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Very Superstitious! The Origins of Several Superstitious Beliefs

Do you know why it’s tradition to get spanked on your birthday? Or why gamblers blow on the dice? Or why people knock on wood for good luck? These and other superstitions are discussed in this article.

The tradition of getting spanked on one’s birthday goes back to both ancient Roman and Germanic tribes who believed that flogging instilled fertility and longevity. Switching young girls and whipping women was a custom lasting centuries, and was eventually applied to everyone. At one point in history, people believed this superstition so much that they would line up with their bottoms exposed on their birthday waiting to be spanked; some even lied about their birth date just to ensure offspring.

Gamblers blowing on their dice before throwing them goes back to ancient sorcerers who believed that the future could be chosen by envisioning and “conjuring” what your future would bring. All you had to do was ward away evil spirits who would likely interfere with your plans. Since breath was considered the ultimate gift from the gods–the kiss of life, to return it was to honor the gods and gain their favor, for which they would grant protection and fortune.

Knocking on wood

goes back to ancient times when certain trees were considered sacred because they were inhabited by “spirits of the wood,” who had great powers used for good and evil–depending on how you behaved. Knocking on trees was a sign of respect that would gain their favor and assistance; in the absence of a tree, any wood surface would do.

Saying “god bless you” after someone sneezed was practiced because while sneezing, your soul could accidentally be ejected. Without being blessed, a near-by evil spirit might take advantage of the mishap, push your soul aside, and enter into you through your gaping mouth.

The four-leaf clover was chosen as lucky

rather than the three-leaf in acknowledgment of Pagan cultures who honored the threefold aspects of the Goddess: Maid, Mother, and Crone. So as to not upset local religious sensibilities or appear to be in league with Pagans, St. Patrick chose the four-leaf clover himself (which included the three-leaf of father, son and holy ghost).

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First sweeping dirt into a house (before sweeping out) was a long-standing custom for using a new broom because of the association between brooms and witches. The belief was that if you first used a new broom to sweep out, you would sweep your luck out the door along with the dirt!

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