Black cats are considered to be bad luck and are often associated with death. Albatross are believed to carry the souls of dead sailors and are generally a good sign, unless killed, while monitor lizards are believed to be reincarnations of dead humans! Unfortunately, superstitions that involve animals can sometimes threaten their habitats and lives.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely shudder when Friday the 13th rolls around. There’s just something unexplainably creepy about those particular days! Thankfully, 2020 has only two Fridays that fall on the 13th. Also, for the record, I don’t trim my nails at night and I throw salt over my shoulder to ward off evil eyes. On a lighter note, I get ecstatic when my left palm itches, touch wood to preserve my luck, and cross my fingers every time I want something to go my way.
These are just some of the superstitions I consciously (and at times, subconsciously) believe in and practice.
Some of you may relate to such unusual or inexplicable beliefs, but if you don’t, then this article may help you understand a bit more about superstitions and the people who have them!
What are superstitions?
Superstitions are beliefs or practices that are considered irrational or supernatural. Most superstitions revolve around bringing good luck to one’s life, or steering clear from evil (people, events). It’s generally believed that superstitions influence upcoming events in people’s lives by changing the current context. Superstitions may also arise because people misunderstand science or are simply ignorant of it. Thus, you may sometimes find that people believe in some truly wild things!
Across the world, people believe in many different superstitions. For example, some people don’t walk under ladders, some are careful not to break mirrors, and most of us say “God bless you” every time someone within earshot sneezes. But did you know that there are also many superstitions that involve animals?
If this is surprising to you, here are a few examples of superstitions that involve animals.
The most common superstition involving animals relates to black cats. This superstition dates back to medieval times, when animals with dark fur were symbolic of death. According to ancient folklore, if a black cat lays on the bed of a sick person, he/she would surely die. Most people today, however, believe that a black cat crossing their path brings bad luck and thus steer clear whenever they see one.
The albatross is a bird that makes sailors both happy and jittery. Sailors consider albatross flying alongside ships to be good luck, as it is believed these birds hold within them the souls of drowned sailors. Killing an albatross was thus considered as bad as killing a sailor! In cases where an albatross was killed, the perpetrator would have to walk around wearing the carcass around his/her neck, symbolizing the burden that they must now carry.
A rabbit’s foot is considered a good luck, which is why you find so many people carrying them, either as a lucky charm or key chain. However, not just any foot from any leg will do; it needs to specifically be the left hind leg. Moreover, the foot can only be cut off on a specific day for it to be imbued with luck!
This belief goes as far back as 600 B.C., when the Celts associated rabbits (and not just their feet) with good fortune. They believed that rabbits could directly communicate with the underworld gods and holy spirits, since they lived underground in burrows. Similarly, in Europe, the act of carrying a rabbit’s foot has roots in ancient totemic beliefs, wherein humans were thought to have descended from animals.
In some cultures, saying “rabbit rabbit” is considered good luck, as rabbits are known for their fertility.
Who would have thought that people even have superstitions about butterflies! As it turns out, some people believe that a white butterfly in your home brings a string of good luck, while others believe that a brown butterfly in your house means that you will receive an important message/letter. Others believe that butterflies predict the weather and that a yellow butterfly means it will be a bright sunny day. However, there are many others who also believe that these fluttering creatures are the omen of death. Hard to imagine, right?
Many people in Thailand believe in the reincarnation of humans in the form of animals. An article published in 2016 reported a case study wherein a monitor lizard was found sleeping under the photograph of a child who had died in an accident. When the mother saw the monitor lizard, she instantly believed that it was her son’s spirit residing in the animal. Interestingly, many people associated this reincarnation with the lotteries and queued up just to touch the lizard’s skin for good luck.
In India, however, monitor lizards are considered as bad luck and many people, especially pregnant women, do not tolerate their presence.
There are also many superstitions involving man’s best friend! For instance, in Europe, if a dog crosses between two people, it is taken as a sign that the two will quarrel. For those who are engaged, it is a sign that their wedding will be cancelled, while those who are married will surely be divorced.
Some people believe that dogs can see ghosts. For instance, the Greeks believed that dogs could detect the presence of Hecate, the goddess of terror and darkness, and would sound an alarm to warn humans of her presence. In other countries, the hair of the dog that has bitten a person is considered to be the cure for the bite.
Unfortunately, superstitions involving animals can have severe repercussions on their populations. For instance, animals considered evil may be more likely killed than those considered to be good luck. Similarly, animals like black cats are often not adopted or taken care of, due to the powerful superstitions surrounding them!
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
- New World Encyclopedia
- International Journal of Humanities and Social Science
- Journal: Folklore