Unusual Symbols

A Hanging Picture Falling From a Wall – Is It Bad Luck?

Humans are a superstitious race. That we know of, we are the only species that has ritualistic behaviour not related to practical accomplishments. We have superstitions about what to do when something happens and we attach meaning to seemingly inane and innocuous events. One of these is the notion that something bad is about to happen, or has just happened, if a hanging picture falls from a wall.

What Does the Omen Say?

According to legend, if a picture (usually a portrait) falls from a wall, then bad luck is about to happen. However, it will not always happen to the person in the picture. After all, they may have already been dead for hundreds of years, especially if they are an ancestor of the present owner. Some legends say that bad luck will befall the family. Some say that there will be a death in the family. Some believe that if a picture falls from a wall, somebody has already died – you just don’t know about it yet.

Similarly, there is a superstition about what will happen when the glass in a frame breaks – regardless of whether or not the picture has fallen. It apparently signifies a death in the family. Is there a clear origin story for any of this?

The Origins of the Legend

Few sources exist in support of this legend, but most seem to think that it began in the USA. It may even have originated amongst slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. The African slaves were very superstitious, even keeping some of their ancient, animist beliefs and fusing them with the Christian ideology they were expected to adopt.

It is unlikely that their ancestors will have had glass, so the idea of a portrait dropping from a wall may have been adapted for the new colonies of the European powers, while keeping those beliefs. As many people had portraits of themselves during this period, it generally came to mean that the person (or a person if it featured multiple subjects) in the image had either just died or was going to die.

This will not have accounted for the glass breaking variation. Glass was still expensive and afforded only by the middle classes and above. They could not afford as we can today, to attach a piece of glass to a portrait. Besides which, oil paintings did not generally require protection in the way that photographs require protecting.

Examples from History

There are two extensively discussed examples that may prove to be the origin of the story. Neither appears to originate with culture of colonial slaves.

  • In one story from England, an unnamed Archbishop entered his study. His portrait was on the floor, the string that he used to hang it to the wall had snapped. The man was so overcome with fright that he died shortly afterwards
  • Another story from England here, one of the Dukes of Buckingham apparently died after seeing his portrait fallen to the fall in his council chambers

The Superstition of Bad Luck When Stepping on a Grave

It is one of the great human conditions that we have great reverence for the dead. We venerate those who have born and died before use and memorialise their lives in gravestones, burial monuments and tombs. Some of the most powerful imagery from the past of any civilisation is in its monuments to the dead. It is no surprise then that in many cultures it is considered bad luck to step on a grave.

Origins of the Idea of Bad Luck

No satisfactory answer has been provided as to why it is considered bad luck to walk on or step over a grave. However, there are several possibilities. Firstly, we like to think that our deceased loved ones are never truly gone. We visit graves and actively talk to the burial place as though the person is still there, listening to us and providing the strength they provided in life. In this case, it is simply bad manners to disturb their resting place.

A practical reason could be that graves are unstable. Poorer people in ancient times were buried in shrouds. As the body decomposed, the ground became less stable, leading to the possibility of collapse. Stepping on any fresh grave meant disturbing soft soil, meaning a risk of falling in. Either way, you are disturbing the resting place of a deceased person – and that too comes back to pure bad manners.

What Will Happen If You Step on a Grave?

There is no area greater than death with so many superstitions. Graves, graveyards and cemeteries are places of rest and it’s amazing the lengths people go to not to “disturb” the graves. Visit any church graveyard or cemetery and you will notice visitors ensuring they do not step on or walk over any of the graves.

Your Grandmother

Several reasons have been proposed for the origin of this superstition. One particular story from the American state of Kentucky says that should you walk over or step on a grave, your grandmother will die. However, nobody has stated what will happen if both of your grandmothers have already passed away. Similarly, no living person should enter a funeral vault or they will have bad luck. Presumably, those responsible for placing bodies in there in the first place are exempt.

Walking Over Three Graves

While it is considered bad luck to walk on or step over one grave, a person who does so for three graves in succession will die before the New Year. In some areas of the world, you will soon die if you simply walk over one grave.

Graves and Pregnant Women

It is said that pregnant women in particular risk bad luck when stepping on or walking over a grave. If she is attending a funeral, she must take extra care not to walk on any of the graves. If she does so, her child will be born with clubbed feet.

Can You Protect Yourself Against Bad Luck?

Although many sources speak extensively about the bad luck you will experience for stepping on a grave, few sources speak of solutions or remedies. Most people simply apologise, born out of the belief that the dead are present and listening.

