Bad luck, misfortune, unfortunate occurrences, unfavourable outcomes, whatever you call it, almost everyone has cursed it at some point. As if Fate or some random deity has suddenly tripped you and laughed, we point our frustrations outwards, to an intangible source.

Bad luck is when something is left up to chance and turns out unfortunately. What makes it worse luck is a mix of the outcome and the unlikeliness of it happening. For instance, buying a lottery ticket and not winning isn't really bad luck, since you were unlikely to win in the first place. But if you end up in that sitcom situation, where you've been buying the same numbers for the lottery for 20+ years and the one time you don't, those numbers win, that's really bad luck.

Or, to take a real-life example: if you get in a car crash through no fault of your own, that's bad luck. And if you suffer a head injury, and the machine needed to treat your injury is broken, that's pretty bad luck. But if the reason the machine is broken is that the parts it needed were being delivered, by you, before you got in an accident, that's really horrible bad luck. The worst luck seems to carry some sort of irony.

Well, if you’re leaving things up to chance and don’t want to take any unnecessary risks, just reference this handy-dandy list and you should be able to sway the universe to your favour. (That’s the point, isn’t it?)

The Evil Eye

The Cause: Perhaps the most well known form of bad luck, the evil eye is usually credited to envious glances. Some people even consider the evil eye a sort of punishment for “excessive beauty” or pride. The evil eye can be cast on people, but it is usually thought to be accidental. Because the evil eye is caused by pride or jealousy, some cultures are careful not to praise children too much, lest it attract the “hairy eyeball”. Some parents will even speak badly of their children to counteract it.

The Cure: Besides insulting everyone you love and admire, there are other measures to avoid this aura-sapping gaze:

  1. The “Horned Hand” or “Fig Hand”. The Mano Cornufo or “Horned Hand” involves extending the first and index fingers from a fist. The Mano Fico or “Fig hand” involves placing the thumb in between first and second fingers.
  2. Developed in Italy, you can test whether you have the evil eye by dripping oil into water. If the oil shapes an eye, you’re cursed. Not to worry, though, just pray and chant until the oil no longer looks like an eye.
  3. The Eastern European method involves dropping burnt match heads, coal, or charcoal into water. If they float, too bad, you’re cursed.
  4. Ukraine detection method: drip wax from a candle into water. If it forms a ball at the bottom of the vessel, you’re not cursed. But if it “spits, splatters, or sticks to the side of the bowl”, you are. Cleanse with Holy Water and repeat until wax reveals you aren’t cursed.
  5. Another not-so-pleasant cure is to have the evil-eye-caster spit into water, and have the victim drink it. Kind of adding insult to injury, isn’t it?
  6. In Mexico, a raw egg holds the answer. By rolling an egg over the victim, or having them sleep with a raw egg under their pillow (not sure how well that would actually work), a healer can see whether they are truly cursed or not. If they can “divine” an eye in the yolk, the victim is cursed. More raw eggs are rolled until this is no longer the case and they are cured.
  7. Chinese cure: Now this might be my favourite one. By hanging a six-sided mirror on your door, you can deflect the evil eye onto your neighbours. But, of course, they might have thought of the same thing and got their own mirror. That means you will have to resort to elaborate mirror-angling evil-eye wars! Buah ha ha!
  8. In India, the same mirror-logic is used, except that small mirrors are embedded in clothing.
  9. Another Indian cure is to wear heavy, black eye makeup, not only to avoid getting the evil eye, but also to avoid inadvertently giving it. (Good excuse if your parents don’t want you to wear eyeliner, too. Not that they’d fall for it, but it’s worth a try.)
  10. Don’t believe in the evil eye. If you don’t believe that the evil eye can hurt you, it probably won’t. But if you feel like it is disturbing you, press your thumb against your forehead and envision your third eye quickly flipping. Then flick away the energy with your thumb and snap your fingers. Voila, cured.
  11. A bride's wedding veil is supposed to protect against it, too.

