19 Most Bizarre Superstitions From Different Countries

We’ve all found ourselves saluting magpies, dodging triple drains, or crossing the street to avoid walking under a ladder, but these common superstitions are just some of the beliefs that impact people’s behavior around the world. These 19 strange superstitions stem from various ancient beliefs and cultural traditions. 

Hanging Chilis and Lemon Upside Down

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It’s common practice in India to hang a string of chili peppers and a lemon outside homes, businesses, and vehicles. According to India TV, “It is believed that hanging lemon and chilis at home protects the person from evil eyes.” Chili peppers are used due to their sharp smells, which offer protective properties, while lemons have a purifying quality.

Tucking Your Thumbs

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This is a Japanese superstition that says you should tuck your thumbs away while passing by a graveyard in order to protect your parents. This is because the thumb is referred to as the ‘parent finger,’ and by tucking it, you are shielding them from death or harm from spirits.

Knocking on Wood

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According to How Stuff Works, the superstition may go back to pagan rituals, as pagan culture believed that trees were home to fairies, spirits, and other mystical creatures. Therefore, “interacting with them provided direct contact with the spirits within.” Now, knocking on wood is done to prevent boasting from attracting ill fortune.

Whistling Indoors

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In Russian and some other Eastern European cultures, whistling indoors is believed to bring bad luck and financial loss because it’s thought that it may jeopardize your wealth. It stems from the idea that whistling inside can attract evil spirits or stir up the wind, causing turmoil within the home.

Avoiding the Number Four

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In countries like China, Japan, and Korea, the number four is avoided due to its phonetic similarity to the word for “death.” This impacts daily life, with buildings often lacking 4th floors and people avoiding items grouped in fours, especially during important events.

Spitting Three Times

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Spitting three times (or pretending to) is done in some Eastern European and Middle Eastern cultures in order to ward off the evil eye or protect against bad luck. It’s believed to counteract negative energy or envy toward another person.

Not Sleeping with Your Head to the North

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Sleeping with your head to the north is associated with death in Japanese culture, as corpses are traditionally laid in that direction. This stems from Buddhism and the way funeral services in Japan are conducted, and many people in the country avoid this sleeping direction to prevent bad luck or an untimely death.

Butterfly Entering the Home

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Some cultures see a butterfly entering the home as a sign of good luck that might signal an imminent guest or a positive change in the household’s fortune. Other traditions, however, suggest that a dark-colored butterfly entering the house is considered an omen of impending death or misfortune.

Not Whistling at Sea

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Sailors believe that whistling or singing at sea changes the wind and angers the sea gods, stirring up storms. Today, while the superstition is less observed, it remains a part of seafaring tradition and is respected by many seasoned sailors.

Carrying an Acorn for Longevity

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Stemming from Norse folklore’s belief that the oak tree symbolizes strength and endurance, carrying an acorn is thought to ensure a long life. This tradition has evolved into a modern superstition, with people carrying acorns as charms to promote longevity and ward off illnesses.

Eating 12 Grapes at Midnight

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As a Spanish tradition, eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, one for each bell toll, will secure you 12 months of prosperity and good luck. According to NPR, “This popular tradition is a century or so old, though its exact origins remain debatable.”

Toasting with Water

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In some Western cultures, toasting with water is considered bad luck and is therefore avoided in formal settings and celebrations to prevent misfortune or disrespecting the sentiment of the toast. It is believed this stems from naval tradition, where toasting with water was seen as an ill omen for sailors, predicting their death at sea.

Cutting Nails at Night

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Japanese and some other Asian cultures believe cutting your nails at night to be an invitation to evil spirits, which will lead to premature death. The origins of this superstition could well be practical, as cutting nails in the dim light of olden days could lead to injury, and medical facilities were not as accessible at night.

Don’t Place Two Mirrors Opposite Each Other

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Placing two mirrors opposite each other is considered bad luck in some cultures, as it’s believed to create a portal for supernatural spirits to enter your home. This stems from the idea that the infinite reflection can trap or confuse spirits, leading to paranormal activity or misfortune.

No Umbrellas Indoors

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Opening an umbrella indoors is considered bad luck in many Western cultures, and this possibly stems from the idea that seeking shelter insults the sun god. According to Reader’s Digest, the Ancient Egyptians were responsible for an early version of this superstition.

Giving a Knife as a Gift

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In many cultures, giving a knife as a gift is believed to sever the relationship between the giver and the receiver. If someone does gift a knife, the receiver often gives a small token in return, like a coin, to symbolize that the knife was “purchased” and not a gift, thereby preserving the relationship.

Avoiding the Number 13

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Western cultures often fear the number 13, and sometimes there is no 13th floor in buildings or the 13th row in airplanes. According to the University of South Carolina, “12 often represents ‘completeness’: the number of months in the year, gods on Olympus, signs of the zodiac, and apostles of Jesus. Thirteen contrasts with this sense of goodness and perfection.”

Not Passing Salt Hand to Hand

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Passing salt straight into someone else’s hand is believed to be an omen of bad luck or future arguments in some cultures. This stems from the fact that salt was historically a valuable commodity and a symbol of friendship and trust. To avoid bad luck, salt should be placed on the table before the other person picks it up.

No Singing at the Dinner Table

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In some European cultures, singing at the dinner table is considered to invite the devil or bad luck. This could stem from the idea that mealtime is a period of gratitude and reflection, where singing is seen as a distraction or a form of disrespect.

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