The Symbolism of the Raven

What is a Raven?

A raven is a type of bird, black in colour related to jackdaws, choughs, rooks and crows. Collectively, these are known as the “Corvus” family. They generally differ in terms of their size with the raven as the largest. If you see a big black bird that looks like a crow but looks too large to be a crow, the chances are it is a raven. They are intelligent creatures, quick to learn and curious. They display self-awareness beyond fight or flight of most other birds.

The Raven as A Cultural Icon

In Pagan Britain

Their perception as a cultural icon in Europe goes back to before Roman Europe. The Celts, a culture that spread across Germany, France, the modern British Isles and parts of Spain, treasured the raven. It was said that the creature has special visionary powers – the ability to see fate, and not just the negative. It was associated with the goddess Morrigan as part of the Samhain celebration (pagan New Year).

In Anglo Saxon Lore

Their black colour, substantial size compared to their cousins and menacing caw to human ears means that they have an otherworldly perception. It is not surprising in early medieval Germanic and British culture, they have been seen as symbols of death. They are popularised through famous literature in the English language as signs and portents – typically of something negative and usually death.

One of the reasons for this is where they live. They often live in imposing landscapes: craggy cliffs, mountainsides and coastlines. They are also seen in other wide open natural landscapes such as forest in those areas of the world that still have woodland closer to wilderness. These parts of northern and western Europe often have a spooky mythology to them, especially in the autumn and winter when it is cold and wet and a sea mist hangs over the land.

Native American Lore

It is not just in Anglo-Saxon where the raven entered folklore. It is / was perceived quite differently amongst the Native American tribes. Some felt it was a symbol of good fortune due to its associations with creation myth. Other tribes, rather like Anglo-Saxon / Norse mythology, feel it is a bird not to be trusted as it is a trickster or shapeshifter due to its intelligence and wiliness.

At The Tower of London

One of the most curious tales about ravens is their importance to the citadel known at The Tower of London. This castle built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century, has had a group of ravens within its grounds for centuries. Charles II said that the resident flock should be protected. Rather than seen as a symbol of bad luck, their presence is seen as good luck. Should they ever leave, it is said, The Tower of London will fall.

Ravens: Good or Bad Luck?

In Europe at least, ravens are considered a bad omen despite the mixed history of this magnificent bird. This negative perception as an omen of death was not helped by Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem The Raven. If you see a raven on your way to your local casino or gaming rooms, do not despair, just remember that the rich history of this creature has brought bad luck in some cultures but not in others.

Is the Bitcoin Symbol Now a Lucky Symbol?

Many people have talked about the phenomenon of lucky symbols, much the same as lucky numbers. There are many people out there who are superstitious, and who feel like specific numbers or symbols can bring them good fortune. Now, whether or not there is anything to this is certainly something that’s up for debate. We don’t think that there is any such thing as a lucky symbol or number, but many people do.

In fact, professional gamblers and athletes, as well as those from religious backgrounds, often have symbols or numbers they consider to be lucky. These superstitions generally stem from childhood, or from cultural reasons. One of the biggest industries in which lucky symbols play a prevalent role is in the gambling industry.

Think about how many times people will put money on things based on the symbol. You will also find that people are likely to attribute good fortune and success in their lives to their lucky symbols. One of the symbols these days that could be considered lucky is the Bitcoin symbol. This is a B with two vertical lines through it and is one of the most recognisable online symbols.

The sign was created by the mysterious and enigmatic creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. It was accepted for Unicode on late 2015 and has been stylised to look similar to some of the other currency symbols out there.

It’s pretty clear that a lot of people out there consider this to be a lucky symbol. Much of that is likely down to the rise of Bitcoin as a currency, and how much it has grown in value and influence. A lot of people will have jumped on the Bitcoin bandwagon very early when it was still unknown, and the cost was minuscule. These people will most likely find themselves in charge of a small fortune now, by way of Bitcoins. This has probably led them to view the Bitcoin symbol as one that is lucky as it has brought them good luck.

We feel it’s quite clear that the Bitcoin symbol is not lucky, but it is certainly well-designed, and part of a bigger picture. As a currency Bitcoin is one of the leading digital units, and it could become even bigger in the future. So, many more people are going to invest in it, and it could grow even more.

Why are Shoes on a Table Considered Unlucky?

Humans are a curious species. We are, perhaps, the only species with enough imagination for the creative arts. We are the only species that we know of to think about the universe and our place in it. This includes the metaphysical and superstition. One of the most curious superstitions is the idea that it is unlucky to put new shoes on a table.