Friday

The Cause: Friday may be your favourite day of the week, but many find it to be quite unlucky. British traditions dictated that hangings generally take place on a Friday. And the Bible says that Jesus Christ’s death, the Great Flood, and the incident at the Tower of Babel all took place on a Friday, as well as Eve’s temptation of Adam with the apple.

(Don’t cut your nails on a Friday, unless you want to be a magnet for bad luck. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

In addition:

The Cure: Why, none, of course. Fridays come every week. Just be extra careful, and make sure to do some good luck rituals.

Thirteen

The Cause: A Norse myth involves 12 demi-gods being joined by a malicious thirteenth, who wrecks havoc on the party, assisting the killing of the god of joy and gladness.

Judas, the betrayer of Christ, is famously known as being the thirteenth guest to the last supper.

Witches gathered in groups of twelve in ancient Rome. The thirteenth? The Devil.

When public hanging were common, there were thirteen stairs before the noose. Traditionally there were also thirteen loops in a noose.

12 is known as a complete number by numerologists. (12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labours of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus.) One more than complete can’t be good luck.

The Apollo 13 mission to the moon was a disaster.

Jack the Ripper and Charles Manson both have thirteen letters in their names.

Triskaidekaphobes are those who irrationally fear the number thirteen. Looking for evidence this fear exists? Corsinet.com gives these examples:

  • More than 80 percent of high-rises lack a 13th floor.
  • Many airports skip the 13th gate.
  • Airplanes have no 13th aisle.
  • Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13.
  • Italians omit the number 13 from their national lottery.
  • On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 and a half.
  • Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue
  • In France, socialites known as the quatorziens (fourteeners) once made themselves available as 14th guests to keep a dinner party from an unlucky fate.

The Cure: Avoidance. As you see above, most of the work is already done for you; you couldn’t stay on the thirteenth floor of your hotel if you tried. The rest, though, is up to you.

Friday the Thirteenth

The Cause: Obviously, when combining the above two bad luck causes, you end up with even more misfortune. To top is off, the Knights Templar were caught on a Friday the thirteenth, in 1306. King Phillip of France arrested and tortured them on this day.

The Cure: Again, caution is key. If you can’t avoid it, at least try and load up on good luck to even it out.

Walking under a ladder

The Cause: When leaning a ladder against a wall, it forms a triangle with the ground. This represents the Holy Trinity, and walking through it would be violating that sanctity.

Wertperch, in his Superstition write-up, also mentions that holding a ladder during a siege would mean it’s likely that you would have burning oil poured on you.

On their way to be hanged, a condemned man would have to walk under a ladder before ascending it. (Before gallows, people were hung from ladders.)

The Cure: Well, this seems obvious. Walk around the ladder, people. Around! (Or you could cross your fingers while you do it.)

Red and white flowers

The Cause: Especially when planning a wedding or bouquet for a hospital, avoid the combination of red and white flowers. They bring bad luck and symbolize blood and bandages, which probably isn’t what you’re going for. Oh, and it also might bring death.

The Cure: Oh, for Fate’s sake, people. Don’t do it! Avoid it! Like I said.

Black cats (crossing your path)

The Cause: The belief that black cats are bad luck probably began during the Black Plague. Black cats, which could slip around unseen in the night, were thought of as agents of the devil. Some cats were even hung after being put on trial for being witches. Black cats were systematically killed all across England to ward off the curses of the devil. (Ironically, this helped the Black Plague, since cats no longer threatened the rats carrying the fleas, which in turn carried the plague.) Having a black cat cross your path means the devil’s gaze is on you.

The Goddess Bast in ancient Egypt was a black cat. When Christians were trying to do away with other religions, they preached that these cats were demons that needed to be destroyed. Of course, the sweet old ladies taking care of the cats were killed, too. What? They were witches! ...

The Cure: There are just as many, if not more, cases where black cats are thought of as good luck. So as long as a black cat has crossed your path, you might as well touch it, or better yet, touch three black cats in succession. This is supposed to bring good luck.

Sparrows

The Cause: Sparrows carry souls to the after-life. To kill one is to be cursed.

