Admitting to being superstitious is rarely done without hesitation. Confessing to the unjustified belief that something brings good or bad luck, or admittedly conceding to the fear of the unknown, is tough.
After all, isn’t it just as easy to walk around that ladder as it is to walk under it? But superstition, whether purposely believed or out of precaution dates back centuries.
The curse of the cat
Surprisingly, harmless felines are the source of one of the most familiar superstitions. Since the days before Christopher Columbus, black cats have held significance over their beholders’ luck. As to whether it’s good or bad varies from region to region.
Pirates believed if a black cat wandered onto their vessel, then departed before it was out to sea, their ship was doomed to sink. On the other hand, English sailors believed if a black cat was aboard, “Ye olde ship would return safely home.”
Scottish superstition states that a black cat found sitting upon the doorstep of a home signals prosperity for the home’s inhabitants. In Japan, a black cat will bring a single woman in the market for a husband her choice of suitors.
During the Middle Ages, the belief was witches could turn themselves into black cats to prowl the night and cause mischief. Beliefs haven’t changed so much in the hundreds of years since. These days, if a black cat crosses the path of a vehicle, it merits immediate action by the driver. Brandishing an “X” on the windshield of the car will ward off the bad luck that has crossed their path.
Number 13’s bad luck
Although historians haven’t pinpointed an exact event tying the number 13 to its traumatic destiny, triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the ill-fated number) is believed to date back to the 17th century.
Its popularity as a superstitious digit exploded after a work of fiction written in 1907 by Thomas Lawson entitled “Friday, the Thirteenth.” The novel portrays a vengeful broker who chooses that date to destroy the stock market.
According to Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, author of “13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition,” it was believed that if 13 people sat at a table, one would die within a year. That fatalistic notion is thought to be rooted in the biblical story of The Last Supper. Many believe Judas Iscariot was the 13th guest at the meal.
During the 18th century, a New England-based myth-busters group set out to debunk the death sentence tied to the dinner guest by forming “The Thirteen Club.” The members aspired to rid the world of the longtime assumption. Their club’s mission was simple: sit at a table with 13 guests and prove that no one would die after a year. Though the club recruited many influential members, it had a difficult time recruiting guests for the meal.
No one wanted to be the 13th guest.
In 1980, number 13’s fate was sealed with the release of the now-classic slasher “Friday the 13th.” Summer camp would never be the same. Neither would poor 13. Bad luck, you know?
Why is Granny’s porch ceiling blue?
For more than two centuries, the ceilings of porches across the south have donned similar shades of blue. No matter the facade of the house, be it yellow or pink, the porch ceiling must be haint blue.
According to folklore mixed with a little fact, the painting practice was first adopted by African American slaves in South Carolina. The blue color was representative of water. Believing evil spirits wouldn’t cross over it, they would paint varying shades of aqua, cobalt or periwinkle on their porch ceilings and often the front door and window sills.
The painting practice kept “haints,” restless spirits of the dead who have unfinished business, at bay.
While its originally derived from superstition, the lye found in the milk paint frequently used to color the ceilings of porches was also a natural insect repellent. Word of the unintended benefit spread throughout the south.
Danny and Vicky Gaither of Fulton have dueling shades of blue on their front entrances. The Fulton residents knew the significance of the color being an insect deterrent, but weren’t aware of its colorful, supernatural history.
“We had no idea about the ‘haint blue’ paint and its history,” Vicky Gaither said. “It’s a very interesting story and historical aspect.”
There have been no ‘haint’ sightings in the Gaithers’ home.
While once serving as a preventative measure against both insects and wandering spirits, today’s home designers encourage painting porch ceilings blue to invite calm.
Likely needed if a black cat crosses the homeowner’s path.