Common Symbols

How Does Breaking A Mirror Bring Seven Years Bad Luck?

The capacity for human imagination is infinite and so is the capacity for superstition. One that many of us believe but few can explain the meaning for is the idea that breaking a mirror brings not just bad luck, but seven years of it. Where did this curious and quite specific idea come from? Here are some possible suggestions and a cure.

The Ancient Soul Theory

There is a belief in many ancient cultures that our reflections in pools of water were not actually ourselves, but us seeing our souls. Some believed that parts of the soul could be trapped in the mirror while we look at it. If this particular theory is the main belief behind it, then it would stand to reason that breaking a mirror (an object that presents a person’s reflection) would be seen as damaging the soul. But how would the seven years apply here? Well, seven is a lucky number in many cultures, so this could be simple irony – the reversal of good luck into bad.

Roman Gods Theory

Most scholars credit the Romans with coming up with this particular superstition. This is the most likely explanation for the origin of this idea. The Romans were the first to use glass mirrors although these were expensive. They also believed that all life took seven years to “renew”. That meant a clearing period of seven years should you be unfortunate to break a mirror. But why would breaking a mirror be bad luck in the first place? They believed that mirrors were means by which the gods and demi-gods communicated with humanity as well as believing that souls could become trapped there (see above).

The Scare Tactic Theory

Mirrors are a relatively new invention. Most ancient societies did not have the technology, even well-to-do Romans could not always afford the reflective glass. Most people made do with the age-old tradition of using highly polished bronze to show their reflection. The technology to make mirrors was not widely in use until the Middle Ages. Even then, it was still relatively expensive for most people. Therefore, the idea that it would bring seven years of bad luck to break one was based purely on a desire for people to take care of valuable possessions.

Roman Remedies for Bad Luck

Thankfully, each of these disparate cultures had a number of remedies one may follow in order to ensure that the seven years of bad luck never came to pass.

  • Take all the pieces and arrange them back into the shape they were as much as you could and bury them by moonlight. This theory carried on into medieval Europe
  • Simply collect all the pieces and throw them in running water such as a stream or waterfall
  • Pound them into tiny fragments so that they would never again reflect anything. This would free the soul
  • Early slaves to the Americas had a similar theory in that you should leave them standing in running water for seven hours to wash away the bad luck

Upside Down Horseshoe

The belief that horseshoes are connected with luck has been around for many years, and the symbol of the horseshoe is still seen today, hung around the neck or on a charm of a bracelet to bring good luck. So where does the thought of lucky or unlucky horseshoes come from?

Well, one of the theories surrounding the horseshoe follows a story of a blacksmith called Dunstan, who would later become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan, it was said, was visited by a man who he thought was the devil. The man had hooved feet and asked Dunstan to shoe him. He nailed a horseshoe to the man’s foot and caused the devil considerable pain. The devil was then chained up, and only released when he promised he would never enter a building with a horseshoe hung over the door.

Another theory goes that witches travel by broom because they are afraid of horses, so hanging a horseshoe over the door would ward off witches. The horseshoes were made of iron, and because of its ability to withstand fire, was thought to be robust enough to ward off evil. If a woman who was believed to be a witch died, she would be buried with a horseshoe nailed to her coffin to prevent her from resurrecting. It was also used in ancient Europe to ward off the evil eye.

Some people believe that the way you display a horseshoe matters in what kind of luck you get. Many hang their horseshoe in the upright position so it resembles the letter U. This is so that it retains all the power it contains. Others, however, believe that hanging it downwards allows the good fortune to shower down upon the home. Maybe hanging one both ways is the best?

Walking Under A Ladder

We all know the practical reasons of why walking under a ladder isn’t a good idea, after all, if there is a ladder, chances are there is someone on top of it. And knocking the ladder can have terrible circumstances for those perched on it, or for you underneath it if they drop whatever they’re holding.

But as far as walking under them being bad luck, we need to take a trip back to ancient Egypt, where the superstitious locals believed Gods and Goddesses lived in the sky, and walking under a ladder may mean you’ll find one of them travelling to or from their home, which may anger them.

The Christians didn’t believe in Gods using ladders, but they did believe in the power of three, which was classed as the holy number and used to represent the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. They thought that the two sides of a ladder formed a triangular space underneath, and to pass through the triangle which represented the Holy Trinity would break the Trinity, attracting the devil to the area. Later the ladder came to represent the gallows, as those condemned to death would have to climb a ladder to get high enough for the rope to be effective.

Don’t worry if you do walk under a ladder, though, there are supposedly ways to reverse your luck. These include making a wish as you walk through, passing back through the ladder (though this we feel is tempting fate if the person atop the ladder is holding a hefty hammer) or even spitting on your shoes and waiting till it dries before looking at them. We’re not sure we approve of this one on hygiene grounds, though.