The Background Story of Superstition

The Background Story of Superstition

1. SUPERSTITION: Black cats are demonic omens.

THE BACKGROUND STORY: After millennia of royal treatment (They were worshipped by the Egyptians; the Norse goddess Freya sat on a cart pulled by them), in the 1200s, when Pope Gregory IX, fighting a culture war against pagan symbols, cursed cats as servants of Satan. As a result, cats across Europe-especially black cats-were killed. According to some historians, one unintended consequence: the cat-deficient continent may have allowed disease-bearing rodents to thrive and spread the bubonic plague of 1348.

Rumors that the feline's fangs and fur were poisonous persisted, and in the witch-hunting days of the 1600s, the Puritans have assumed that black cats were ' familiar ' – evil spirits serving witches – and avoided them like plague. 

2. SUPERSTITION: Never go and walk under a ladder.

THE BACKGROUND STORY: Depending on your perspective, a ladder leaning against a wall may reflect the work of an honest day, a geometry issue with a textbook, or a sign of the Holy Trinity that will curse your soul if broken. That last bit was believed by some ancient Christians–that any triangle represented the Trinity and disrupted one might summon the Evil One. The underladder phobia is a more realistic smidge these days: avoid it because you may get beaned by dropping equipment, waste, or an even less fortunate human being. 

3. SUPERSTITION: Break a mirror and see bad luck for 7 years.

THE BACKGROUND STORY: Numerous ancient cultures agree-not only does your reflection reveal whether you have a bad hair day - it also holds a piece of your soul. Break a mirror is then break your very essence, leaving you vulnerable to bad luck.

So why is the sentence expected to last 7 years? Many authors quote the ancient Romans, who are said to have claimed that every seven years the human body and soul completely regenerate. Therefore any weak plebiscite that shattered his or her soul in the glass-looking glass would have to suffer the bad karma until the soul revived again. 

4. SUPERSTITION: A full moon causes chaos.

THE BACKGROUND STORY: Ever wondering where the word lunatic originated? Look no further than luna, the term for the moon in Latin. Most Greeks believed the moon and its goddess, Luna, kept the tides in their thrall, and Aristotle found the human brain–the "moistest" organ particularly vulnerable to the pull of Luna. Ancient philosopher Hippocrates agreed, saying, "The goddess of the moon visits one who is overcome with terror, fear and madness during the night." Today, some emergency room staff still believe the full moon means trouble. 

5. SUPERSTITION: After a sneeze, say "God bless you," or face something worse than a cold.

THE BACKGROUND STORY: You have probably heard the idea of a sneeze stopping the heart (it doesn't) or separating the body from the soul (science refuses to comment there). But we can appeal to another pope to clarify the practice of "blessing" after sneeze. In the sixth century, during the first recorded plague pandemic, severe sneezing often alleged sudden death. Pope Gregory I supposedly asked followers to say "God bless you" every time somebody sneezed, as a desperate precaution. It's just kind of polite today.

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