This is one of the most difficult to deconstruct by simply thinking through logically. There are, however, several competing theories for this.

Sanitation Theory

The first reason for why it may be bad luck to put shoes on a table is based on basic medical science. We wear shoes outside, tramping across muddy ground, standing water and so on. These environments can carry all sorts of nasties. In a time when polio was rife, the act of putting shoes on a table was a hazard to human health. The table, after all, is where people eat their meals. The danger that viruses, bacteria and other nasties could infect our food and water was a very real threat.

New Shoes for the Dead Theory

One superstition about shoes is that one should never put new (unworn) shoes on a table. Unlike the sanitation theory, these unworn shoes were highly unlikely to carry anything dangerous. After all, they are made from fresh leather which has come from the factory or cobbler by way of a shop. The reason for not putting unworn shoes on a table is that recently deceased are placed on a table along with the dress clothing they are to wear for their funeral. This would include a new pair of shoes.

Coal Mining Industry Theory

This is specific to the coal mining regions of the north of England, but it seems that placing shoes on a table was a mark of respect to a dead miner who passed away carrying out his job. Rituals for the deceased are a common form of human behaviour so this is certainly believable. To put one’s shoes on the table for something other than a mark of respect to a dead miner invites death into the family. How this spread to outside the coal mining areas of the north of England is up for debate though.

Theatre Theory

Actors are a superstitious bunch. Wishing somebody good luck actually brings bad luck. Actors wish each other bad luck such as “break a leg” in order to bring good luck. In one explanation, an actor who puts a pair of costume shoes on a dressing table invites bad luck on himself/herself or on the performance as a whole. This could be tied to the other theories or it could be independent of them.

The Hangman’s Theory

Some of the theories above are relatively recent. The final theory in our collection goes back to medieval times. When people convicted of a crime were hanged, naturally their feet were suspended above the ground. It is believed that their feet were at table level. Therefore, putting shoes on a table is a euphemism for somebody hanged. It invites bad luck.

Lucky Symbols: The Axe

Historical Background

Of all the lucky symbols from cultures throughout history, there is perhaps none more surprising than the axe. Symbol of blacksmiths and several gods, in some societies in the past it has become a good luck charm, or a symbol of protection or power. Here is a summary of how some past and modern societies viewed the axe as a symbol of good luck.

Prehistoric People

We can only speculate on its meaning as we have no written texts, but during the Neolithic, we see many graves with symbolic axes places in graves with the deceased. Aside from its obvious functional use, some of these examples were never used in life, perhaps even made for the grave burial. It is likely to have been considered a powerful symbol with great meaning.

Chinese Culture

There are several uses in China but its major concept as a good luck charm is that the word for axe in Chinese is the same word for happiness. In cultures that believe in the power of positive thinking or in the law of attraction (as in neo-paganism and in 20th Century New Age thinking) believes that happiness can cause good luck and good fortune. This may have been inspired by Chinese culture.

Buddhism

Buddhism is a global religion that started in the east. Many people in China, Japan and elsewhere in the region are Buddhists so it is no great surprise that the axe has symbolic meaning in Buddhism. Here, it is symbolic of the power of the axe in the destruction of evil. Good luck makes people happy and the axe banishes evil entities that could bring you bad luck.

Ancient Greece

Though not a direct symbol for good luck per se, from ancient Crete and later, Classical Greece, the double-headed axe was an important symbol of divinity, particularly for goddesses. People wore these symbols for many reasons. When we keep in mind that many sacrifices and traditions were in aid of petitioning the gods for favour and good fortune, it has become, in a way, a good luck symbol in more modern times.

Use in Gambling?

As a gambling talisman, the axe is a lot less popular that the other symbols such as the lucky penny, four-leaf clover and so on. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its advocates. As it is popular in the Far East, you may find visiting casinos in China, Japan or Singapore the symbol is far more common than it would be in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo where other western symbols might be more popular. The axe is a timeless symbol for many cultures, and one of the most important developments in our early history so it’s no wonder it has symbolic power too.

Wishbone

It’s Christmas, you have a roast turkey- and yet everyone is looking forward to the bit afterwards. Digging out the Y shaped bone known as the ‘Wishbone’ and getting that special wish. To be rewarded the wish, two people have to hook their finger around one end of the wishbone and pull- whoever breaks off the largest piece wins the wish! Or so legend has it anyway…

The superstition surrounding a wishbone, which can also be found in chicken and geese, can be recorded as far back as the late medieval period, when an individual named Johannes Hartlieb recorded the weather forecast by means of a wishbone. However, the act of two people pulling on a wishbone actually came about after this. It started with ancient Italians, who worshipped chickens. After killing a chicken for food, however, they would save the wishbone and leave it to dry in the hopes that they could save some of the chickens magical powers- seriously. People would then pick up the bone every time they walked past and make wishes on it, hence how the name wishbone came about. (This part does differ from person to person- some people make the wishes and then if you win the bigger half your wish will come true. Some people don’t allow anyone to make wishes and the ‘fight’ commences first- if you win the bigger half, only then can you make your wish and hope that it will come true).

