Superstition is a fascinating thing. It tends to arise in times of turmoil or uncertainty, and it gives us a way to feel like we're in control of a situation. But it can also be a great window into the way people think. Here are 15 surprising historical good-luck theories from around the world.
1. WEAR YOUR UNDERPANTS INSIDE OUT.
If you want to guarantee yourself a good year, you’ll need to do as Colombian people do and put on a pair of yellow underpants, inside out, on December 31. At midnight, reverse your undies and sail smoothly on into a new year full of luck, love, and prosperity. A similar tradition exists in Spain, with one key difference: lucky underpants are red, not yellow.
2. CALL YOUR BABY RUDE NAMES.
The first few years of life have historically been pretty risky, and babies really were lucky if they survived. This precarious time spawned all kinds of baby-protecting superstitions, many of which seem kind of counter-intuitive. In China, for example, it’s best to shower a beloved baby with verbal abuse, calling it names like “dog fart” and “stinky pig.” This performance tells any hovering malevolent spirits that the baby isn’t wanted, which might make them lose interest.
3. KEEP A RACCOON PENIS BONE IN YOUR POCKET.
Many male mammals have a bone called a baculum in their penis. For reasons we have yet to understand, these penis bones have become popular lucky charms in the southern United States. People keep them in their pockets, wear them around their necks, and even incorporate them into bridal bouquets.
4. MAKE A GROANING CHEESE.
Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
During the super-perilous 16th century, expectant fathers would make a special “groaning cheese,” named for their partners’ labor pains. Once the child was born, a father’s job was to cut the cheese (pretty sure we’ve found the source of dad jokes!) from the center outward and distribute pieces to everyone in the house. The circular rind was saved for the baptism, at which time the baby would be passed through the hoop as additional insurance against bad luck.
5. GRAB YOUR PACKAGE.
It’s common knowledge that bad luck is contagious. But if you’re near someone who’s been jinxed or cursed, what can you do? If you’re an Argentinean or Uruguayan man, you grab your genitals, specifically the left testicle. No testicles? Don’t feel left out: touching your left boob should have the same protective effect.
6. SAVE YOUR BUNS.
Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
The story of Jesus’s resurrection at Easter gave rise (heyooo) to all kinds of death- and decay-defying superstitions. For example: an old British legend said that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday would never go bad, and that keeping those buns around until next Easter would ensure a year of good fortune.
7. STEER CLEAR OF EMPTY BUCKETS.
Back to Russia, where it’s very bad luck to encounter a woman carrying empty buckets, or empty anything, for that matter. To prevent the spread of bad luck, Russian street cleaners are careful to leave at least one mop or broom in their carts at all times.
8. DON’T EAT PEANUTS AT A NASCAR EVENT.
ruurmo via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Here’s a weird one. There were two major racecar accidents in 1937, neither of which involved peanuts. Yet a NASCAR superstition claims that peanut shells were found in both wrecks, and that the mere presence of peanuts in the shell is enough to doom a driver to crash.
9. STAND UNDER A BIRD.
It may ruin your suit or stain your shoes, but being pooped on by a bird is a very good omen according to Russian superstition.
10. EAT 12 GRAPES AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT ON NEW YEAR’S EVE.
Jacinta Lluch via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
To ensure a good year, people in Spain eat 12 grapes at midnight, racing to swallow each one before the next chime of the clock. If they can force down the entire dozen uvas de la suerte (lucky grapes), they can expect fortune in the coming months. If they can’t, they may need a hospital trip. To make this physical challenge easier, Spanish companies have started selling individual cans of 12 grapes with easy-to-swallow thin skins.
11. GET SOMEONE TO SPILL WATER FOR YOU.
Going to a job interview or on a long journey? In Serbia, if your friends really care about you, they’ll spill water as you pass. The water is said to represent fluidity and smooth travels.
12. NEVER BRING BANANAS ABOARD.
Veganbaking.net via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 2.0
American sport fishers believe that having bananas on board can keep fish from biting, or even cause a boat to break down in the middle of the ocean. Captain Rick Etzel told The New York Times that the superstition may not be real, “…but some people take the banana thing very seriously. A few years back, a guy on one of my charters showed up wearing a Banana Republic T-shirt. Another guy in the group went up to him with a knife and slashed the logo."
13. WEAR A WOODEN PENIS AROUND YOUR NECK.
kallerna via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
In Thailand, the palad khik, or “deputy penis,” can bring all kinds of good luck and protection. These amulets, inspired by the sacred phallus of the Hindu god Shiva, are often blessed by monks and may be inscribed with prayers or adorned with lucky animals. It’s said that they can keep away disease, muggers, and water ghosts, and even give gamblers an edge.
14. HIDE A SHOE.
The British, and, later, British emigrants to Australia, would hide children’s clothes, shoes, and other small personal possessions in the walls of houses in order to fend off evil spirits. The idea was that the children’s youth and innocence would protect the house.
15. LOOK FOR SPIDERS WHEN YOU WAKE UP.
Harald Hoyer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Having bug-eating spiders in your house is good news anyway, but in the Netherlands it’s considered especially auspicious to see a spider in the morning. In the afternoon … less so. So plan your spider hunts accordingly.