At the crucifixion of Christ, it is said a sparrow was there and that it encouraged the Romans to torture Jesus.

If a woman sees a sparrow on Valentine’s Day, she will marry happy, but poor.

The Cure:

Cut down on the sparrow-killing sprees you’re so keen on. It’s not worth being cursed!

Spilling salt

The Cause: Salt was once very expensive. Spilling it, of course, was a very bad thing. It is also said that Judas spilled his salt at the Last Supper.

Spilling the salt and pepper at the same time is doubly unlucky. (Spilling pepper is supposed to mean you will have an argument with a friend.) Maybe there’s a good reason your mother told you to keep your elbows off the table!

The Cure: Another one of my favourites, you’re supposed to throw more salt over your left shoulder, when you’ve already wasted precious spice. This is supposed to hit the devil/evil spirits in the eyes.

Inside out clothing

The Cause: Putting on your shirt inside out is bad luck. This has to show that your mind is elsewhere, and that you aren’t in tune with the world around you.

(If you walk backwards and wear your clothes inside out on Halloween, it’s said you’ll meet a witch.)

The Cure: Easy solution. If you keep wearing your clothes inside out the entire day, it will actually bring good luck. Sure, people may comment, but what’s more important?

Opals

The Cause:

Opal is supposed to grant its wearer invisibility, especially if the person is a thief.

When a goldsmith broke an opal during setting, Louis XI had his hands chopped off.

A novel in 1829, Anne of Geierstein, seemed to cast opal in an unlucky light. It wasn’t actually true, the book was just misread, but the superstition stuck.

Diamond merchants may have considered opals a threat, and continued to propogate the superstition.

Opals also break very easily, which people equated with bad luck.

The Cure:

Well, if you’re born in October, you’re home free. If not, don’t wear ‘em, simple as that.

Owls

The Cause: Seeing an owl in the daylight, or having it look through your window, or even hearing one hoot three times is supposed to bring bad luck or even death. This is because owls are supposed to have eaten the souls of the living after swooping down on Halloween.

The Cure: None known. Avoidance is the only answer. (And good luck charms, of course.)

Breaking a mirror (brings 7 years bad luck)

The Cause:

There are two theories for why breaking a mirror brings 7 years bad luck. One is that the gods communicate through mirrors, and if it breaks, the gods don’t want you to see the bad luck in your future!

The other theory is that breaking a mirror, in effect, shatters the soul. The soul is so hurt by this, that it demands 7 years bad luck in payment. The first makers of glass mirrors, the Romans, believed that life was renewed every 7 years, like being born again. This was why after 7 years, you’re off the hook.

If an untouched mirror in your house falls and breaks, it foretells a death.

(Oh, and don’t give mirrors as gifts; receiving them is also bad luck.)

The Cure: Well, first off, be really careful around mirrors. But there are three other ways to cure it, and I’ll list them from most to least difficult.

  1. Grind the mirror shards into dust. This ensures no shattered reflection can be seen.
  2. Bury the pieces outside by moonlight (after waiting 7 hours).
  3. Throw the pieces in a south-flowing stream. Wait 7 hours, and your bad luck will be washed away!

Miscellaneous bad luck (alphabetical for your convenience):

Bats

  • If you see a bat circle your house three times, be warned. It foretells death.
  • If a bat flies into your house, it’s bad luck. It means ghosts are around.

Brooms

  • When moving to a new house, don’t bring your old broom, or it’s bad luck. Buy a new one. (Cheapskate.)
  • Don’t hit people with brooms, it makes them lazy... but you probably shouldn’t be doing that anyways.
  • Leaning a broom against a bed will cause the evil spirits in the broom to cast a spell on the bed and the person who sleeps there may die. (Don’t ask why evil spirits would want to possess a broom. They just do.)
  • If someone sweeps the floor and sweeps over your feet, you’ll never get married. Serves you right for getting the way like that.

