Beliefs and superstitions from around the world and why people believe them

Praying monk

Superstition, or the desire to affect unpredictable factors, makes people believe that there is a connection between non-related but co-occurring events. The belief that charms, for instance, encourage good luck or protect from bad luck is widespread and ever-present. These, some would say, irrational beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. Every country has its own, unique practices which are an integral part of their culture and tradition. So, let’s take a look at things that are considered bad mojo, how we can avoid them and what to do to break the bad luck streak.

UK – fingers crossed, magpies and horseshoes

“Keep your fingers crossed” is not just a common expression and a popular emoji, it is also an old British tradition when you want things to go your way. No matter if the fingers are physically crossed or the phrase is uttered, it is considered good luck and protection from evil. On the other hand, seeing an odd number of magpies is believed to be bad luck, especially if that odd number is 13, which means the devil is near. Many elaborate rituals were created in order to ward off the evil brought about by this odd flock, but these days they don’t raise nearly as much fuss. Having a horseshoe on your person, on your car or at your home is said to be all the protection you need.

Australia – lucky frogs, boomerangs and cigarettes

In the Land Down Under, frogs are considered a symbol of good fortune. They were often associated with fertility and believed to bring good luck to everyone who saw them. Their good luck potential is especially prominent in spring, and if a frog jumps in your direction on the first day of spring, you can look forward to meeting many new friends. Even so, many do not rely on pure chance to witness a frog’s leap, but rather carry their luck with them in the form of a lucky charm. Australian good fortune trinkets, like all lucky charms found around the globe, have a very personal and symbolic meaning. Gum leaves represent resilience and strength and boomerang themed amulets ensure a safe return home. This would particularly come in handy if you happen to light three cigarettes with the same match, which is considered a sign of very bad luck in Australia.

USA – four-leaf clovers, dreamcatchers and not pointing at a rainbow

Probably the most famous good luck omen in the world is finding a four-leaf clover. This tradition was brought to the US by Celtic immigrants and quickly gained the reputation of a universal symbol for good fortune. In some Native American cultures, a dreamcatcher will protect you from bad dreams. This lucky charm is usually placed above children’s beds and cradles where its spider-like web can catch all the nightmares before they can penetrate their dreams. When it comes to bad luck, the Navajo have a particular superstition that your finger will fall off if you point in the direction of a rainbow. Interestingly enough, there are stories all around the world about the rainbow’s magical powers. It can be a bridge to the gods, have a pot of gold at its end or even change your sex if you walk under it! 

China – eight, four and a three-legged frog

The Chinese word for prosperity sounds almost exactly as their pronunciation for the number eight. The Chinese people strongly believe in the fortune-carrying powers of the number and this might very well be their most famous superstition. It is also why the opening of the Beijing Olympics took place on August 8th 2008, at 8 o’clock and 8 minutes (08/08/’08 08:80h). In stark contrast to the number eight, the number four is considered very unlucky. It is because the pronunciation of the number four in Chinese sounds like their word for death. Much like the number 13 in the west, people avoid using it. For example, hotels skip the 4th floor and go straight from 3rd to 5th. As far as lucky charms go, a three-legged frog will do the trick. These auspicious lucky charms usually come with a coin in their mouth and they must be placed in a south-east corner of the house facing the room.

Russia – whistling, names that are the same and the cross

If you’re ever in Russia, try not to whistle indoors since it is considered bad luck which will eventually lead to some financial difficulties. A catchy tune may be stuck in your head, but if you want your cash to stay in your wallet, whistle it outside. Conversely, you’re in for a streak of good luck if you come across a person with the same name. Should you be so lucky to find yourself sitting between two people with the same name, you can make a wish and keep it to yourself. Otherwise, it might not come true. The Russians are generally very religious people and believe that having the sign of the cross about their person is all the protection they need.

Superstitious beliefs are often referred to as irrational, but they are universal. Rituals and lucky charms are treasured in all cultures, even if there is no rational explanation for their continued use. However, we must keep in mind that even though they might not have any power over the inevitable circumstances, they give us a certain peace of mind and help us come to terms with the unknown. They provide context for things we do not yet understand, as well as the feeling of security and cultural belonging in this unpredictable world. And for those reasons, we’re lucky to have them. Knock on wood.