A close up of a bright green four leaf clover

8 Well-Known Superstitions and their Meanings

As a trick in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice film, you have to say Beetlejuice’s name three times to make him appear. The Beetlejuice musical, playing at the Buell Theatre September 5 through 17, gives this classic film a Broadway makeover with crazy musical numbers, strong language, mature references and other behaviors from the well-known, inappropriately deranged demon.

Speaking of superstitions, here are eight common superstitious notions and the meaning behind them.

1. Opening Umbrellas InsideA person holds out an opened red umbrella indoors

Opening umbrellas indoors isn’t the smartest option, especially if you live in small quarters with valuable trinkets, knick-knacks and other fragile items. You could knock over and break things or cause physical harm to yourself or someone else in close proximity.

In ancient Egypt, umbrellas were needed to protect noble and high-class people from the sun. Opening umbrellas indoors or in the shade was considered offensive to the Sun God.

2. Black Cats

In Medieval times, people associated black cats with the devil and the Black Plague. These felines were also associated with the witch and witchcraft culture and were often murdered for these associations.

A woman in a purple dress walks under a ladder leaning against a building

It wasn’t unheard of for people to see black cats in their everyday lives and think the worse.

3. Walking Under Ladders

This superstition often associates with Christianity because of the Trinity ­– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – and because a open ladder leaning against a wall looks like a triangle. When someone walks under the ladder, it looks like they’re “breaking” the triangle.

Not to mention, walking under ladders may cause harm to you and the person standing on the ladder because it can tip and fall or items may land on your head.

4. Breaking Mirrors

In Greek culture, people believed mirrors could hold your soul after looking into them. If you break a mirror, you’re breaking part of your soul, and you have seven years bad luck. Plus, breaking mirrors can cause glass shards to cut or penetrate the skin or body. Not a fun time.

This belief is similar to Native Americans thinking cameras could capture your soul.

5. Tossing Spilled Salt Over ShoulderA person throws a large amount of salt over their shoulder

Taking a pinch of spilled salt and tossing it over the left shoulder is intended to keep the devil at bay because he sits on the left while an angel sits on the right. Some people associate this superstition with Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting.

If you look closely, you see Judas’s spilled salt by his arm on the table. Judas is the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ.

6. Knocking On Wood

This practice has a few associations. One is the Celt-pagan culture who believed spirits and gods lived in trees. Knocking on tree trunks intends to rouse the deities to give protection or a stroke of good luck if done in gratitude.

The other connection is Christians regarding this practice as knocking on the wood of the cross, a symbol of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

7. Finding A Four-Leaf Clover

This rare plant is harder to find than three-leafed clovers, but its significance has Christian and Celtic roots.

A close up of a bright green four leaf clover

People believe Eve plucked a four-leaf clover as she and Adam fled the Garden of Eden after their fall from grace.

Celt culture says four-leaf clovers offer magical powers that shield you from evil and bad luck. They also believed you can use these plants to see fairies who play deadly pranks or kidnap children, and take action.

8. The Curse of the Scottish Play

Macbeth is believed to be cursed and saying the play’s name in a theatre causes bad luck.

Rumors say that the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots caused her son King James VI to be consumed with magic. When he and his wife nearly drown in a violent storm, he blamed witchcraft. Later, as King of England, artists wove James’ beliefs into their art, including Shakespeare. It is said that a coven of witches objected to Macbeth and cursed the play, which may be true as deaths, riots and mysterious accidents have plagued the show.

The solution? Don’t say “Macbeth” inside a theatre. If you do, exit the space, spin around three times, spit, curse and then knock to be readmitted. 

September 5-17 • Buell Theatre