Butterflies

  • Three butterflies together bring bad luck.
  • They are also bad luck if they land on you, don’t be enticed by their pretty colours.
  • Oh, but don’t think you should kill them, either. Bad luck will haunt you for an entire year if you do. (You just can’t win!)

Cats

  • (Yes, yes, black cats. It’s already been mentioned. But also...) If a cat washes its face by rubbing its paws over its entire head, rain will follow.
  • A cat sitting with its back to the fire is a bad sign. It means frost is coming.
  • If a cat on a ship is unusually playful, a storm will follow.
  • If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, stop killing things! If you kill a cat, your cattle will die. (... You could have cattle. You don’t know.)
  • If a cat leaps over a corpse and then leaps at you, you’ll go blind. So tidy up those corpses lying around the house, cat-owners! Oh, or the corpse will turn into a vampire. In either case, the cure is... kill the cat? Hm... looks like murder is sometimes the answer.
  • If you leave a cat alone with a baby, the cat will smell the milk on the baby’s breath and SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF IT. So, uh... don’t do it.

Cutlery

  • If you cross your knives, accidentally or on purpose, an argument will follow.
  • Crossing forks accidentally will be followed by slander against you.
  • Stirring things with a fork is “stirring up misfortune”.
  • Crossing a spoon over a fork means happiness will be cut short by grief.
  • If a lover gives you a knife as a gift, the romance/love will end soon. (Well, duh. What a weird gift.)

Flags

Forgetfulness

  • If you need to turn around and go back into the house to fetch something, sit down and count back from 7 to avoid bad luck. (You have 7 seconds to spare, don’t lie to me.)

Glass

  • When preparing to make a toast, be very sure to not break the glass. It’s (you guessed it) bad luck. (Embarassing, too)
  • Breaking red glass foretells future anxiety and trouble.
  • Breaking green glass means you will soon be bitterly disappointed. (Red and green glass... anxiety and disappointment... better be extra cautious around Christmas time)
  • Glass bottles shouldn’t be broken either. Guess why! Bad luck, of course.

Hats

  • Don’t leave your hat on a bed. It means a quarrel will soon arise in the house. Either that, or a death in the family.
  • Don’t leave it on the table, either! (Lazy, much? Just hang it up!)
  • Don’t think you can just keep wearing it inside, either. Causes headaches, you know.
  • And it’s not cool to wear your hat backwards. In fact, it’s bad luck, and can only be remedied by running out and buying a new one.
  • Women, don’t wear your hats in church. Ill fortune will visit. And he’s a terrible houseguest.
  • Worried about hair loss? A hat too tight will cause that!

Ink

  • Spilling ink is sure to bring annoyance, worry, and failure of a project at hand. Which isn’t really superstition, it goes without saying.

Ladybugs (the death of)

  • Because ladybugs are generally good luck and bring wealth, killing them brings bad luck. Simple enough. You shouldn’t go around killing things ‘cause they’re smaller than you anyways. Remember the sparrows?

Left foot

  • Don’t step over a threshold with your left foot. Footmen were originally hired just to prevent it, that’s how unlucky it is.
  • Getting out of bed left foot first is also a bad idea.
  • (Speaking of feet and shoes, if you don’t give a new pair of shoes to a poor person one time in your entire life, you’ll go barefoot in your next life. Haha, karma!)

Mending

  • Don’t mend something while you’re wearing it. A: you’re bound to poke yourself with the needle, and B: bad luck again. It means you’re “stitching sorrow to your back”. Or, if that’s not easy to remember: “to mend clothes on your back, you’ll have to wear black.” Don’t get it? It means someone will die, just because you don’t want to take the time to take off the shirt before you sew it. Shame.
  • Oh, and make sure your sew the button to the right button-hole. (Another thing about buttons, be sure to touch one every time you see hearse or ambulance, or else you’ll be the next one in them.)

Moon

Roosters

  • If a hen crows like a rooster, it means misfortune will soon follow.
  • A hen that has the tail-feathers of a rooster is also unlucky.
  • If a rooster crows at midnight, it means a spirit is passing. Roosters crowing in the night can also be a warning against misfortune.
  • In the night (between sunset and midnight), be sure you can’t hear your rooster caw three times. If he does, it’s a death omen.
  • Black roosters are symbols of sacrifice, and very unlucky.

