If you spill the salt at a table, you better get ready for bad luck or toss some over your shoulder to recover. In Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, Judas Iscariot is pictured knocking the salt over with his elbow. And nobody wants to be a Judas.
The first recorded use of the phrase is in the 1860s, but people have been munching on these shiny orbs since Ancient Roman and Greek times. The original Welsch adage went, "Eat an apple on going to bed, and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread," which is a little long for the modern tongue. Anyway, this superstition might not be wholly true, but apples are definitely healthy for you — look! another rhyme.
A ladder, either against a building or one that forms an A-frame, was believed to have symbolized the Holy Trinity of the Christian religion. Walking through or under it was a blasphemy against the Trinity and Church. Also, it could fall on your head and kill you.
If you've ever broken a mirror, our seven-year sympathies go out to you. The superstition actually dates back to Ancient Roman times, when making glass (and therefore breakable) mirrors became a thing. Not only did the Romans believe mirrors could steal and distort human souls, but the things were actually really expensive!
In the Middle Ages, the poor, elderly women who would later be branded as witches were known to feed, play with, and even round up alley cats. Some of these alley cats were black, and were accused of being witches transformed.
Apparently it's bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match. Why? As the legend goes, during World War I keeping a match lit for that long in a foxhole would attract the attention of snipers. The very real warning was then co-opted by matchbook sellers to push more product.
The Gospels, written by more than a couple sailors, talks about red skies and what they prophecy the weather to be like. The saying "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morn', sailors be warned" might have a shred of truth to it: the color of the sky actually has a lot to say about precipitation making its way over the ocean.
Get your itty-bitty teeth off that acorn, squirrel! It is said that carrying around an acorn will bring good luck. The Ancient Romans and Druids believed the acorn to possess awesome power, and would thread necklaces made of acorns and hold rituals that used the fallen seed pod.
It was a commonly held belief way back when that the soul was synonymous with the breath, and that when someone sneezed they were at high risk of losing their spirit. During the times of the Bubonic Plague, Pope Gregory the Great started "blessing" people who sneezed. So cover your mouth when you sneeze: if not to hold onto your soul, then for the sake of hygiene!
Just like you're not supposed to smoke in bed (for obvious reasons), you're not supposed to lay your hat down on the sheets either. One explanation for this superstition is that lice in the hat could transfer onto the bed. Another is that static electricity may have sparked the threads of the bed, which in olden days was seen as something supernatural.
Not only could opening an umbrella up inside be bad luck, it could poke your eye out! That is, if you use one of the 18th century contraptions that started appearing in England. The early spring-loaded, metal spoked mechanisms could have been a real hazard in close quarters.
The number 13's unluckiness could come from the fact that an ancient law system (the Hammurabi code) accidentally omitted a 13th law in translation. Judas Iscariot, Jesus's betrayer, was the 13th apostle to show up at the Last Supper. Nordic lore also has it that the most hated god, Loki, showed up as the 13th guest to a Valhalla dinner party. How rude.
In order to evade the bad luck effects of this number, many people will avoid using it at all costs.
The Greek astronomer Ptolemy (around 127-151 AD ) believed that every now and then the gods poked their big heads into the earthly realm. At this time shooting stars were bits of heaven that pierced through these celestial holes, and it was the perfect time to ask the gods for that winning lotto ticket!
If your ears are itching, someone might be talking about you behind your back. In 77AD the Roman scholar Pliny wrote, "It is acknowledged that the absent feel a presentiment of remarks about themselves by the ringing of their ears." Ringing, itching, it's all annoying!