Where superstitions come from
You probably engage in many of these superstitions as second nature, but have you ever thought about where they come from?
Superstition: Black cats are bad omens
The backstory: Despite centuries of royal treatment (Egyptians worshipped them; the Norse goddess Freya rode in a chariot pulled by them), cats took a big hit to their reputation in the 1200s, when Pope Gregory IX, waging a culture war on pagan symbols, damned cats as servants of Satan. As a result, cats – especially black ones – were killed across Europe. One unintended consequence, according to some historians: The cat-deprived continent may have allowed disease-carrying rodents to flourish and spread the bubonic plague of 1348.
Rumours that the feline’s fangs and fur were venomous persisted, and by the witch-hunting days of the 1600s, many Puritans believed black cats to be “familiars” – supernatural demons that serve witches – and avoided them (to borrow an apt phrase) like the plague.
Superstition: Never walk under a ladder
The backstory: Depending on your background, a ladder leaning against a wall can represent an honest day’s work, a textbook geometry problem, or a symbol of the Holy Trinity that, if breached, will damn your soul. That last bit is what some ancient Christians believed – that any triangle represented the Trinity, and disrupting one could summon the Evil One. These days, our under-ladder phobia is a smidge more practical: Avoid it because you might get beaned by falling tools, debris, or an even less lucky human.