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Is This Your Unlucky Day?

Find out how Friday the 13th got its reputation — and the stories behind other popular superstitions

Friday the 13th calendar page

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You know this is going to be a bad day.

Today is an unlucky day

This may be one of the most widespread superstitions in the United States today. While there's no definitive agreement on its origins, the notion that Friday equals gloom and doom may stem from the belief that Jesus Christ was crucified on this day. In numerology, 12 represents completeness (think lunar calendar, the hours on a clock) so the following numeral has bad associations. Put those two beliefs together and you've got a very ominous day. Of course, the franchise of horror movies by the same name may have amplified the associations with misfortune.

black cat

Photo by Annette Fournet/Corbis

Nice kitty? Not!

A black cat is a bad omen

In the Middle Ages, people believed that a black cat was a witch — or at least a witch's messenger. Hence, many thought any encounter with the creature was a bad sign. Some people say the bad luck comes only if the black cat walks toward you; it's a good omen if he walks away. Regardless of the legend's veracity, animal shelters report that black cats are less likely to be adopted than orange ones.

Salt shaker

Photo by Guy Cali/Stock Connection/Aurora

Cast your lot with salt.

Throw salt over your shoulder for good luck

Well, it may not necessarily bring good luck, but it certainly will ward off the bad. That's because of the pagan belief that a devil lurked in back of you to the left. You could diminish his diabolic powers by throwing salt in his eyes. Another superstition holds that merely spilling salt is a bad omen — possibly stemming from the fact that this was once a rare commodity, too precious to be wasted.

broken mirror

Photo by Sagel & Kranefeld/Corbis

Seven years of expectations — shattered.

Break a mirror and have 7 years of bad luck

According to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, people used to believe that the soul of whoever looked in the mirror dwelled inside of it. So, of course, if you cracked a mirror something bad would soon happen to you. Over time, the damage a broken mirror could do was set at seven years. Why seven? Because in numerology, that's the most spiritual of all numbers. 

Superstition is: pull one gray hair, three grow back

Photo by Dirk Westphal/Corbis

The old gray hair ain't what it used to be.

Pull out 1 gray hair and 10 will grow back

No one's sure where this old wives' tale originated, but it's been passed down from generation to generation and shows no sign of letting up. That's despite the fact that pretty much everyone agrees it isn't true. If you pull out a strand, the same follicle will grow a single new one. What does account for the fact that your hair is turning white? Blame it on genetics — and the fact that, as we age, hair follicles stop producing the cells that color our locks.

A red bird sits on a branch in front of a wallpapered wall.

Photo by Zachary Scott/Getty Images

Watch the birdie, but keep the windows closed.

A bird in your house portends death

Like most superstitions, this one stems from the days when the ways of the world were a great mystery. A bird's ability to fly led people to assume this outdoor creature was connected to the heavens. So any strange behavior on its part — such as flying into a house — was believed to be a sign of impending doom. 

girl jumping inside on bed with umbrella

Nika Fadul/Getty Images

Gray skies ahead?

Open an umbrella and misfortune will "rain"

Several theories explain this popular superstition: Since an umbrella offered protection from the highly revered sun, ancients considered it an insult to the sun god to open one indoors. Another explanation, based on belief that even inanimate objects have spirits, holds that improperly using an umbrella would offend its spirit and thus bring ill fortune. The good news is that this old wives' tale, like all of the others, is probably untrue. But just in case, next time you open an umbrella indoors, keep your fingers crossed!

You may also like: Check out your horoscope.

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