Singing

Spiders

  • Killing a spider will bring bad monetary luck. (Well, at least if it’s killed in your house.) You’ll lose money. So stop killing things.
  • Seeing a spider on Halloween means it is a deceased loved one and is watching you. Maybe that’s not bad luck. I just find it creepy.

Stairs

  • Don’t pass people on stairs. It’s bad luck.

Stepping on a crack

  • (on the sidewalk) Will break your mother’s back. And you may regret that later. Its sometimes followed by “Step on a line, break your father’s spine!”

Tables

  • Not only should you not be putting your hat on them, sitting on one if you’re an unmarried girl means you won’t ever be married.
  • Actually, to sit on one is bad luck for anyone who does so, unless you keep one foot on the floor.
  • If your dog hides under a table, thunder, or a storm, is coming.
  • Shoes don’t go on tables, either. Bad luck for the rest of your day. Either that, or death by hanging.

The Scottish Play

  • Saying its name is bad luck. What? The Scottish play, the one with the Mackers and Lady Mackers! ... Oh, fine, Macbeth! If I drop dead tomorrow, you’ll know why.

Umbrellas

  • Don’t open an umbrella indoors, or bad luck will fall on everyone in the building. It’s an insult to the sun.
  • Don’t pick up your umbrella if you drop it. Make someone else do it. Not just ‘cause you’re lazy, but to avoid bad luck, too.
  • Oh, and try not to drop it in the first place. Single women who drop an umbrella will never marry.
  • And especially don’t bring it inside and then drop it. No matter who picks it up, it means there’ll be a murder in the house. Good going.
  • Sure, bringing an umbrella “just in case” is a good idea, but don’t open it if it’s good weather. Otherwise, bad weather will follow.
  • Golfers shouldn’t borrow a partner’s umbrella, either. Why didn’t you just bring your own?

This is definitely not a complete list. If you know something that causes bad luck and is somewhat interesting, /msg me. In the meantime, watch out. The devil is around every corner!

Still not lucky? Stock up on good luck charms and do some good luck rituals. After that, you'll have to resort to... I don't know, hard work or something.


Sources (All accessed July 3, 2006):

Are Opals Bad Luck? The Superstitions Surrounding Opal. (http://www.opalsdownunder.com.au/articles/luck.htm)
Common Superstitions. (http://www.halloween-website.com/superstitions.htm)
Cruel coincidence befalls UPS driver. (http://www.engadget.com/2004/12/21/cruel-coincidence-befalls-ups-driver/)
Deadly Superstitions. (http://members.tripod.com/~mccurtain_2/genietips/tip1.html)
Hats & Umbrella. (htttp://www.csicop.org/superstition/library/)
Luck. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_luck#Unlucky)
Mirror, Mirror... (http://www.madstone.com/Pages/mirror.html)
Superstition and Religious Guidelines. (http://www.draeconin.com/database/superstition.htm)
Superstitions. (http://www.hallowfreaks.com/superstitions.html)
Superstitions. (http://www.motherbedford.com/Superstitions.htm)
Superstitions and Shoes. (http://podiatry.curtin.edu.au/super.html)
Superstitions Database. (http://www.oldsuperstitions.com/)
Superstitions from Europe. (http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/superstition.html)
Superstitions of Nature. (http://www.electricscotland.com/poetry/redmond6.htm)
Superstitions, Old Wives’ Tales, Beliefs & Misconceptions, A-L. (http://www.corsinet.com/trivia/scary.html)
Spiders. (http://www.luckymojo.com/spider.html)
Tea Leaf – Omens 2. (http://www.tealeaf.ca/Articles/Omens-2.html)
Wedding Customs and Superstitions. (http://www.weddings.co.uk/info/tradsupe.htm)
What is the Evil Eye? (http://ezinearticles.com/?What-is-the-Evil-Eye?&id=20447)

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