England: What Is Wrong with Cats?
For a cat lover like me, seeing a cat, no matter what color, is a highlight of the day. But apparently a black cat is an international sign of bad luck. This superstition has its roots in the Middle Ages. Back then, people believed that witches turned themselves into cats to avoid detection. In England, cats often used to be seen as either signs of bad or good luck. King Charles I owned a black cat that was supposed to bring him good luck. The cat was so valued by the king that he had his guards watch the animal 24 hours a day! Luck abandoned the king when the cat died – the day after, Charles I was arrested.
Romania: Holy Crow!
Speaking of animals, Romanians are not only careful with cats, but also with crows. Depending on the number of crows you see, the outlook for your future changes. If you see one crow – that is a bad omen. But look out, perhaps there is another bird close to you? Two crows bring luck. Three mean health, four foretell wealth. Avoid a larger number of crows than that as five birds presage illness, and six announce death.
Denmark: Unpleasant Luck
Continuing the topic of birds, how unlucky does anyone get who is pooped on by a bird, especially when going to an important meeting, job interview, or a date? Well, you should not worry if it happens to you. According to the Danes, this unpleasant experience is a sign of good luck!
Spain: Tuesday the 13th
Have you heard about the belief that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day? Well, in Spain, it is not Friday but Tuesday that inspires fear in superstitious people. In Spanish, Tuesday translates to Martes. The word comes from Mars, which in the Middle Ages was called a “little evil” and meant violence, tension, and aggression. Tuesday is therefore ruled by Mars who is also the god of war and destruction. And there is more to the story: according to a legend, the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel occurred on a Tuesday the 13th!
Italy: 13 Is Not Always a Bad Sign
In many cultures, the number 13 is considered unlucky, however, in Italy it is just the opposite as it is believed to bring prosperity. There is another number feared by Italians though: 17. Some hotels lack rooms with this number, and some planes lack row 17. The dread of number 17 might be related to how it is written in Roman numerals: XVII. When read as an anagram, it changes into VIXI which in Latin means “I have lived” indicating that one's life is over.
Serbia: Too Many to Remember
As a non-superstitious Pole who often travels around Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, I often get surprised by the number of superstitions the Slavic peoples believe in. The biggest number of superstitions I have heard of, however, originate in Serbia. Just to give you an example, here are just a few related to itching. Is your left hand itching in the center of the palm? You should feel lucky, it means that you will either get rich or meet someone new. But if your right hand itches, well, that is a bad omen: you are going to lose money. What if your nose is itchy? Not good either, it means that you will soon get into a fight.
Poland: on the Lucky Side
Not all superstitions relate to bad luck. In Poland, all you have to do to be fortunate (provided you believe in superstitions) is grab a button of your coat, sweater, or a bag when you see a chimney-sweep. Apparently, back in the day, when a chimney-sweep arrived in a town or village, housewives competed to get the specialist to visit their houses first as his clothes were still clean and women would not have to clean up after him. Housewives would pull the buttons of the chimney-sweep's coat to get him to come to their houses. The woman who managed to get the man to do his work in her house first would always have good luck.
Greece: Red Jinx
In many cultures, a jinx is a curse that brings many minor misfortunes to the person who has been jinxed. In Greece, jinx has a special form – when two people say the same word at the same time, they need to say "Piase Kokkino" which translates to: touch red. As said, then the persons cursed by a jinx need to touch quickly something that has a red color. Otherwise, the curse will make them get into an inevitable fight!
Czech Republic: Bear this Beer Superstition in Mind
In the Czech Republic, beer consumption per person is higher than anywhere else in the world. No wonder that many Czech superstitions are related to drinking beer. First of all, you should never pour beer into a mug that is holding the leftovers of another brew as doing so brings bad luck (and bad taste, too). Another superstition refers to making a toast: cheers are not valid if even one person does not clink his or her mug with the glass of any other person at the table or fails to slam the mug on the table before the first chug.
Finland: Watch out for the Sauna Elf
If I had to point out one intrinsic feature of Finnish culture, I would choose sauna. A built-in sauna is in almost every house in Finland, and sauna baths are a part of most holidays and family celebrations. However, you need to remember to behave properly in a sauna, otherwise you may irritate the sauna elf. A Saunatonttu is an inhabitant of every sauna and is a character present in Finnish folktales. A Saunatonttu is usually a nice little bearded creature unless you disrespect him. Many believe that after your sauna bath you should throw some water on the stove so that the saunatonttu can enjoy it. Otherwise, you will miss out on good löyly (the heat and humidity created by throwing water on hot stones) the next time you visit the sauna. Others go as far as believing that insulting the elf might result in a horrible accident.
Are you superstitious? What signs of good and bad luck do you believe in?