ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — Have you ever caught yourself saying “knock on wood,” “cross your fingers,” or “that was beginner’s luck?” You just might be superstitious.

A superstition is an irrational belief that future events can be influenced or foretold by specific, unrelated behaviors or occurrences. While some superstitions can be traced back through history, most beginnings have been lost in translation.

The psychology behind it all

People can often develop superstitions through their own produced opinions. This is known as confirmation bias, which happens when people favor information that confirms or strengthens their beliefs or values. This bias can be difficult to dislodge once affirmed.

An example of confirmation bias would be a lucky jersey. If someone wears a specific jersey when their favorite sports team is playing and the team wins, they may be more likely to subconsciously label that jersey as a “lucky jersey”. This behavior then perpetuates itself if say the team wins the next three games while the person is wearing this jersey.

Superstitions are also a way to help people feel as though they have control over a situation that they normally wouldn’t. Psychology shows that occupations that experience situations out of control more than normally tend to be more superstitious. Some occupations in this category are actors, miners and fishermen.

For example, actors might hear someone say “break a leg” before heading out on stage. While this may sound like an odd way to wish good luck upon someone, this saying comes from the early days of theatre. If actors were not preforming they had to stand in a “leg line” and were not getting paid. So when you hear someone tell an actor to break their leg, they are wishing them an opportunity to preform well and get paid!

Fishermen commonly say “red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky in the morning, sailors warning.” This saying comes from the way that sailors believe weather to behave based on how the sky looks. If the sky is red at night, this usually indicates that high pressure and stable air is coming from the west, creating good weather. Red skies in the morning are believed to indicate that the good weather has already passed, meaning that a storm will come in the morning.

Superstitions passed through history

Some of the most notable superstitions have been passed on successfully throughout thousands of years from cultures all over the world.  

Walking under a ladder and the arrival of bad luck is said to be traced back 5,000 years ago to ancient Egypt. A ladder, when leaned against a wall, forms a triangle and Egyptians regarded this shape as sacred. To them, triangles represented the trinity of gods and to pass through one was to desecrate them.

This belief continued through the coming ages and in England in the 1600s criminals were forced to walk under a ladder on their way to the gallows.

The fear of Friday the 13th is said to be rooted in religious beliefs surrounding the thirteenth guest to arrive at the last supper, Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus is said to have been carried out on a Friday, which was known as “hangman’s day.”

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Numerologists, on the other hand, have a completely logical answer as to why people are so fearful of the number 13. The number 12 is considered a “complete” number because there are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, 12 gods of Olympus and 12 apostles of Jesus. The unluckiness of 13 has to do with the number being just a little beyond completeness.

In ancient Greece, it was a common practice for people to consult “mirror seers” who told their fortunes by analyzing their reflections. This practice was known as divination and with a mirror specifically is catoptromancy. The mirror would be dipped in water and a sick person would be asked to look into the glass, and depending on the way the image looked the person was doomed to death.

If you’re superstitious, let WTAJ know! Email us you’re superstitions at!