It’s our 13th birthday! People who are superstitious will mostly say that 13 is an unlucky number, although others believe 13 to be lucky. We don’t know what to believe but we thought we would celebrate our birthday by looking at 12 (rather than 13, just in case) strange superstitions that include members of the animal and plant kingdom!
Certain quantities of magpies mean different things to a superstitious person, and there is even a rhyme to remind them of the fate they may face: one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a story never to be told.
If a superstitious person sees a solo magpie, there are many ways they can overcome the sorrow they may face, some salute the bird, some flap their arms like wings and make a ‘caw’ sound, and others say, “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” The reason for this superstition is due to magpies mating for life; therefore a single individual may have lost its mate, or could just be collecting nesting material or food for their nestlings. We thought we should include a picture of two magpies to spread joy and good fortune on our birthday!
Bats are believed to be harbingers of death and misfortune in many cultures, although in China and Poland they are thought to be a sign of a happy and long life. There are many ancient myths which say different things about bats, including them being trapped souls or witches in disguise. Some people believe that bats drink human blood, but cases of this are extremely rare. Hematophagous (blood-eating) bats, such as the common vampire bat, usually feed on cattle or horses.
Although it is in fact a Lemur species on Arkive, the strange-looking aye-aye was initially identified as a rodent. Some local Malagasy people believe that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then you will die, and this species is regularly persecuted due to this superstition. The function of the enlarged middle finger of this primate is actually to tap on trees to find hollow areas where insects may be, and to extract any prey items that it finds inside.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which is shrouded by myth and legend. This plant is a commonly seen decoration at Christmas time, and if a person passes underneath a hung piece of mistletoe, they must kiss the person on the other side or they will remain single for another year. Ancient superstitions state that mistletoe can cure any disease and it was considered sacred and magical. Once mistletoe touches the ground, however, ancient cultures believed it to be bad luck rather than good.
The elder is the focus of a rich wealth of folklore, and has many magical associations. The name ‘elder’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘aeld’, meaning fire. This may have arisen from the practice of using the hollow stems of the elder as bellows to encourage fires. It was, however, extremely bad luck to burn elder wood; if this happened the Devil was said to appear, explaining another local name ‘Devil’s wood’. Conversely it was said to keep the Devil away if planted close to a house. Some of these old superstitions linger today; many modern hedge-cutters refuse to attack an elder for fear of bad luck.
African golden cat
Both wild and domestic cats are the subject of much superstition in many areas of the world, and the African golden cat is no exception. Pygmy tribes in Cameroon carry the tail of the African golden cat when hunting elephants to ensure good fortune, and the skin is used in some areas during circumcision rituals.
We bet that these black cats (black leopard morphs) don’t cross people’s paths very much, but domestic black cats certainly do, and this is considered to be very unlucky by some people. Black cats have as much to do with good as they do with bad luck to superstitious people and it is said that if a couple see a black cat on their wedding day then they will definitely have a happy marriage.
Strangely, many years ago, sailors would keep black cats on their ship as a good luck charm, although they would never say the word ‘cat’ as this was considered to be bad luck.
The forest owlet faces a serious threat as a result of local superstitions. Its eggs are collected by tribes to bring luck in gambling and the animal itself is killed since owls are locally renowned to feed on human souls. Additionally, killing a young forest owlet is widely considered to boost fertility.
In old English folklore, if “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” is the first thing you say on the first day of the month, you will have good luck for the rest of the month, and carrying a rabbit’s foot is also considered to be a good luck charm. They are also considered to be bad luck; however, and in ancient times, people would spit over their left shoulder if they came across a wild rabbit. Rabbits are another animal which are believed to be witches in disguise – those must be some very cute witches!
One of the greatest threats to the Near Threatened striped hyaena is the misconceptions and superstitions of humans. Believed to be responsible for killing livestock, robbing graves and the disappearance of small children, the striped hyaena is severely persecuted through baiting, tracking and trapping. In the past, some governments have paid bounties for every hyaena killed, and certain governments still organise killings of wolves and striped hyaenas in places where carnivores are thought to be responsible for child disappearances.
Frogs and toads
Frogs and toads have many superstitions that surround them, such as that touching the bumpy skin of a toad can give you warts, and touching a frog can make you infertile, but these are not true. Warts are caused by a virus that is only transferred by skin on skin contact between humans and touching a frog is not known to affect your fertility. Despite these amphibians being seen as bad luck in these respects, some people actually see them as good luck and consider a frog coming into your house as being lucky. The poor Titicaca water frog is Critically Endangered due to overcollection, as people blend individuals to make a juice that can supposedly cure any ailment. We might stick to OJ!
Black beetles such as the super-rare ground beetle were once referred to as ‘deathwatch beetles’, and if one were to crawl across your shoe or be found within a wall, it was considered to be a sign of impending death. The good news is that you could prevent this from happening by moving the beetle safely outside. Seems like a no-brainer to us!
Are there any superstitions that we have missed from your area of the world? Please share them with us!