Why we salute lonely magpies, how does smashing a mirror bring seven years bad luck and other superstitions explained

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HAVE you ever wondered why it's meant to be bad luck to walk underneath a ladder? We've got to the bottom of some of the most commonly-held superstitious beliefs.

Breaking a mirror will bring you seven years' back luck
Why?
Mirrors were once believed to be windows into other worlds – often worlds where things were the wrong way around. People may also have been frightened that a person’s reflection shatters when a mirror is broken. One theory is that mirrors contained a person’s soul, so if you break the mirror, you break the person’s soul.

It's bad luck to see a solitary magpie
Why?
As magpies usually mate for life seeing one on its own is as sign of sorrow because it's lost it's mate, whereas if you see two it's is a sign of joy as it's with it's mate. This is why when you see a single magpie you ask after its wife, thus suggesting it has a mate and is in fact happy - hence the rhyme: "One for sorrow, Two for joy; Three for a girl, Four for a boy; Five for silver, Six for gold; Seven for a secret never to be told."

Opening an umbrella indoors brings bad luck
Why?
The myth is that it’s unlucky to open an umbrella indoors. This is probably related to the fact that umbrellas used to be quite awkward, large and difficult to open, and since our houses used to be quite small and cramped, there was a chance that you’d break something, or knock something over with an open umbrella in the house.

Walking under a ladder brings bad luck
Why?
Apparently it’ll bring bad luck because it used to be associated with walking to the hanging scaffold. However, some believe that the triangular shape made by a ladder leaning against the wall invokes the Holy Trinity and that walking through the triangle is desecration.

Saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes wards off bad luck
Why?
It’s polite to say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes in the UK, but did you know the custom might have originated in the sixth century? The theory is that sneezing was seen as the first symptom of the plague, so people would say a blessing to ward off the disease.

It's bad luck to put new shoes on the table
Why?
The superstition goes that you should never put new shoes on a table as it is symbolises death of a family member. Many years ago, when a miner passed away, his shoes would be Page 5 placed on a table and this is often how his family would find out about his death.

Spilling salt brings bad luck
Why?
If you look closely at Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper, you can see that Judas has knocked the salt cellar over with his elbow. Thanks to Judas Iscariot, spilled salt is associated with treachery and lies. If you do spill salt, a pinch thrown over your left shoulder is supposed to blind the devil waiting there.

It's bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same match
Why?
According to an old soldiers’ superstition you mustn’t light three cigarettes from the same match. Its origins lie in World War I, when a sniper firing at night would pick up his gun at the first spark of a match lighting a cigarette, take aim at the second, and then pull the trigger as the third soldier lit his.

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