Common Superstitions Explained

Psychologist and Author Stuart Vyse uses a colorfully animated TED-ED lesson to explain the origins of superstitions as well as the long formed beliefs even with logic debunking the theory.

In the video, Vyse explains that many superstitions are based in religion, though some are based on Pagan Religions which were replaced with Christianity. The superstitions, however, remained.

The number 13: This superstition dates back to Jesus and the last supper. Jesus’ last meal was taken with his 12 disciples, making him number 13 at the table. This meal happened just before his arrest and crucifixion. This led to the belief that having 13 people at a table was unlucky.

Over the years, that ideal changed and now the number 13 itself is viewed as bad luck. This is so common that they have given it a name: triskaidekaphobia. Because of this fear, buildings around the world skip the 13th floor, going from the 12th to the 14th.

Many countries also have number based superstitions because some numbers sound like ominous words or phrases.

Some superstitions make sense… or they did until we forgot their original purpose. Theater scenery used to consist of large painted backdrops. Raised and lowered by stage hands who would whistle to signal each other.  Whistles from other people could cause an accident. So- it is still taboo to whistle backstage, even long after the stagehands started using radio headsets.

So, why do people cling to these bits of forgotten religion, coincidences and outdated advice? Aren’t they being totally irrational? Yes, but for many people, superstitions are based more on cultural habit than conscious belief. After all, no one is born knowing to avoid walking under ladders, or not to whistle indoors, but if you grow up being told by your family to avoid these things… chances are they will make you uncomfortable, even after you logically understand that nothing bad will happen.

Since doing something like knocking on wood doesn’t require much effort following the superstition may be easier than consciously resisting it.