Friday the 13th: 11 bizarre superstitions from around the world

Friday the 13th: 11 bizarre superstitions from around the world

With Friday the 13th just around the corner, let’s look at some superstitions from around the world

Manasi Y MastakarUpdated: Saturday, January 07, 2023, 09:30 PM IST
A still from Friday the 13th |

Different countries, different cultures, and different superstitions. As irrational as they might sound, at times, these superstitions add meaning to unexplainable mysterious happenings around us. Though this is in no way encouraging superstition, the point here is merely drawing attention to beliefs that are deep-rooted in society’s fabric.

With Friday the 13th just around the corner (a perfect day for a movie marathon of the Friday the 13th franchise), we have rounded up some of the most common and strange superstitions from across the world.

Friday the 13th

In Western mythology, Friday the 13th has been considered an inauspicious or unlucky day. While there is no historical evidence of why the date gets people frowning, according to Donald Dossey, a folklore historian, the superstition is rooted in Norse Mythology, while some attach it to Jesus’s Last Supper. Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member at the table. Also, On October 13, 1307 (which was a Friday), King Philip IV of France arrested and hundreds of Templar Knights were killed.

However, the link between 13 and Friday collectively bringing misfortune is vague and its popularity is often associated with its usage in literary works.

There was an American businessman, TW Lawson, who wrote the book Friday, the Thirteenth, which centres around how a broker cashes on this superstition and causes panic on Wall Street, eventually leading to its collapse on Friday the 13th. 

Whatever the reason might be, Friday the 13th has a certain intrigue and mysterious vibe. For the unversed, the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Throwing salt over your shoulder

Common superstition is that spilling salt brings bad luck. However, throwing it over one’s left shoulder reverses it. Ancient Romans believed throwing salt over one’s left shoulder wards off the Devil, who hangs around your left shoulder and it meant throwing salt in his face and blinding him. Spilling salt is often associated with Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus. If you observe Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting, The Last Supper, you’ll see Judas spilling salt. Since he betrayed Jesus, the spilling of salt has been linked to disloyalty, lies, and deceit.

Be broom weary

Singles need to make a note of this one —especially if you want don’t want to remain one forever! South Americans believe that if even accidentally, a broom sweeps over your feet, you remain single forever. If this ever happens to you, the trick to break the bad spell is by immediately spitting on the broom. The origins of this superstition are not known but it comes from the belief that a woman who cannot keep the house clean and tidy is not a good wife.

Fear of Four

Just like the western aversion to the number 13, in east Asian countries like China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, the number four is unlucky. In China, the reason behind this superstition is the sound of the number – it sounds like the word death. In Korea and Japan, the word for the number four and death are the same. Did you know: The fear of the number 4 is called tetraphobia?

Rabbit, rabbit

Running short on luck and desperately wanting to magnify your quota? Say ‘rabbit, rabbit’ on the first day of the month, and viola, your luck meter will go up, at least that’s what North Americans believe. Rabbits are said to have powerful communication with the spirit world, which shower luck on you.

Do not walk backwards

In Portugal, if you walk backwards, it is an invitation to the Devil, whom you are showing where you live or which way you are going.

Tucking thumbs in when inside a cemetery

In Japan, while visiting the graves of loved ones, people tuck in their thumbs when they are inside the cemetery. Just like the number four and death have similar sounds in China, in Japan the superstition hinges on a similar linguistic problem. This comes from the connection between the word for ‘thumb’ which means ‘parent figure’ in Japanese. Tucking thumbs in indicates protecting one’s parents from death.

Knocking on wood

The phrase ‘touch wood’ commonly pops up in our daily conversations after we have spoken about positive things that might be happening lately. However, the origin of the phrase is rooted in the Celtic or Indo-European belief that by knocking or touching wood, spirits or gods of trees can be called upon for protection. In Christianity, it is related to the magical powers of the crucifix. According to folklore researcher, Steve Roud, the practice was borne from a 19th-century game called ‘Tiggy Touchwood’. As a part of the game, players who are touching wood are spared from being ousted.

There are variations to this belief. For example, Italians touch steel, Russians and Poles touch unpainted wood, Latin Americans knock on wood with no legs, and Turks prefer knocking on wood twice.

No advance birthday wishes

Russians believe that wishing someone a day before their actual birth date or even celebrating it brings bad luck. You can wish the next day, in case you forget to wish someone on the actual date, but never in advance.

Yellow flowers

Flowers are associated with the expression of different forms of emotions. For example, red roses are often used to express love, white for peace, and yellow for friendship. But, in Russia, giving yellow flowers (of any kind) to someone is inappropriate. They are a harbinger of problems in relationships – they represent separation, infidelity, and death.

Lemon and chillies to ward off evil

It’s a common sight in almost all Indian homes and workplaces – A string of seven chillies with a lemon hung outside the home to stop evil spirits or bad omens from entering your home. The same string is also hung on vehicles and bicycles. As per a Hindu legend, the goddess of misfortune, Alakshmi, enjoys eating sour and spicy food. So, if she ever comes near your home or workplace, she will satisfy her hunger with the chillies and lemon and return without crossing the threshold.


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