From black cats to broken mirrors – superstitions explained

24 May, 2023 | Notes from the Universe

5 Minute Read

Words by WYLDE MOON staff writer

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Do you avoid stepping on the lines between paving stones? Or have a nervous breakdown if you break a mirror? You’re not alone. Loads of us are REALLY superstitious and Kelly Willoughby explains why.

I’m a complete sucker for a superstition. If wearing pink knickers every Friday 13th keeps me safe, I’m all in. 

A recent YouGov survey revealed that it’s not just me. A third of Britons are either very, or somewhat, superstitious, and no surprise women tend to be more superstitious than men. Superstitions have been an integral part of human culture throughout history, shaping beliefs and behaviours – who doesn’t instinctively think twice before walking under a ladder or knock on wood for good luck? Superstitions permeate our lives without us even thinking about it.

I always notice white feathers and visits from robins (see below for what that means) and feel better for it. 

It is thought that these beliefs arise from our attempts to explain and control the unpredictable and uncertain aspects of life, whether it is finding meaning in coincidences or offering us comfort. Many athletes, whose performances are built on tough training schedules and sport science, have pre-game rituals from lucky foods to lucky driving routes that they believe will improve their performance.

Serena Williams would wear the same pair of socks throughout a tournament, tie her shoes in a specific way and bounce the ball exactly five times before her first serve. While Taylor Swift loves the number 13 and Jennifer Aniston always gets on a plane with her right foot first and taps the outside of the plane for luck.

Superstitions remind us of our need to find meaning, order, and control in a world that can be unpredictable and chaotic. 

Here are WYLDE MOON’s top superstitions…

White Feathers

White feathers tend to have spiritual or symbolic meanings. Some believe that a white feather is a sign from a guardian angel or a loved one who has passed away, indicating their presence and protection.


Seeing a robin is considered a sign of good luck and positive energy. Many believe that a robin is a sign that a deceased loved one is trying to communicate with them from the spirit world. It is believed to be a symbol of reassurance.


If you see a single magpie, it is believed to bring sorrow or misfortune. However, if you see two magpies together, it is seen as a positive sign, representing joy, good fortune, or even the presence of a loved one. Remember this rhyme?

“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.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in repeating the saying “Good morning, Mr. Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” under my breath if I see a lone Magpie. It’s meant to ward off bad luck for the rest of the day and in my books I’d rather be safe than sorry!

Breaking a mirror

Now this is depressing…apparently breaking a mirror brings you 7 years of bad luck…7 years! It’s believed that this superstition originates from ancient Romans who thought that mirrors held the reflection of the soul. Breaking a mirror was seen as damaging the soul and inviting misfortune.

Walking under a ladder

It’s considered unlucky to walk under a ladder. This is believed to have originated from ancient Egyptian beliefs, where the triangle formed by a ladder leaning against a wall was a sacred shape. By disturbing this holy symbol, it was thought that one would invite the wrath of the gods.

Friday the 13th

This day is associated with bad luck in many cultures. Interestingly, the Spanish are superstitious about Tuesday 13th as opposed to Friday…and in Italy, it’s Friday 17th. It’s a geographical minefield! Somewhere along the way, I was told that wearing pink knickers on Friday 13th would be enough to ward off any bad luck heading my way – advice which I’ve followed unquestioningly to this day! Goodness only knows where that came from.

Knocking on wood 

The act of touching or knocking on wood is a popular superstitious gesture thought to ward off bad luck. Its origin can be traced back to early pagan rituals where trees were considered sacred and to house protective spirits. I’d say that of all the superstitious acts that pepper my life, this is probably the most regular!

Opening an umbrella indoors

Opening an umbrella indoors is considered to be the harbinger of bad luck and I have to admit, it’s something I get twitchy about and have been known shriek in panic when my little girl has started to open hers up in the hallway! Theory suggests that this superstition originated from ancient Egyptian and Roman times when umbrellas were associated with sun deities, and to open one indoors was seen as an insult to the gods that would make them angry.

Black cats crossing your path

Black cats have long been associated with good and bad luck. In some cultures, encountering a black cat is considered a positive omen, while in others, it’s a symbol of misfortune. The bad luck omen has roots in medieval Europe when black cats were associated with witchcraft and dark magic. I guess it comes down to if you’re a cat fan or not! Personally, a black cat crossing my path always feels lucky – a sort of confirmation that I’m on the right road (figuratively, that is!).

Throwing salt over your shoulder

If you spill salt, it is believed that throwing a pinch over your left shoulder will ward off bad luck. This superstition originated from ancient Rome, where salt was a valuable commodity. Throwing it away was seen as wasteful, and by throwing it over the left shoulder, it was believed that you would blind any evil spirits lurking behind you.

Stepping on a crack

The superstition goes, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” I spent my childhood hoping over them in order to stay lucky and my daughter does the same as she walks down the street – which isn’t something I’ve taught her to do. It just goes to show how intrinsically superstitions are woven into the fabric of our society.

Finding a four-leaf clover

Apparently the odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about one in 10,000. The rarity must be why it is seen as so lucky. Originating from Celtic and Druid beliefs in ancient Ireland, it was believed that four-leaf clovers had magical properties and could ward off evil spirits.

Beginner’s luck

This superstition suggests that novice participants are unusually lucky when engaging in a new activity. Its origins are uncertain, but it is thought to stem from the concept of favour from the gods. Beginners were seen as being under divine protection.

Find a penny

“Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck; give it to a faithful friend, and your luck will never end.”

According to this superstition, it is even luckier if the coin is heads-up. While a penny won’t get you very far with the current cost of living, it is meant to be an omen of coming financial blessings or an increase in wealth.

Wishing on a wishbone

When a roasted bird is served, the wishbone is the forked bone located between the neck and breast. It is usually set aside to dry, then two people each take hold of different ends and make a wish. The one with the larger piece is said to have their wish granted. We always used to do this with the Christmas turkey, as kids.

Itchy palms

In many cultures, itchy palms are believed to have certain symbolic meanings. If your right palm is itchy, it is believed that you will receive unexpected income, like winning a prize. Conversely, an itchy left palm is often associated with outgoing expenses or bills. Some people believe that having itchy palms in general is sign of change in your life. It is seen as a precursor to a shift in circumstances or a new experience.

New shoes on the table

The amount of times I’ve returned from a shopping trip and gone to put my new shoes on the table before suddenly remembering this superstition. Given that shoes are connected to journeys and travel, putting new shoes on the table is seen as inviting bad luck or preventing successful journeys. At its worst it’s thought to disrupt the safe return of a loved one.

Tell us your superstitions and if they’ve been lucky…

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