American Superstitions

Top Five American Superstitions

Just like apple pie and baseball, American superstitions have a lot to do with us as well.  Here are the top ten in no particular order:

Friday the Thirteenth

Friday the Thirteenth is one of our most common American superstitions.  It’s unclear how this got started but it has been around at least two hundred years.  Some believe that the reason for this comes from the Bible.  During the Last Supper, Jesus ate with all twelve of his apostles at the table and this was considered unlucky.  In addition, because there are twelve months in the years and twelve hours in the day, the thirteenth hour is considered somehow outside of normal and therefore dangerous.  The fear of the number thirteen has also spread to the numbering of floors as well, and thus we don’t find the thirteenth floor in most buildings.

We are not the only ones who fear the number thirteen, however.  The Chinese also do not like, it because one plus three equals four and four is associated with death in China.

Stepping on a Crack

Of course, as we all know from being schoolchildren, stepping on a crack also can have negative results for our mother’s vertebrae.  This superstition arises simply out of the power of rhyme and is therefore intimately tied to the English language.  Of course, a crack is also, in and of itself a break, so the association is not altogether strange.  Why a mother and not a father, however?  Psychologists think that this is simply because of the primacy of the mother in caretaking roles in our society.

Walking Under a Ladder

One of the more logical of American superstitions is the one that says it is unlucky to walk underneath a ladder.  This superstition is just an extension of common sense.  It is simply the case that if you walk underneath a ladder you are increasing the chances that something will fall on you.  Construction sites are inherently dangerous places where many people get injured every day, according to statistics, so it is not surprising that we consider this action unlucky.

A Black Cat Crossing your Path

One of the American superstitions that doesn’t seem to make quite as much sense is the one that claims that letting a black cat cross your path is bad luck.  This superstition seems to have less to do with actual safety than with the associations of black cats with sorcery and witchcraft.  To understand why this should be, you have to understand the history of domestication.  Unlike dogs that have been domesticated for 50,000 years, cats have had a more ambivalent history with humans.  Although the Egyptians worshipped cats, most Europeans did not start to associate with cats until the Middle Ages when cities began to grow.  This more recent association and the nature of cat behavior itself have meant that the cat’s reputation has remained shady in the eyes of many people.

Breaking a Mirror

Yet another common superstition is breaking mirror.  Yet again, it is not wholly clear why the breaking of physical object like a mirror should bring bad luck, but some historians believe this may have an economic origin.  Because the material used to make mirrors was limited (as was glass during the Colonial period in America), this meant that breaking this object put an excessive hardship on a family.  For this reason, the superstition may have grown out of the need to be especially careful with such precious items.

Regardless of their truth, such superstitions reveal quite a bit about the culture in which they occur and offer us a window into who we are.