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13 Strange Superstitions

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Do you avoid ladders, pavement cracks and black cats? Or are you far too rational to believe in old wives' tales? Whatever your stance on superstitions, their origins are fascinating – so in honour of Friday the 13th, here are some of the more bizarre beliefs from around the world.

Stay forever young by carrying an acorn

Forget anti-ageing creams - in Ancient Britain, women carried acorns in their pockets to stay looking young. According to Richard Webster in The Encyclopedia of Superstitions the oak tree was believed to provide longevity and to ward off illness due to its long life.

Don't eat lettuce if you want to have children

In the 19th century, English men avoided salads if they wanted to start a family. In The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions (Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, Oxford University Press, £9.99), a book on 'Plant Lore' suggests that lettuce was detrimental to child-bearing because it was a 'sterile' plant, and "as plants exhibited peculiarities in their actions, so were they supposed to operate on man".

Don't chew gum at night (In Turkey)

Fancy freshening up before a night out? Stick to mouthwash in Turkey. Harry Oliver, author of Black Cats and Four Leaf Clovers, says that the Turkish believe that "if you're chewing gum at night in Turkey, you're actually chewing the flesh of the dead".

Never give gloves as a present...

...well, you can, but you must also receive something in return, or you'll both have bad luck.

Gloves are attached to a whole host of superstitions , dating back to Medieval times and the days of chivalry, when Knights wore a lady's glove in their helmets. It's also bad luck to drop a glove, and then pick it up yourself - derived from the custom of a lady dropping a glove in the hope a prospective lover picks it up.

Off to an important meeting? Look out for a goat.

The goat has been associated with debauchery, lust and the Devil for thousands of years - and is also believed to absorb any evil or harm that may cross your path. That's why it was once considered good luck to encounter a goat when travelling to an important meeting.

If your skirt turns up, you'll receive a new dress

Ever get an annoying fold in your skirt when you've sat on it strangely? According to old folklore, a new outfit might be coming your way.

The Oxford Dictionary of Superstitions cites that in 1914, it was " a common belief that if the lower edge of a woman’s skirt has become turned up so as to form a kind of pocket, some good fortune, such as a present of a new dress, will come to the owner."

An awkward silence means an Angel is passing over

This rather whimsical explanation for a lull in conversation is attributed to Dylan Thomas' Portrait of the Artist - it features the line ‘A host of angels must be passing by … What a silence there is!’.

Eat grapes at midnight for good luck

On New Year's Eve in Spain, not everyone kisses as the clock strikes twelve. The superstitious eat twelve grapes at midnight for 12 months of good luck.

Go to hospital on a Wednesday

According to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions, an old wives tale says the best day to go to hospital is a Wednesday. Monday is the best day to leave and Saturday is the worst - as it means you'll soon be back.

Pass a newborn baby through a rind of cheese

In Medieval England, expectant mothers made a 'Groaning Cheese' - a large wheel of cheese that matured for nine months as the baby grew. When the 'groaning time' or birth came, the cheese would be shared out amongst the family - and when nothing but the outer rind was left, the baby would be passed through the wheel of cheese on Christening day to be blessed with a long and prosperous life.

Tuck your thumbs in if you pass a graveyard

In Japan, if a hearst passes you by, or you walk by a graveyard, you must tuck your thumbs in to protect your parents. This is because the Japanese word for thumb literally translates as "parent-finger" and so by hiding it you are protecting your parents from death.

If a bird poos on your house, you'll be rich

In Russia, if a bird defecates on you, your car or your property it's good luck, and may bring you riches. The more birds involved, the richer you'll be!

Keep a hot cross bun for a year

Much like the tradition of keeping a slice of wedding cake after the ceremony, this slightly grim superstition is supposed to bring luck. Hot cross buns were originally eaten at ancient pagan festivals - but without the cross. Christians added this in later to ward off evil spirits, and once baked on Good Friday morning, one was hung in the house for a year to bring good luck.

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