The most common (and the most interesting) British superstitions

 

The most popular superstitions and lucky charms in the UK

 

old black cat brand logo
old black cat brand logo

Superstitions are part of humanity’s oldest belief-system. They are mainly based on ancient folk tales, traditions also on examination of nature and another course of simple events which in the end got so widely believed, that people started to accept them as facts.

Superstitions and mystics

While you may think superstitions wouldn’t connect to magic and mystics, in my opinion, many superstitions hide some most ancient belief in evil forces and many are also part of a key defense system people used to use against magic such as curses or spells. If you notice, most superstitions are rather connected to bad things happening and not to good things happening. This means that remembering superstitions are mostly about defending ourselves from bad events to happen. 

If you observe, you will see that many superstitions also have their cure, although not all of them. 

UK is one of most superstitious countries but as far as I’m concerned the United States also follows the lead.  In these countries, there are surprisingly high numbers of people who believe in superstitions and luck. Let me show some numbers to you with the help of some witty infographics: 

superstition infographic
infographic on how superstitious people are

 

A real superstition is like gossip: it’s virtually impossible to find out where it comes from and to fight against it. The reason for that is, that it’s a tight belief system, which is not connected to any religion, but we keep on seeing them featured in movies, series and we see others believe in them in our everyday life. Most people follow traditions, especially when it’s about important events in their lives. Superstition is an integral part of our traditions. I love to learn about superstitions and I truly find them interesting.  

Therefore, let me present you to the most common superstitions in the United Kingdom. While many of these are believed throughout Europe and the US, some of them are exclusive to British people. I will do all my best to try to explain as many superstitions as I can and in the end, I will also enlist some of the funniest and most interesting British superstitions I’ve managed to find out about. 

 

The connection between superstitions and sayings

 

infographic on the power of superstition
infographic on the power of superstition

 

” An apple a day keeps the doctor away”  most of us would not forget this verse ever.

Sayings, verses, and rhymes are way easier to memorize and to learn. That’s perhaps why there are many British superstitions that are embedded in a verse or a saying. Let’s see the superstitions this time around. 

Superstitions and lucky charms

We need things, to make us feel relaxed and more at ease. Perhaps this is why almost all people love to believe one or two of their favorite things or specific things can bring them good luck or at least bring defense against bad luck. No matter which culture we talk about people has their lucky charms everywhere. I have already written an article about Japan’s most popular lucky charms. I plan to follow it up with blogs discussing lucky charms also in other cultures. 

I will link my upcoming article here about the most popular lucky charms in the UK, due next week. One thing is for sure, lucky charms and also cursed things are deeply connected with the world of superstitions in several ways. And both connect with mystics and magic in one way or the other. 

The most common superstitions in the UK

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infographic about the effects of superstitions on people in the UK

Don’t walk under the ladder: this is among the oldest superstitions out there with supposed connections to the Holy Trinity and also with the old-time hangings which were quite frequent in Great Britain as well back in the day. Walking under the hanging scaffold was deemed to be very unlucky. Now, this belief is said to be transferred to ladders.  It’s one of the strongest superstitions since the middle ages. People in the UK would cross the street instead of having to walk under a ladder. 

Friday the 13th is a cursed day – it’s, in fact, one of the strangest superstitions in the world today. There are in fact millions out there who deem this day as a cursed day and the large majority of British people asked, in fact, believe in this superstition much more than in any other superstitions out there. This is among the oldest superstitions out there, strongly connected to the last Supper and to another superstition that 13 people sitting at a table brings particularly bad luck and it should be avoided on all accounts. The number 13 is a bad number also alone in the European or Anglo Saxon belief system which also originated in the US and Australia and in most Catholic and/or Christian countries. Today’s strongest reasoning for 13 to be a bad number? The unlucky Moon mission Apollo 13. In addition, it’s said that people whose first and last names are 13 characters altogether have bad luck associated with them. 

Broken mirror: equals 7 years of bad luck: another oldtimer according to the explanations old-time mirrors were particularly expensive and it took years for ordinary men to work off the price of a mirror. According to other notes, however, mirrors in Britain are strongly connected with the soul and the underworld. Bringing harm to them is to harming one’s appearance and soul and therefore this action brings bad luck.

Black Cat Crossing: Do not walk where a black cat has crossed your way. Black cats have long been associated with black magic, witches if only solely for the fact that we can only barely see them in the dark which makes their appearance somewhat frightening. In some places people say, that they have to wait for over an hour to cross where the black cat has crossed or completely change your way, to avoid the curse of bad luck.

