Are you superstitious? Most people say cathegorically "No!" Have you got an amulet, a good-luck charm, a mascot of some kind ? The inuits were convinced that an amulet was filled with hidden forces and was able to protect its owner. The sealer placed a claw from a polar bear in his kayak to be lucky when hunting. Today the use of mascots is rather common in sports, as trade marks for football-clubs , in logos and as a soft teddy-bear.
The Americans say "Knock-on-Wood", the English "Touch Wood". No matter what - who hasn't done this in order to avoid bad luck? In the beginning of WWII Churchill had just said in the House of Commons that no large British war ship had been run down. A labour-member cried "Touch Wood" and Churchill knocked three times on a wooden box with documents .
Some consider that spiders will bring good-luck, others the opposite. A spider's web was once a sign. If it was in the corner of a window an unexpected visitor would arrive; if it was in a corner of the house more money would come very soon. Some claimed that a spider's web always meant bad luck. If the spider spins up it meant good luck, if it spins down it was a death warning.
Every child knows that it means good luck to find a four-leaf-clover, and the belief in the four-leaf-clover is still widespread; upon some of the old counters for the one-armed bandits were four-leaf-clovers and this was also applied to the badge of nurses. The nurse-badge was chosen in the beginning of the 1900s in order to bring luck to both nurse and patieny. The four-leaf-clover is also a popular symbol in union- and company-tlogos. Are you still not superstitious?
If you step on the black lines in the pavement there might be a risc of bad luck. Superstition says so, and a probable explanation might be that it is a symbolic opening down into the ground, in the old days down to hell, to an open grave and death. But maybe it is only child's play.
Many omens were attached to birds. If birds nest on your house it means good-luck, where the stork is nesting the lightning cannot strike, and the house will never catch fire. Crows and ravens are often a sign of bad luck , but the greatest omen-bird is the cuckoo. You can find out your age if you count its calls (and if it only calls a few times you can cheat a little and count the next time it starts! ) You never did?
In general it brings bad luck to shoot a bird. If you kill a seagull you also kill a sailor, since the seagulls according to folklore are the souls of drowned sailors. The albatross is a symbol of the same, and sailors know that it means diaster ship and crew if an albatros lands on the ship.
Never walk under a ladder. What do you do? If you walk under the ladder you will be dogged by ill-luck. Some claim that you'll meet the Devil, but there are myriads of warnings. (But if you walk around the ladder it might slip and push you out into the traffic!) Now what? Cross the street at once!
Professor Niels Bohr had a horseshoe above the door to his country house in Tisvilde. A visitor asked the scientist if be believed that a horseshoe would bring him good luck. Bohr said no, but added with a smile. "They say it brings good luck, even though you don't believe in it!"
An English legend tells about the magic power of the horseshoe. The archbishop St. Dunstan (909-988) who was born in Glastonbury was originally a blacksmith, and one day while he was working, a two-legged creature came to his workshop and asked him to shoe his hooves. Dunstan knew this was the Devil himself ,and he hammered and nailed in the hooves so very hard, that the Devil shrieked in pain. The blacksmith held on to him and did not let him go until he had promised that he and his devils never would walk into buildings where a horseshoe hang above the door. Saint Dunstan is often pictured as a blacksmith, where he holds on to the Devil's nose with a pair of cutting nippers. Today he is the patron saint of blacksmiths, locksmiths and goldsmiths. How do you hang the horseshoe if you've got one? The big question is how to turn it. Does your luck run out if its turned with the opening downwards ?
People were convinced that a black dog was possessed by the devil, a legend from Nordsjælland tells about a man who had killed a travelling merchant, and after this he was always accompanied by a black dog, who was invisible to others. If an unknown black dog suddenly sits in front of your door it means death in the house. The superstition also gives examples on how to prevent an attack from a wild and fiercely dog. You just had to take a straw and hold it in front of the dog as a stick. Some claimed that if you took off your hat and held it between the teeth, while you crawled on all four towards the wild beast, then the dog would run terrified away.
Both good luck and bad luck?
Black cats mean bad luck in general. This is a widespread superstition, but the signs are varied. It is a common belief that a black cat crossing the road brings bad luck, but the English mean that a white cat brings bad luck. The bad omens can be broken, if you cross your fingers or if you spit three times at the place where the cat crossed the road. A lady tells "If a black cat runs across the road I spit over my left shoulder, but if I'm in the car it's only a small drop, if there's one in the back seat". The cause of many cat-superstitions might be that the cat was once considered an evil animal in collusion with witches and the Devil - which had something to do with Christianity. To a Christian in the Middle Ages the black cat symbolized the forces of darkness. Other cultures and religions considered the cat a divine animal, especially in Ancient Egypt.
Source: Carsten Lingren: Hverdagens Overtro i det moderne Danmark, 2003.
photo 2006/2007: grethe bachmann