President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.” So how can you steer clear of bad luck and avoid being that early worm? According to traditions old and new, here are 27 superstitions that might bring you bad luck.
Walking under a ladder
Why is walking under a ladder bad luck? Aside from the fact that the person on the ladder could drop something on your head? This superstition may have religious roots. A ladder leaning against a wall creates a triangle, which is a symbol for the Holy Trinity in Christian tradition. Walking under the ladder supposedly “breaks” the Trinity.
Are black cats bad luck or good luck? It depends on who you ask. In some traditions they are an omen of prosperity. But Pilgrims in the early American colonies thought black cats were tied to witches. The witch trials are long over, but the stigma remains.
Opening an umbrella inside
The taboo on opening an umbrella inside may date all the way back to ancient Egypt. Egyptians used umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. Opening one indoors may have been seen disrespectful to the god of the sun.
Don’t head straight home after a funeral
A Filipino superstition holds that you should not go straight home after a funeral. If you do, death may follow you. So stop off somewhere else first.
Don’t toast your companions with water
Naval tradition holds that toasting someone with water (instead of alcohol) will doom them to death by drowning.
This goes beyond waking up on the wrong side of the bed. According to some traditions, it’s unlucky to sleep with your feet pointing toward your bedroom door. This apparently originates from the fact that a dead body is traditionally taken from a bedroom feet-first.
Shoes on table
Putting your shoes on the table isn’t just bad manners, it could be bad luck. This may date to a British mining tradition, where the shoes of dead miner were placed on the table as a sign of respect.
Black cats aren’t the only animals with a bad reputation. Many ancient cultures hold that owls are harbingers of death.
The superstition that breaking a mirror is bad luck dates back to the ancient belief that “breaking up” your reflection breaks up your soul. But why seven years of bad luck? Ancient Romans apparently believed that the body took seven years to renew. So once you break that mirror, it takes a long time to repair things.
Killing a robin
Ancient tradition holds that whatever you do to a robin will happen to you. So killing a robin is not a good idea.
Keep your hat off your bed
Some cultures believe that placing a hat on a bad could bring death into a home.
Jewish tradition holds that it’s bad luck to set up a baby’s room before he or she is born. Some people also avoid baby showers.
Beware of yellow flowers
Yellow flowers are said to signify the end of a relationship. (So avoid them on your next anniversary!)
Beware of white lilies
White lilies are mostly closely associated with funerals, so in some traditions, it’s bad luck to make them part of other celebrations.
Beware of goat meat
An ancient African superstition holds that women who eat goat meat could grow a beard.
Beware of cutting your nails at night
According to this Eastern superstition, trimming your nails after dark could invite evil spirits into your home.
Beware Carlos Menem
The administration of former President Carlos Menem is not remembered fondly in Argentina. He’s been blamed for, among other things, an economic crisis, a World Cup loss and even an earthquake. Now some think that just saying his name can bring bad luck.
Don’t walk backward
You might think that walking backward is just a good way to exercise some different muscles. But in Portugal, it’s considered bad luck because the devil may follow you.
Don’t wear red during a storm
A superstition from the Philippines holds that you should not wear red during a storm. The color is thought to attract lightning.
Hold your breath while passing a graveyard
Avoid taking a deep breath while passing a cemetery. Tradition holds that you could breathe in a soul.
Don’t step on a manhole
You know not to step on a crack in the sidewalk. But what about a manhole cover? Sweden has a unique superstition about those. The covers are marked either “K,” for the Swedish word for fresh water, or “A,” for sewage. But “K” also represents the word for love and “A” heartbreak. So superstitious Swedes avoid stepping on the “A” covers.
Don’t enter a room with your left foot
According to some traditions, you’re putting your “best” foot forward when you’re entering a room with your right foot. It’s bad luck to go left-foot-first.
Bananas unlucky on boats
Some fishermen believe that fish won’t bite if bananas are onboard the boat. Bananas are even sometimes blamed for boats breaking down out on the water.
Unlucky number 4
The number 13 is considered unlucky in much of the Western world. But other cultures have other superstitions. The number 4 is unlucky in China. The Chinese word for “four” sounds like the word for “death.”
Don’t say ‘Macbeth’
Actors are a superstitious group. One of the most famous superstitions is that you should not say “Macbeth” in a theater. The story goes that many tragedies have befallen productions of Shakespeare’s play. So call it “The Scottish Play” backstage instead.
Break a leg
Wishing an actor good luck before a performance is also thought to bring bad luck. So theater folk instead “curse” each other with “break a leg” to ward off bad spirits.
Don’t point at a rainbow
Tradition holds that there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But you might be pressing your luck if you point at that rainbow. Depending on the source, pointing at a rainbow could draw the energy from your body, cause warts or even make your finger fall off.