Don’t Tempt Fate With These 15 Bad Luck Superstitions

There's scant evidence to prove these bad luck superstitions are based on anything other than quirky legends. But society can't seem to shake them.

Published Jan 15, 2024

This image depicts a black rat, Rattus rattus, which is one of the amplification hosts associated with the spread of black death, or plague. Rats infected with the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, host fleas, which ingest the rat’s infected blood, in turn themselves becoming infected. If these fleas then bite a human being in order to obtain another blood meal, they transfer these bacteria, thereby, infecting the human with plague. (CDC)
Image Via CDC

Bad luck superstitions aren't real, right? Still, you walk under a ladder; a red alert goes off in your head. You see a black cat slinking across your path; you keep walking. You look your inner child in the eye and say, “I have nothing to fear.”

And then a tiny voice inside you replies: "Recklessness! What if the superstition is real?"

While there's scant evidence to prove that bad luck superstitions are based on anything other than quirky legends, society just can't seem to shake them. From food you should supposedly never bring on a fishing expedition to the most "unlucky" color for a car, here are some of the wildest bad luck superstitions from around the world. They're likely harmless, but who are we to tempt fate?

Friday the 13th

The reasons why Friday came to be regarded as a day of bad luck have been obscured by time. Some common theories link the superstition to Christian tradition, saying a significant event, such as the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, supposedly took place on a Friday.

By the late 19th Century, the superstition surrounding the number 13 had become prevalent. People started going out of their way to avoid anything designated by the number, like hotel rooms.

Birds Flying in the House

A wild bird flying into one's house is commonly perceived as a sign of ill luck, possibly even death. And, like most superstitions, the belief surfaced at a time when what made the world tick — science, knowledge of the world, and whatnot — was far more of a mystery than it is now.

Because of this superstition, some folks will not have pet birds, not even a budgie or canary. 

Breaking a Mirror

Many sources tie the amount of bad luck supposedly brought by breaking a mirror (i.e., seven years) to the Romans. The Romans are said to have believed that life renewed itself every seven years. Damaging a mirror was tantamount to damaging one's health and, therefore, brought about calamity that would not resolve until the next seven-year cycle.

Unlucky Gemstones

While some jewels might be thought to bring you good fortunes, other gemstones aren’t so lucky. For instance, it’s said you must never give or accept a gift of opals or pearls. According to legend, the precious substances must be purchased to avoid bad luck.

Additionally, some people associate turquoise (the gem) with corruption and decay, pointing to its history of use in alchemy and necromancy. 

Green Cars

While green is commonly the color of hope and immortality, it is also deemed an unlucky shade in both Britain and the U.S. 

This centuries-old disquiet about the color green has, in modern times, expanded and affixed itself to the automobile. Just as ill luck is supposedly attached to green clothing, a similar presumption of lurking calamity is associated with green vehicles, thereby dooming those who encase themselves in emerald glory. 

Peanuts and NASCAR

Many NASCAR drivers have a strong aversion to peanuts in the shell, a distaste so strong that it's led to a ban on them in track pit stops.

This especially odd superstition is rumored to stem from two open-cockpit race wrecks in 1937. People who attempt to explain the belief say peanut shells were found in the cockpits of the drivers who died in the crashes — or, alternatively, shells were supposedly discovered embedded in the grilles of their cars.

Bananas on a Boat

Among sport fishermen, there exists a belief that bananas on a boat are unlucky. This rumor claims fish won't bite when bananas are onboard, or that the fruit will lead to mechanical breakdowns or other mishaps.

Some superstitious fishermen not only avoid bananas themselves but also items bearing the word "banana" or anything evocative of it. 

Rats as a Bad Omen

Folklore has long associated rats with calamity. Rats are believed to have a sixth sense regarding death and disaster; thus, by studying their actions, one can supposedly pick up timely warnings about impending misfortune.

As to why the above belief might be so, legend has it that rats can predict human events because they house the souls of the deceased, giving them special powers.

A Bride's Trip to Her Wedding

Numerous superstitions surround a bride's trip to the church at which she's getting married.

A windy wedding day symbolizes a turbulent marriage, and a rainy day signifies a sad one. A pig running across the road to the church is supposedly a sign of evil. Encounters with members of the clergy, police officers, doctors, lawyers, and the blind are also said to be bad signs. The worst of all omens is encountering a funeral.

Wedding Ceremony Superstitions

There are also several superstitions about what should and shouldn’t happen at the wedding ceremony itself. For example, bridal tears during the ceremony are considered lucky, but tears at any other moment on a wedding day are said to foreshadow a marriage full of them. 

Other things that supposedly bring bad luck for brides are getting married in the same church in which they were christened and getting married in the same year as a sister.

Unlucky Card Hands

When it comes to cards, superstitions abound.

For example, the four of clubs is believed to be a blight upon any hand, turning good cards bad. According to that belief, players should feel particularly cursed if they are dealt the card on the first hand.

Also, frontiersman “Wild Bill” Hickok, so they say, was shot dead during a poker game in which he held two pairs, aces and eights. That holding has subsequently become known as the "Dead Man's Hand."

Other Card Game Superstitions

Beyond the luck (good or ill) inherent to particular cards, various acts one might perform while playing card games are said to influence one's fortunes. For example, it’s supposedly bad luck to drop a card during play, especially if it's a black one.

Possibly, there is some logic to this superstition: Someone who mishandles their cards likely isn't focused on the game and, thus, could make avoidable errors in play. 

Bad Luck with Christmas Treats

Christmas cakes were usually eaten on Christmas Eve in the 19th Century, and it was deemed unlucky to cut into one (or any Christmas foodstuff, for that matter) before that day dawned. A portion of the cakes was preserved until Christmas Day itself.

Furthermore, mince pies must not be cut — unless you want to "cut your luck," according to legend. Those also were not eaten before Christmas Eve, nor after Twelfth Night (the Christian holiday).

New Year Superstitions

Because January 1 is the first day of a new year, we have drawn a connection between what we do on that day and our fate throughout the rest of the year.

For example, it's considered bad luck to pay back loans, or lend money or precious items, on New Year's Day. If you do, according to superstition, you're guaranteed to be paying out all year. Likewise, personal debts should be settled before the new year arrives.

Menstruation Superstitions

Because lore is not often displaced by knowledge, numerous superstitions and taboos exist globally about menstruation.

Some such ideas include:

  • Fruits or vegetables canned by a woman who's menstruating will spoil in the can.
  • A woman who's menstruating and attempting to make bread will fail because the dough will refuse to rise.

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