walking under a ladder was linked to hanging in medieval times
Supposedly dating back to before the advent of Christianity, the bad luck associated with walking under a ladder is one of the mostly widely believed and feared superstitions.
There can be plenty of bad luck to be had from walking under a ladder, especially if that ladder is supporting a tin of paint or a window cleaner’s bucket. However, the superstition is about much more than that, and stems from what many believe to be the Pagan association between the shape of a triangle and knowledge, power and life. A ladder leaning against a vertical surface obviously forms a triangular shape, and so was treated with care by pre-Christian people.
Over time – like many superstitions – the reason for the resulting bad luck changed. In medieval times, ladders were leant against gallows to allow for the removal of corpses, and led citizens to believe that walking underneath one would bring about their own death by hanging. In the Christian religion, many believe that the triangle formed by a leaning ladder evokes the Holy Trinity and that walking through it is disrespectful to God.
This common association across different religions doesn’t make it surprising that walking under a ladder is the UK’s third most popular bad luck superstition. To ward off the bad luck threatening to plague you after walking under a ladder, common practice is to walk back underneath it while saying a prayer, or to cross your fingers and make a wish.
Opening an umbrella indoors
- 59% of people believe opening an umbrella indoors is unlucky
- Over 65s are most concerned about this
What is the first thing you do after a stint outside in the pouring rain? Open up your umbrella to dry it out? You could very well be inviting in a dose of bad luck. Well, that’s what the superstitious among us believe anyway, who helped the act of opening an umbrella indoors gain third place in the list of most popular bad luck superstitions. Admittedly, modern belief has evolved to encompass the fact that an umbrella that has first been opened outdoors, before being brought inside, doesn’t count, but it wasn’t always so…
In 2009, the Glasgow Science Centre discovered that the superstition surrounding opening an umbrella indoors dates back to Ancient Egyptian times. They would use umbrellas (or, as they were known back then, parasols) to protect themselves from the searing sun, and opening one indoors was seen as an insult to Ra the sun god. The punishment for doing so was, of course, a generous helping of bad luck.
The Glasgow Science Centre also found out that there is a more scientific form of bad luck waiting to plague those opening an umbrella indoors. There is a theoretical risk that damp umbrella material stored in a place with little to no ventilation could heat up so much that it could spontaneously combust!
So there you have it – the reasoning behind the superstitions that have governed so much of our behaviour throughout history. But, even in today’s society, where science and rational thinking often dominate, these beliefs are still prevalent and impact on our day-to-day lives.
All data is sourced from a survey of tombola bingo members.