As we venture into spooky season, it’s time to remember all the superstitions that have hung around. Not the ones that get a lot of play–but the ones that only a few specific places make sure to hold on to.
Here’s a superstition that is not only restricted to one nation, but is tied to that nation’s continued existence. The legend says that if ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the kingdom will fall. One version of the legend says that the astronomer John Flamstead complained about the ravens’ droppings ruining the view out of his telescope, and asked King Charles II to get rid of them. Reminded how unlucky that would be, the king instead ordered at least six to be in residence at all times. Today, there are seven—one reserve.
Myths about elves are not restricted to Iceland, but their particular supernatural beings—the huldufólk, or hidden people—really hate construction. There’s even business to be had in making sure that new construction sites are free of elf rocks. And a 1990 law protects sites that have at least 100 years of supernatural history. Which, it turns out, is hard to prove.
If there is one thing Americans have always been good at, it’s being afraid of witches. Witch windows are primarily restricted to Vermont, where they mostly seem to be an obvious answer to the question “how do I fit a window in this slanted space?” But the other answer is much more interesting: apparently witches can’t fly through a tilted window. Broomsticks and acute angles don’t mix.
Points for being complicated, France! It is good luck to step in dog feces with your right foot, but bad luck to step in it with your left. So keep that in mind the next time you purposefully step in crap.
This one just seems like a way to pass your trash onto your friends and neighbors. But here goes: the Danes keep their chipped and cracked dishes throughout the year and then leave a pile of smashed porcelain on the stoops of their friends. The more friends you have, the more dishes you have to clean up on New Year’s Day. Lucky you?
Lighting a cigarette with a candle is not just gauche, it will kill a sailor. I bet you didn’t know that. Another superstition that has a sort of justification—a popular side income for old time sailors was apparently match making. Literally the making of matches, by the way, not sending two people on a date. So if you didn’t use a match to light your cigarette, you were depriving a sailor of money, making it hard for him to buy food, and he will die. Impressively logical and fatalistic, for a superstition.
Look, if you see a woman with an empty bucket coming at you, run the other way. It’s bringing you bad luck.
Turkish superstition claims that gum turns into the flesh of the dead at night. Which, honestly, seems completely plausible and also a great way to keep your children from annoyingly chewing gum while you’re trying to sleep.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, good luck is guaranteed if you can eat twelve grapes in the first twelve seconds of the new year. No word on how you’re supposed to get the luck to make it possible to eat grapes that fast, but red underwear is an extra bit of New Year luck to invoke.
Let’s say you are famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. And, after you died, your name is passed down from generation to generation. Not for anything you found while staring into space, but because the one thing everyone in Scandinavia knows about you is that you were superstitious. And so every shitty day is a “Tycho Brahe day,” and a list of “Tycho Brahe days” is circulated as unlucky days, particularly for magic. Congratulations on your infamy, I guess.
Image credits: Ravens guarding the guards? by Lee Dyer/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0; Coffin Window by Piledhigheranddeeper/wikimedia/CC BY SA 3.0; modified Busted by Justin Henry/flickr/CC BY 2.0; Emptiness by Erich Ferdinand/flickr/CC BY 2.0; fp071308-12 by Dennis Hill/flickr/CC BY 2.0
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