Feeling uneasy on Friday 13th? Here's why Brits are (still) very superstitious

The sight of a black cat brings out fear in some people. (Getty Images)
The sight of a black cat brings out fear in some people. (Getty Images)

How does Friday 13th make you feel? The likelihood is 'rather uneasy', thanks to years of being surrounded by a culture that insists on its spooky nature.

The UK is a nation that dreads a spell of bad luck – and we're wary of everything from black cats to touching wood, broken mirrors and crossing fingers.

Previous research has found that more than half the population describe themselves as "superstitious", which is defined as 'an irrational belief in supernatural influences'.

What's more, the survey by OnePoll.com found that far more women feel this way than men, standing at two-thirds compared to 45 per cent.

Read more: Woman's spooky discovery in 148-year-old home

Many of the UK's superstitions were consolidated during the Middle Ages, and were often influenced by religion and the natural environment.

Over the centuries, they have become deeply rooted in our culture – despite the advance of science and technology.

Caroline Plumber, psychologist and founder of CPPC London, says: "Being superstitious or employing rituals gives us a sense of control.

"There are lots of things in life we can't control, and the pandemic has really brought that directly into our awareness.

"As a result, people may now believe they need to undertake action in order to feel like they're regaining some power over their lives.

"In reality, a behaviour based on superstition may have little or no impact on the outcomes of a situation but it might help reduce our anxiety and make us feel calmer."

Smashed mirrors are also thought to bring bad luck. (Getty Images)
Smashed mirrors are also thought to bring bad luck. (Getty Images)

But what are the origins of some of the UK's most common superstitions? We've deciphered them for you...

Black cats

It's not just us but the whole of Europe which considers black cats to be a symbol of bad luck.

This fear was sparked in the Middle Ages when people began to view them as an omen of death.

In the centuries since, they've become heavily associated with witches, which hasn't helped their image.

That said, it is thought that if a black cat walks towards you it brings good luck – although if it walks away then it's the opposite.

Closeup portrait black cat The face in front of eyes is yellow. Halloween black cat  Black background
"I'm sorry, do you have a problem with me?" (Getty Images)

Crossed fingers

This little act to bring good luck is believed to have first been tried in Western Europe during the early years of Christianity – because it resembled the cross.

Intertwining the fingers is thought to generates a concentration of good spirits as well as an anchor for wishes to come true.

But while these days we'll cross our fingers in the hope that our favourite sports team will win or that long-coveted Zara coat is in stock, the 14th-century Christians would perform the gesture for more major threats – like illness, witchcraft, misfortune and trouble from Satan.

Birthday wishes

We all know that you should always keep secret the wish you make while blowing out candles on a birthday cake, or it won't come true – but why?

While the Ancient Romans are thought to be behind celebrating someone's day of birth with a sweet treat, it was the Ancient Greeks who apparently came up with the idea of lighting it up.

The latter brought cake bearing lit candles to the temple of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, in an attempt to resemble the moon, which was her symbol.

It was thought that the smoke, caused by blowing them out, would carry prayers to the heavens.

Making a wish while blowing out birthday candles stems from ancient times. (Getty Images)
Making a wish while blowing out birthday candles stems from ancient times. (Getty Images)

Umbrellas indoors

If there's a seemingly innocuous act that makes most people shudder, it's opening an umbrella indoors.

It's a relatively new superstition, dating from the 18th century when its – new at the time – strong spring mechanism risked harming a beloved ornament sitting on the mantlepiece.

This evolved into the idea that opening an umbrella indoors, or failing to wait for it to rain, would cause misfortune to shower on you and your loved ones.

Touch wood

This tradition started with the Pagans who were convinced that good spirits lived inside trees, with the idea being that touching wood asked for good luck.

It's also thought that the practice stems from the days of the Spanish Inquisition when Jewish people would knock on wooden synagogues to avoid persecution.

Sailors have also long thought that knocking on wooden decks of their boats would bring good fortune when out at sea.

Young girl holding arms around tree in Danish forest at a forest kindergarten.
Touching wood: Best to be on the safe side. (Getty Images)

Broken mirrors

It's thought that this superstition comes from the Romans, who believed mirrors were diviners of the future.

They thought that a broken mirror foretold death.

By Victorian times, people were covering mirrors when someone died in order to prevent their soul becoming trapped inside. These days, people fear that a broken mirror will bring seven years' bad luck.

Blessing sneezes

It has long been thought that sneezes are the expelling of evil spirits – something that began in the sixth century.

At the time, a plague – of which sneezing was the prime symptom – was spreading through Italy, and Pope Gregory the Great started to say "God bless you".

It was also an expression used during the Great Plague of London, which lasted from 1665 to 1666.

Photo taken in Madrid, Spain
Sneeze incoming! Hope there's someone nearby to bless her. (Getty Images)

The number 13

This superstition is so pervasive that it has its own name, triskaidekaphobia.

It began with the early Christians and numerous Biblical traditions – including the idea that there were 13 people present at the Last Supper, with Judas the final man to join.

Today, due to its associations with bad luck, airports frequently forgo a 13th gate, 80 per cent of high rise buildings don't have a 13th floor and many hotels have gone without a room 13.

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