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    Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

    Learn about the roots of popular superstitions that have been clinging, barnacle-like, to the human psyche for decades.

  • Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    The number 13 -

    Learn about the roots of popular superstitions that have been clinging, barnacle-like, to the human psyche for decades.

    It's Friday the 13th! So what gives? Why does the number 13 give people such a bad case of the heebie-jeebies? "The number 13 has a number of very old references that tend to be associated with groups of 13 people," author and psychology professor Stuart Vyse told TODAY.com. "At the Last Supper in Christian theology, there were 13 dinner guests, so that number is unlucky because Christ was betrayed. ... And in Norse mythology, 12 benevolent gods were gathering in a hall and the evil god Loki attacked the group. Loki was the 13th guest, and the god Balder was killed in the melee."

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  • Image: Punxsutawney Phil Makes Annual Forecast On Groundhog Day

    Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Punxsutawney Phil -

    For more than 100 years, people have gathered in the frigid pre-dawn hours in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to find out whether the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, will "see his shadow." If he does, the meaning is clear: Six more weeks of winter weather. Isn't that ... ummmmmm ... a wee bit superstitious?

    You bet it is! It turns out that the Groundhog Day tradition is firmly grounded in fun, not meteorology. In the late 1800s, a group of Punxsutawney men climbed a hill called Gobbler's Knob to eat groundhog and drink beer. They had such a blast that they christened themselves the "Groundhog Club" and vowed to get together each year. And so they did!

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    Black cats -

    What's wrong with letting a black cat cross your path? Duh. A black cat might be a witch who transformed into the shape of a cat, of course!

    "Cats fared badly (in the Middle Ages in Europe) ... as people thought they were witches' familiars. Black cats were believed to be witches in disguise," writes Richard Webster in "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." "An alternative belief was that after seven years of service to a witch, a black cat would turn into a witch. Consequently, a black cat crossing your path was an indication of bad luck, as the devil was watching you."

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  • Good Luck Foot

    Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Rabbit's foot -

    Why do people think a rabbit's foot brings good luck? One reason, apparently, is that rabbits are well-known for their — er — reproductive fruitfulness.

    "Consequently, as feet are considered phallic symbols, the rabbit's foot may originally have been a fertility symbol," Richard Webster writes in "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." "The rabbit's foot is arguably the most popular of all lucky charms."

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  • Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Graves and graveyards -

    It isn't difficult to understand why a gravesite or a graveyard might make people more than a little bit uncomfortable. But superstitions tied to the behavior of the living near graves are legion.

    "It is believed to be bad luck to plough up land that has previously been used as a graveyard. It is also a waste of time, as any crops grown on the site will be stunted," writes Richard Webster in "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." "It is unlucky to pick any flowers growing on a grave. ... It is particularly bad luck to use pieces of broken tombstones for paths or roads. Frequent accidents will occur as a result."

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  • Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Hats on beds -

    The notion that it's bad luck to place a hat on a bed is a persistent one, and it's even been referenced in movies such as "Drugstore Cowboy." But why?

    In the book "Hats & the Cowboys Who Wear Them," Texas Bix Bender writes: "Seems the expression comes from way back when people believed in evil spirits — other than the ones you drink. These evil spirits lived in the hair. This probably came from static electricity in the air crackling and popping when you came in and took off your hat. So, the idea was, don't lay your hat where you're gonna lay your head 'cause evil spirits are spilling outta the hat. It doesn't make any sense. But then, superstitions seldom do."

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  • Indoor Umbrella

    Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Umbrella opened indoors -

    Why is it so wrong to open an umbrella indoors? Because you don't want to offend the spirit of the umbrella, silly!

    Consider these insights from Webster's "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions": "A common superstition is the belief that opening an umbrella inside a house causes bad luck. The origin of this is that the umbrella acts as a shield against the sun or rain outdoors. To open it indoors offends the spirit of the umbrella, who will cause bad luck to occur as a result."

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  • Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    April Fool's Day -

    Ever wonder why people play practical jokes on each other on April Fool's Day? You can blame that custom on the pesky Gregorian calendar.

    In "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions," Richard Webster explains: "The custom began in France, in the late 16th century when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. This changed the start of the New Year from March 25 to January 1. As March 25 coincided with Holy Week, the New Year had traditionally been celebrated on April 1. When the date changed, many peasants paid surprise visits to their neighbors on April 1 to trick them into thinking it was still the start of the New Year."

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  • Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Walking under a ladder -

    Why would walking under a ladder be considered such a bad thing? Author and psychology professor Stuart Vyse said the ladder superstition is one that may have perfectly understandable and logical origins.

    "Obviously, people may have had bad experiences; maybe something had dropped on their heads," Vyse said. "So that's not totally irrational."

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  • Seven Years Bad Luck

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    Broken mirrors -

    Why is breaking a mirror considered so unlucky? "Souls were said to dwell inside mirrors, so any harm done to the soul when the mirror broke would also happen to the person," writes Richard Webster in "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." "Over time, these disastrous consequences were softened to a mere seven years of bad luck. The choice of seven as the number of years is because of the myth that the entire body is completely renewed every seven years."

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    Salt over left shoulder -

    Why do people toss salt over their left shoulders? Well, how else are you supposed to prevent the devil from sneaking up on you?

    "The devil is believed to detest salt, as it is incorruptible, immortal, and linked to God," writes Richard Webster in "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions." "Salt is a preservative, which makes it a natural enemy of anyone or anything that seeks to destroy. If a superstitious person accidentally spills some salt, he must immediately toss a pinch of salt over his left shoulder. This is because the devil is likely to attack from the rear, and will also attack from the left, or sinister, side."

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  • Image: US forward Alex Morgan controls the ball during the London 2012 Olympic Games womens semi final football match between the US and Canada.

    Happy Friday! Explore the origins of 13 enduring superstitions

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    Olympic athletes -

    Overall, athletes tend to be a superstitious bunch — for reasons that aren't entirely irrational. "They have a lot on the line," said author and psychology professor Stuart Vyse.

    Olympic athletes in particular devote their lifetimes to exercising and practicing with incredible rigor — and then, as their big moments arrive, they reach a point where there's nothing else they can do. "You literally just go to the arena and wait until it's your turn," Vyse said. "Those waiting periods have to be filled somehow. They may not refer to what they're doing as a ritual; they may call it a 'routine.' But there's often a very rigid routine that some people feel they must do or else they'll do badly."

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    Baseball superstitions -

    Of all the sports and all the athletes in the world, baseball — and baseball players — just may be the most superstitious of them all. Why baseball? Stuart Vyse said one reason is that the game involves so much waiting around. "And if they're waiting, they have time to perform these rituals," he said. Those rituals often involve:

    —The foul line: Players and coaches consistently and stubbornly refuse to step on the foul line on trips to and from the dugout. —Rally caps: If a team is down, all the players in the dugout will wear their caps inside-out or in some other funny way so as to bring about a rally for the team. —The pitcher: If no one gets a hit off a pitcher over the course of the game, it's considered bad luck to talk to the pitcher in the dugout. —Spitting: Spitting into a baseball glove is believed to provide good luck.

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