A superstition is anything that people believe that is based on myth, magic, or irrational thoughts. They are beliefs that are steeped in lore or tradition, and it is usually difficult to pinpoint the exact origin. Superstitions are also known as old wives' tales, legends, and traditions. They may involve animals, graveyards, ghosts, inanimate objects, or even other people.
Most superstitions start in fact, and then become distorted over years and years of use. Others formed from religious beliefs. For example, a popular superstition, that it is bad luck to walk under a ladder, came from Christian religion. The ladder makes a triangle with the wall and ground, representing the Holy Trinity. Walking through the triangle, under the ladder, meant that you were in league with the devil, and might lead the other villagers to condemn you as a witch.
There are different superstitions from all over the world. In Japan, for example, it is considered bad luck to stick chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice, or to pass them person to person. To avoid a baby being born with a facial birthmark, pregnant women in India don't go outside during an eclipse. In Taiwan, there is a superstition that says being a bridesmaid more than twice is considered bad luck.
Many cultures around the world have superstitions about numbers. Western tradition is that the number thirteen is unlucky, but seven is lucky. In Japan, it is numbers four and nine that are considered unlucky. The number four in both Chinese and Japanese is shi, which is very close to the Japanese word for death, and the number nine is similar to the word for suffering.
There are also many superstitions about luck. It is bad luck in theater culture to wish someone good luck before a show. The correct thing to say is "break a leg." It is bad luck in Western cultures to spill salt, break a mirror, or see three butterflies together. Four leaf clovers and horseshoes, after they have fallen off of a horse, as considered lucky, as is carrying around an acorn.
Superstition is an integral part of almost every culture around the world. Even people who do not believe in superstition may still pause before walking under a ladder, or may think of a wish when they see a falling star. People have good luck charms, such as a rabbit's foot or a lucky piece of jewelry. Some men believe that wearing a particular hat or pair of socks will make their favorite sports team win a game. Superstitions, whether believed by a whole culture or just one person, still have some sway over people's lives, with or without having any actual power.