11 Weird Superstitions Around The World

Last Updated On: July 7, 2018

Superstitions have played a significant role in shaping cultures and societies throughout history. Various irrational beliefs hold a place in the modern society as well. Though, the prevalence is not as much as before. Plenty of research has been done to understand the reason behind humans forming weird superstitions.

This article is a list of 11 weird superstitions around the world. A few of the superstitions on the list are common throughout the world. For these, we look at how and where they originated. However, others on the list are specific to countries and religions, and hence lesser-known.

1. In medieval England, the fathers made a wheel of cheese known as “groaning cheese” to mark their baby’s birth. The infant would be passed through the ring to ensure good fortune for the remainder of his or her life.

Baby passes through "groaning cheese" after birth.
Image source: The Courtyard Dairy

Groaning cheese was a ritual prevalent in the 16th century in Great Britain. As per the tradition, the fathers acquired or made a wheel of cheese with a big hole in it for their infants to pass through. In fact, the fathers needed to be careful not to cut themselves during the process. Else, their newborn would die in a year as per the weird superstition.

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The name “groaning cheese” symbolizes the sounds mothers made during the childbirth. After the baby’s birth, the parents presented chunks of groaning cheese to the family members and other baby visitors. On the day of christening, the newborn was made to pass through the ring of cheese.

The cheese for the ceremony was customarily Cheshire as per the historians. For further blessings, young maidens retained a few cheese slices in their aprons and under the pillows. Moreover, a cake accompanied the cheese sometimes, also known as the “groaning cake.”(1,2)

2. The “Wishing Column” in Hagia Sophia, a famous monument in Istanbul, possesses healing abilities. If one’s thumb emerges wet after putting inside a small hole, one would be free of all the current ailments.

The “Wishing Column” in Hagia Sophia possesses healing abilities as per the weird superstition.
Image credits: Brian Suda/Flickr CC BY 2.0, Photographed by Georges Jansoone JoJan/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

A popular legend surrounding the “Wishing Column”’s healing prowess is that of Emperor Justinian. As he wandered in the monument carrying a severe headache, he stopped to lean against the column, and his headache vanished.

Hagia Sophia is a structure built on Emperor Justinian’s orders, and it saw transformations to a mosque and later to a museum. Queues form behind the Wishing column of the legendary monument, as people believe in its ability to heal ailments. To make a wish, the visitors rotate their thumb clockwise inside the hole at the center of the column. If the thumb gets wet, the column’s powers will heal the man.

As per another mythology, the wetness of the thumb is due to the tears of the Virgin Mary. However, skeptics argue that one is likely to have a wet thumb due to plenty of preceding sweaty hands.(1,2)

3. As per the world of superstition, toasting with water corresponds to wishing bad luck, or even death upon someone. The belief is rooted in the Greek mythology that the dead drank water from a river to seek Afterlife.

Toasting with an empty glass is better than toasting with water, as per the superstition.
Image credits: Didriks/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Toasting is an occurrence on various occasions such as weddings, engagement parties, official dinners, anniversaries, etc. As a part of toasting etiquette, it is of immense importance that the glass does not contain plain water. Surprisingly, toasting with an empty glass is better than toasting with water, as per the superstition.

The roots of the tradition lie in the ancient Greek mythology. According to the mythology, the dead would congregate to drink water from the River Lethe in the Underworld. Doing so was necessary to seek passage to the Afterlife. Once they drank the water, they would not have any recollection of their past lives for eternity.

Furthermore, people believe that toasting with water implies that one is wishing misfortune to oneself. The water is a symbol of one’s future watery grave. Various other theories explain the toasting superstition. The Greek explanation being the most ancient.(1,2)

4. A bizarre way to treat mental illnesses in Somalia includes chaining the patient in a cage overnight with a hyena. The weird superstition stems from the belief in the region that mental disorders indicate demonic possession.

Hyenas are used to treat mental illnesses in Somalia.
Image credits: Pixabay

A majority of the Somali population believes that hyenas can release evil spirits from humans. And that mental illnesses are a result of demonic possession. Hence, they resort to methods that drive the evil spirit out.

One such “treatment” involves the locking of patients in a cage overnight with the hyenas. The hyenas bite the humans through the night which supposedly cures their mental illness. Shockingly, several patients, including children have died in the process. However, the treatment method is still operational.

Note that Somalia has one of the highest rates of mental illnesses in the world. As per a 2011 WHO statistic, one in three Somalis suffers from some form of mental illness. The communal Somali culture tends to increase isolation and vulnerability among the patients.(1,2,3)

5. In a photograph comprising three people, the one in the middle dies first, as per an Asian superstition.

In a photograph comprising three people, the one in the middle dies first, as per an Asian superstition.
Image credits: trevoykellyphotography/ Pixabay

The origin of this superstition is not entirely clear. But it features heavily in Asian cultures, especially Japan. In fact, the older generations in Japan tend to avoid taking photographs in groups of three. It is similar to another, more popular belief that one must not light three cigarettes using the same match. Else, the third man would die. The latter superstition spread among the soldiers during the Crimean War and the World Wars.

Writer David Lamb mentions the photograph myth in an article on superstitions in Vietnam. According to him, the beliefs are a mixture of Buddhism, paganism, Confucian ideology,1local tradition, and ancestor worship.(1,2,3)

6. Walking under a ladder is treated as a sign of bad luck. Several theories explain the origin of this superstition. Such as its association with the Holy Trinity and the Egyptian pyramids.

Weird superstitions: Walking under a ladder is a sign of bad luck.
Image credits: Pixnio

One theory interprets that the triangle formation when a ladder leans against a wall represents the Holy Trinity. Walking under the ladder would break the Holy Trinity, an unforgivable sin (Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) as per the Bible. Furthermore, the act would invite the devil himself.

