Ptolemy, the astronomer with the unusual name, theorized that shooting stars represented the gods peering down on us from the heavens. When you saw one, you should make a wish because you had their attention in that moment.
The act of blessing someone after sneezing came about because ancient cultures believed a person could sneeze out their soul. In fact, yawning and sneezing were considered high risk in ancient Rome. So, we say “bless you,” as a sort of divine safe guard against flighty souls.
Some believe the superstition associate with walking under a ladder can be traced back to the shape it forms when leaned against a structure. When a ladder is leaned, or in an A-frame, it forms a triangular shape which many associate with the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Walking under the ladder can be seen as breaking the trinity—a blasphemous offense.
Look no further than the most famous divine meals ever as the inspiration for this one. First, you have Judas, yeah the guy who betrayed Jesus, showing up late as the 13th guest and then, you know, betraying Jesus. Then you have Loki, the Norse trickster god, who showed up as the 13th guest at a divine dinner party and tricking a fellow guest into shooting the god of joy with an arrow.
Judas wasn’t done. We also possibly have him to blame for the superstition about spilling salt. In da Vinci’s famous Last Supper painting, Judas can be seen seated in front of a tipped over salt shaker. After Judas’ betrayal, spilled salt became associated with his misdeeds. Fortunately, all you have to do is throw some over your left shoulder to blind the devil and counteract that bad luck.
It was the ancient Egyptians who believed umbrellas were royal adornments and the shade they provided was sacred. The shade of an umbrella was reserved solely for the nobility and sacrilegious for anyone else to be under. When an umbrella is opened indoors, it goes against their natural purpose and therefor can be considered insulting to their God of the Sun. As you can imagine, insulting a god was/is frowned upon.
This superstition actually stems from Pagan cultures, as opposed to because of it. Pagan cultures believed that spirits and gods lived in trees. Knocking on tree trunks was a way to rouse the gods, calling them for luck or protection.
Ancient societies believed some metals—copper in this case—to be gifts from the gods. For this reason, pennies, the only US coin not containing nickel, are believed to be lucky. When you combine this belief with the eternal battle of good vs. evil, you get the association of a heads-up penny being good luck, and vice versa.
This one also has biblical roots. Eve was said to have taken a four-leaf clover with her when she left the Garden of Eden in order to remember the paradise. As the odds of finding one are supposedly one in 10,000, they’ve now become synonymous with luck and prosperity.
People of the middle ages thought black cats were representatives of the devil. In fact, in the fourteenth century, people believed black cats were the cause of the Black Death pandemic and sought their extermination. In the 16th Century, the black cat phenomenon became associated with witchcraft, with people believing them to be witch’s “familiars.”
In ancient Rome, it was believed that mirrors actually contained fragments of a person’s soul. That meant breaking a mirror was threatening to their health and well-being. They also thought souls regenerated every 7-years. Hence, seven years of bad luck for breaking a mirror.