Superstitions from Around the World

We all know horseshoes, four-leaf clovers, and rabbit feet are lucky, that walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror are bad luck, and so on. But you may not have known these tips for avoiding bad luck, courtesy of some of our friends abroad:

Salute magpies or you’ll be in a car accident (United Kingdom)

I never thought of the British as being particularly superstitious, but one day while watching Top Gear (my favorite TV show ever), the hosts starting going on about magpies. Apparently, the British believe that if you see a lone magpie while you are driving, you should show you respect it by saluting it and saying something like “Hello Mr. Magpie” or “Good day, sir” or “How is your wife?” There are actually a number of variations on this superstition; the Scottish, for example, say that a single magpie in your window is an omen of death. There is even a British folk legend that when Jesus was crucified, all the world’s birds sang to comfort him except the magpie.

Information from Top Gear and Wikipedia

Don’t give clocks or umbrellas as gifts (China)

This, like many Chinese superstitions, is based on a key feature of the Chinese language: the same word will mean different things depending on the tone of your voice.

For example:

Clock is zhōng (钟), while burial mound is zhǒng (冢).

Umbrella is sǎn (伞), while “to break up” (as in, a couple) is sàn (散).

So by giving someone a clock as a gift, you are inadvertently wishing for their death; and if you give someone an umbrella, you are saying “I hope you break up with your lover/get a divorce soon.”

Oops! Have you ever given either of these things as gifts? Don’t worry, you can make up for it by giving a “good luck” gift, like jade (yù, 玉) or a pet fish (yú, 鱼) to heal (yù, 愈) the damage and ensure an abundance (yù, 裕) of good luck.

Information from my Chinese class

Don’t eat the meat of sea creatures with the meat of land creatures (Canada)

This superstition comes from the Netsilik Inuit people of Nunavut, Canada. The Netsilik have a ton of superstitions and taboos about eating, because their diet is almost entirely meat (you aren’t going to grow many crops in the Arctic, and it is really expensive to ship stuff up there) and they believe that the spirits of the animals they have killed are watching them. If they don’t show these animals the proper respect, then they will face bad luck and possible starvation next year.

For example, after killing a seal you have to butcher it over clean snow, keep the skull and place it in such a way that it faces the direction you are going to travel next, and so on. But the biggest, biggest taboo is combining seafood and the meat of land animals. This is NEVER done, for if the soul your fish or seal or caribou tells the Sea Goddess about it, she will lay a curse on you.

Information from my Native American Cultures class

Don’t kill pythons! (Ghana)

These people are probably grateful for this superstition.

The Ashanti people of Ghana tell a story about how the python taught the first humans how to have sex. No, really.

In gratitude, the Ashanti believe it is wrong to kill pythons, and if they come across a dead python they put white clay on it and bury it as if it were a human.

Information from