Another theory involving triangles is that of the ancient Egyptian pyramids. The Egyptians were of the belief that if someone walked under the ladder, they broke the virtue of the sacred pyramids.

Also, an explanation of the weird superstition dates back to the medieval times. The ladder resembles a gallows.2Walking under it confirms your fate – death by hanging.

In the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, author Richard Webster tells that one can revert one’s fate after walking under the ladder. The remedies include making a wish while walking under the ladder, walking backward under the ladder again, crossing fingers until one sees a dog, and many more. Another remedy includes spitting three times between the ladder’s rungs, or spitting on one’s shoes and not looking at them until the spit dries.(1,2,3)

7. As per a Spanish tradition, one must finish eating one grape every second for 12 seconds at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Doing so brings good fortune for the next 12 months.

A setup of 12 grapes tradition before midnight on New Year's Eve.
Image credits: Chris Oakley/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Twelve grapes, or uvas de la suerte, is a tradition prevalent in Spain and parts of Latin America. When the clock strikes midnight, the folk stuff 12 grapes in their mouths, one every second to fend off bad luck in the new year.

Moreover, one must wish for success for the particular month as they gobble the grapes corresponding to the months. Families carry out the flurry post-dinner at home or in the main squares in the country.

The genesis of the tradition is unclear, but it appears to have originated in the early 1900s. Although the superstition surrounding the fate associated with the 12 grapes started in Spain, it spread to the Latin American countries, Hispanic communities in the USA, and the Philippines too.(1,2)

8. Indians avoid eating food during an eclipse. Many believe that the harmful bacteria multiply faster and make the food poisonous. However, there is no scientific truthfulness to the superstition.

In India, people avoid eating during an eclipse due to the superstition that the food turns poisonous.
Image credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The solar and lunar eclipses hold religious significance for the Hindus. The Hindu mythology sees the solar eclipse as an evil force engulfing the sun, hence regarding it as an omen.

Several news stations, prominent yogis, and the elderly claim that the bacterial growth rate increases manifold during a solar eclipse. Their reasoning: lack of sunlight. Hence, people believe consuming food during the eclipse will lead to food poisoning and indigestion. While the claim sounds scientific at first, there is no study proving the claim.

In some customs, people add tulsi or basil to their food because of its antibacterial properties. However, others avoid eating food altogether.(1,2)

9. It is a taboo to stick chopsticks upright in the food as it resembles incense at a funeral. Hence, Asians associate the action with bad luck in the family.

 It is a taboo to stick chopsticks upright in the food as it resembles incense at a funeral.
Image source: JustHungry

A what-not-to-do in the chopstick etiquette is to place them upright in the food. Such a placement of chopsticks is reminiscent of the incense at a funeral. The superstition is prevalent in all the Asian countries where the use of chopsticks is customary. Such as China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, to name a few.

Various travelers in Asian countries, unaware of the superstition, commit the grave mistake with their chopsticks. The elderly consider the action as extremely rude. In fact, there is a name for it in Japan- tsukitate-bashi.

A sound practice is to place the chopsticks parallel on top of the bowl or table. Another notable superstition is that the crossing of chopsticks symbolizes death.(1,2)

10. In Argentina, there is a bizarre superstition that the seventh son in every family turns into a werewolf. In 1907, the President began adopting the seventh sons. The internet falsely spread the news in 2014 that it was to prevent the infant from becoming a werewolf.

In Argentina, there is a bizarre superstition that the seventh son in every family turns into a werewolf.
Image credits: Pixabay

The superstition is popular in Argentina and a few more South American countries. As per the mythology, the seventh son in any family would transform into a werewolf and cause havoc across the village. The creature would unleash itself on the first Friday after the son’s 13th birthday. At the midnight of every full moon, the transformed werewolf would then go on a killing spree before returning to human form.

The horror of the legend terrified the families in Argentina to the extent that some murdered their seventh infant. According to other versions of the myth, the seventh son of the seventh son is the one prone to becoming a werewolf. The creature is called lobizón in Argentina.

The myth is popular in Argentina and some more South American countries. Such as Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. Also, the myth has different names – it is called the “Luison” myth in Paraguay, “El lobison” myth in Argentina, and the “Lobisomem” myth in Brazil.

However, the superstition became a sensation when the Argentinian presidents adopted the seventh sons. Argentinian folk believed that the presidents did so to curb the children from turning into werewolves. As per The Guardian, the two events have no link, as the adoption began in 1907 and it has been a custom adopted from czarist Russia. In fact, the presidents adopt the seventh daughters as well.(1,2,3,4)

11. The indigenous Australians suspect that an evil spirit hides in the swampy regions. Few people have claimed to witness the mythical monster, called Bunyip, but the descriptions do not tally.

Weird superstitions: A 1935 painting of the mythical creature Bunyip.
Image credits: National Library of Australia

The Bunyip is a mythical creature that a portion of the native Australians considers being real. Notable writer Robert Holden wrote a book on the subject in 2001 titled, Bunyips: Australia’s Folklore of Fear. In this work, he mentions as many as nine variations on the origin of the Bunyip. Also, he claims that the legend of the creature has been around for centuries. However, the roots of the Bunyip are unclear.

As per the superstition, the spirit is found dormant in swamps, rivers, and some oxbow lakes3during the day. It hunts for prey (humans and animals) on land at night. In fact, a few people claim to have heard the monster’s scream at nights.

Although the description of the Bunyip varies widely, a few common points mentioned in the 19th-century newspaper accounts are a combination of animal features such as the head of a dog, the face of a crocodile, the tail of a horse, etc. Today, most of the Australians are aware that the creature is a myth. But a small section of the Aboriginal people still swears of its existence.(1,2)


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