Spilling salt in an accident means bad arguments and overall bad luck – the only possible cure is to throw salt over your shoulders to drive the devil away. 

Fingers crossed:  On one hand it means wishing good luck for someone ( I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you or simply saying “Fingers crossed”.  However, it also gives one way to get away with a lie. People can lie if they secretly cross their fingers in the meantime. Don’t ask me why this was born. 

Number 7 as the luckiest number: Number 7 has tons of good luck associated with it. That’s also why we keep on getting to see them appear in fairy tales, songs and in movies. 

The most popular lucky charms in Great Britain

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Clover and horseshoes are some of the strongest lucky charms in the UK

Rabbit’s leg as a lucky charm: there are still many people in the UK who do wear a rabbit’s leg. It’s also a popular tradition among gamblers. 

Clover and Horseshoes: especially together. Both these are associated with a great deal with good luck and if they are used together, good luck will be even bigger. Interestingly Clover and Horseshoes also often signify St. Patricks Day all around the world in the British/Irish communities.

Wishbone: that special bone being part of the chicken breast. Many people preserve it and when you break it, it needs to be broken half perfectly or the wish made will not come true. 

The most interesting British superstitions

In addition, I have also made a special selection from the superstitions which I find the most interesting and most specific to British culture.

Never open an umbrella inside your home: you wouldn’t believe but this is among the strongest British superstitions out there and most people still keep themselves to this rule as it says one becomes particularly unlucky if he or she opens an umbrella while still being inside. 

Never put (new) shoes on the table:  another old superstition the shoes on tables are strongly associated with the dead therefore they bring particularly bad luck and they are best to be avoided. The rule applies to both old and new pairs of shoes. According to others the rule also applies to other pieces of furniture. 

Don’t step on lines or cracks in the pavement – “Don’t step on a line or you’ll fall and break your spine! Don’t step on a crack or you’ll fall and break your back!’ I think this is a clear cut superstition that connects the danger of falling due to stepping on an unsteady substance and it was originated to keep children away from accidents. 

Magpies:  Magpies are deeply connected with good luck. If one sees a magpie they bring good luck especially if you salute to them. In addition, these birds are so popular in the UK that there is a poem that tells you about the superstitions connected to them. Here is comes:

“One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told”

Say “White Rabbit” for good luck:  Rabbit has lots of luck associated with them. So much, that according to Brits saying “white rabbit” at the end of the month would bring lots of good luck for that period.

Walk over 2 drains but not the third one: in the UK, they say if you walk above 2 drains that’s lucky but don’t walk over the third or you will get tons of bad luck instead. 

Crack the empty eggshell so that the devil cannot make a boat out of it.

Say “Jinx”:  if two people say the same thing at the same time, then if one says the word jinx the faster that one would avoid bad luck.

Saying “Bless You” when sneezing:  this is in fact connected to one of the most ancient superstitions in the United Kingdom originated from the 6th century. Sneezing was deeply connected to the plague and among its first symptoms was sneezing. That’s why people used to pray and say bless you, to ward off the deadly illness with the help of God.

Birthday cakes and blowing off all candles: it’s long been believed that one ought to blow all their birthday candles with one breath or they will become unlucky. 

Wedding superstitions in the UK

  • The groom cannot see the wife before the very moment she appears in the wedding sermon.
  • The wife’s whole wedding outfit has to include something old something new, something borrowed and something blue.

See this little poem about the proper choice of the wedding day in Britain:

Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday best of all,
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
Saturday for no luck at all’

  • The groom must lift the wife and take her through the door of their home or honeymoon home at least.
  • The things the bride and groom see on the way to the wedding:  
    • unlucky: pigs
    • lucky: lambs, policemen, clergymen

We are all unsure why we exactly believe in superstitions, but once we see others stick to them and find out about proofs of these, we automatically start to suspect, that yes, there are forces higher than us which should be feared and which can bring us good luck or bad luck. Of course, the superstitions I’ve written about mainly generate from ancient Anglo-Saxon beliefs and from there they also started to flourish in the US and Australia particularly.

Other countries, especially Japan have a very different belief system and different superstitions which I would love to write about. 

Please tell me about your nation’s most interesting superstitions. Next time around I will tell more about Hungarian superstitions. 

If you want to learn more about British superstitions check out this article and podcast on British superstitions. I learned tons from it and want to send its author a big thank you!

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