So there’s the story behind the wishes. Why the tug of war? Well, when the Romans came about, it was nothing more than a simple problem regarding “supply and demand”. So many people wanted to be able to make wishes and ensure themselves a better life that they had to fight over the wishbone. You made your wish if you won the bigger half of the bone. The Romans then passed this on to the English, and it has stayed throughout time with us, as well as being spread to many other cultures around the world.

Whilst wishbones don’t play much of a part in anyone’s life nowadays, they do make frequent appearances in items of jewellery that can be gifted to friends and families as good luck charms, such as necklaces. Other than that, they seem to be no more than a little bit of dinner time fun to share with your family.

Rabbits Foot

Possessing a rabbits foot is seen as a good luck charm in so many places all over the world. England, China, Spain, Africa, France, North and South America…it is recognised almost globally as a good luck amulet.

The original story of why a rabbits foot acts as a good luck charm comes from the Celtics, who believed that because rabbits lived so deeply underground, they must have the ability to communicate with the spirits residing in the underworld. However, it wasn’t every rabbits foot that was lucky, oh no. But if a certain rabbit possessed some sort of ‘powers’, or was killed in a special place, or was killed by a person who had special attributes themselves, then the foot of that rabbit would be incredibly lucky indeed.
It is also a well known fact that rabbits can breed in an abundance. Because of this, superstition allowed/s people to believe that if they carried a rabbits foot with them, they would have no trouble conceiving a child- if you were having a problem with your fertility, you’d want to be carrying one of these on you.
In Africa.
In Africa, there is a story about a highly intelligent rabbit called B’rer Rabbit (not too long ago becoming a popular children’s book by Enid Blyton. B’rer Rabbit was witty and funny and intelligent and creative and had no problem at solving problems that arose between friends of his. If an argument was about to arise, B’rer Rabbit could sort the issue without his friends even realising what he was doing! The African’s believe a rabbits foot not only carries luck but it helps them to remember to have courage in times of conflict just as B’rer Rabbit did.
In North America.
The inhabitants of North America believe that yes, a rabbits foot is indeed good luck. However, they have very strict, specific rules about what kind of rabbits foot it must be.
Rule 1) The rabbits foot can’t be any foot- it has to be the back foot on the left hand side. That is the only foot that can act as a good charm, all others are useless.
Rule 2) The rabbits foot can only act as a good charm if the rabbit was killed in a cemetery. If it was killed elsewhere, the foot loses it’s ability to act as a good luck charm.
Rule 3) The rabbit must be killed under a new moon (although some people believe it to be a full moon- this is a story/legend that has been altered slightly as it has been passed down through generations).
Whilst rabbits feet are not regarded so highly as lucky talisman in Westernised society, in African and North American tribes they still can be found acting as lucky amulets. And whilst you won’t see one spinning around on a slot machine with a four leaf clover and a horseshoe, you will always hear about the lucky legend surround the rabbits foot.

Ladybirds

Ladybirds are considered extremely good luck within the Christian religion. The reason for this is that ladybugs are often believed to have been sent to Earth by the Virgin Mary herself. As ladybirds eat other, smaller insects such as aphids, which are known to be crop ruining insects, the most common legend believed is that the Virgin Mary sent these little red, spotted bugs down to Earth as a gift for all farmers. The ladybirds would eat the aphids and prevent the crops from being destroyed, ensuring that the farmers would have a bountiful harvest. If you went into the fields and saw ladybirds on your crops, you would know that the Virgin Mary was wishing you a bountiful harvest. Because of this legend, farmers shared this catchy story with children (and sometimes still is) “Never kill a ladybug because doing so will bring bad luck!” (more…)

Frogs

The frog may seem like a simple amphibian, but in actual fact it is considered a good luck symbol in a variety of cultures across the globe.

The main good luck that comes with a frog is considered to be in fertility. Due to their ability to produce and have hatch a great number of eggs at one time and the incredible transformation period from tadpole to frog, it is believed that frogs will bring good luck to anybody that is trying to have a child. (more…)