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A while back, my son sneezed. I replied with a predictable ‘bless you’, and he said ‘thanks’ in return.

‘Oh no,’ I replied quickly. ‘You mustn’t thank me, not for a sneeze.”

I’d said it without even thinking; and was unprepared when he asked for a reason why.

Not killing the fairies?

This strange (and not very well-known) idea suggests that, if you thank someone after they say ‘bless you’, a fairy will die. Does it come from ancient belief? Or Peter Pan? I’ve never been sure, but nonetheless, it’s somehow permeated my subconscious.

This is incredibly common. Some people instinctively salute magpies. Others go out of their way to avoid walking under a ladder. As for Friday the 13th ? We’re still all convinced it’s an unlucky day… but why?

The most superstitious places in the UK

A study was carried out a couple of years back, identifying which part of the UK was the most superstitious. I was amazed to find out that the south-west was the least so – despite having so many spooky tales in its repertoire. Only 68% of people in the south-west described themselves as superstitious, compared to 81% in the north-west – the country’s most superstitious spot.

Here’s a list of some of the most common superstitions in the UK:

-        Counting magpies

-        Not opening umbrellas indoors

-        Not cracking mirrors

-        Avoiding the number 13

-        Not putting new shoes on the table

-        Not walking under ladders

What’s so bad about opening an umbrella in the house?

It’s amazing, in our modern world, that we still continue to hold these strange, nonsensical beliefs. Stranger still is the fact that we often don’t know why we believe them. Here’s some explanation behind these common superstitions:

Opening umbrellas inside

Like all good superstitions, no-one knows for sure. But some great explanations include:

-        Not wishing to anger the sun-god. In Ancient Egypt, royalty used umbrellas made from peacock feathers. It was believed that if they used the umbrella away from the sun-god’s rays, they’d be punished for it.

-        Umbrellas were dangerous. In Victorian times, umbrellas could be pretty lethal. They were spring-loaded, and leapt open with great force. They also had strong metal spokes – which could be painful if driven suddenly into an arm (or worse still, your face). Opening one indoors meant that precious items (such as vases or ornaments) could be accidentally knocked over.

-        Upsetting the good spirits. Some ancient cultures believed that there were good spirits in the home, who objected to shade being cast inside.

Walking under a ladder

I’ve often noticed people strolling around a ladder, rather than walking beneath it. Here are a few reasons why:

-        Breaking the ‘trinity’. Some believed that a ladder against a wall created a triangle, like the Holy Trinity. To walk beneath it broke this trinity, which angered God. There’s also a suggestion that this dates back even further, to Ancient Egyptian times – as the triangle was a sacred form to them too.

-        Like the gallows. Others suggest that a ladder looks suspiciously like the gallows, and to stroll underneath might set a hangman’s curse upon your head.

Breaking a mirror

Most people, when they break a mirror, immediately make some reference to ‘seven years’ bad luck’. But why? Here are some suggestions:

-        Seeing the future. Mirrors have long been assigned magical powers, by many different cultures. In Ancient Greece, if the glass was clear, you’d live a long, happy life. If it was warped or cracked, you’d experience ill health, or die. The ‘seven year’ part comes from Ancient Rome, as they believed that a person’s ‘health cycle’ lasted seven years.