1. Ring your doorbell a few times
In Elizabethan times the superstition grew that ringing bells would ward off evil spirits. That’s one reason why you hear them at weddings.
2. Don’t let that black cat cross your path
People in the Middle Ages would always sidestep a dark moggy, believing that one of the forms taken by witches was that of a black cat.
3. Be very careful of that mirror!
Many cultures, including Greek, Chinese, African and Indian, believed that a mirror could somehow usurp part of the user’s soul. So if the mirror was broken, the person’s soul would be trapped inside.
4. Walk around that ladder
Apart from avoiding the obvious danger of someone up the ladder dropping something onto your head, the superstition stems from the fact that a ladder forms a triangle with wall and ground and the triangle was traditionally considered a symbol of life, so walking through one was tempting fate.
5. Be sure to throw salt over your shoulder
Cooks of olden days believed they had an on-hand way of dealing with the common belief that no matter who you were, the devil was always standing just behind you ready to make mischief. Throwing salt in his eye would distract him from causing trouble. Whether such a waste was good luck when it came to checking the kitchen accounts is another matter.
6. If it rains, don’t open your umbrella inside
Believed to actually stem from cultures in which umbrellas were used as protection from the sun; opening one inside was an insult to the sun god.
7. Be sure to say "bless you" after a sneeze
"Blessing" someone after they sneezed originated from the erroneous beliefs that the soul escapes the body during a sneeze and the heart momentarily stops as well.
8. Carry a rabbit’s foot
The superstition can be traced as far back as the seventh century BC, when the rabbit was considered a talisman, and carrying the left hind foot was a handy way to benefit from the rabbit’s luck (the rabbit, having lost its foot and probably its life, being not so lucky).
9. Knock on or touch some wood
The expression probably comes from the ancient belief that good spirits lived in trees. By knocking on something wooden, a person was calling on the spirits for protection.
10. Cross your fingers
This traditional way of seeking good luck is thought to trace from a sign used by early Christians in places where their belief was illegal. Crossing fingers was a secret way for Christians to recognize each other.
11. Hang up a horseshoe
Witches were said to ride on broomsticks because they were afraid of horses, so a horseshoe was considered a good charm with which to scare them off - provided of course that it was hung open side up, so as not to let the luck run out.
12. Search in the grass until you find a four-leaf clover
The botanical equivalent of hens’ teeth and particularly sought in Ireland, where people thought the fourth leaf represented St Patrick joining forces with the three of the Holy Trinity. Some legends say that when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, Eve took with her not only her fig leaf but a four-leaf clover as a memento of those happy days in Paradise before the snake turned up next to the apple tree.
13. Avoid the number 13
Okay, it’s unavoidably today’s date, but tradition says steer clear of it in as many ways as you can. It’s thought to stem from the fact that there were 13 guests at the Last Supper.