Superstitions might not be part of your every day, but we’re betting more than one of the following has crossed your path. Read on for the deets behind why (or probably-why) some of the most common superstitions exist.

ladders photo: Shelah via flickr

Don’t open an umbrella indoors: because once upon a time those things were like serious weapons, especially when the spring-release was introduced. The blades sprung open quickly and in close quarters, you’d take out an eye. In other words, it’s just rude.

Black cat crossing your path: bad luck? Actually no. Many cultures believe a black cat crossing your path or coming into your home brings good luck and prosperity. At some point in history black cats became associated with witches and were said to be the devil in disguise, which may be why people think of bad luck. Ask a San Jose Sharks fan and they’ll tell you, black cats are good luck.

Fear of the number 13: There are many theories behind when or why this number became associated with bad luck. Some say it has to do with the Last Supper and there being 13 total people around the table (one of whom betrayed Jesus); others say that it has to do with the mass arrest and torture of the knights of the Knight’s Templar on Friday the 13, 1307. It’s even said that an extra full moon (13 instead of 12) posed problems for those early Gregorians trying to make a yearly calendar. The truth? We don’t really know, but there are plenty of hotels and public buildings that are still missing the 13th floor. Fun fact: fear of the number 13 is called triksideskaphobia (trick-suh-desk-uh-foe-be-uh).

The M&M effect: You know those stories of rock ‘n’ roll legends who demand one color be removed from their bowl of M&Ms in the green room among other specific, seemingly quirky requests? They’re not just being divas. The practice is a common way to insure that contracts are being read and paid attention to: if the small details are seen to, then the larger points are not overlooked.

Break a mirror and get 7 years of bad luck: thanks to the belief that mirrors are reflections of one’s soul. When mirrors were new to the regular household, it was generally believed you could catch a glimpse of your own soul, and if you broke said mirror it would take your soul seven years to get back to you. Seven. Years. Without a soul. Sounds pretty unlucky, actually.

Make a wish: throwing a coin into a fountain or well stems from the idea that water spirits needed to be made an offering in order to grant good fortune and wishes.

Walking under a ladder: it’s not just because a bucket of paint or soapy water might plop down on your head and ruin that cute moto jacket you just scored. Ancient Egyptians believed triangular shapes were sacred (which they made kinda obvious with pyramids). Walking under a ladder, which forms a sort of triangle when leaning against a wall or structure, was thought to interrupt the triangle and bring ill fortune. Also: paint bucket thing.

Know any cool origin stories for common beliefs? Share them with us in the comments below. 

—Amber Guetebier