british superstitions are strange, and birds are often included

Ever wondered why your British friends won’t walk under a ladder, or step on pavement cracks? Many British superstitions may seem strange to people new to the culture, however, they often have wonderfully weird origins.


What is a superstition?

A superstition is a belief that is often irrational and based on the supernatural and considered to bring a person good or bad luck. They often centre around the idea that one thing causes another thing to happen, without any scientific evidence to prove or support this.


Good and bad British Superstitions

At BSC Education, we love to help you understand British culture while you are improving your language skills. Here are some of our favourite British superstitions and how they came to be.


1. Getting pooed on by a bird

Although it may seem unlucky, getting pooed on by a bird in Britain is deemed good luck! Good news for those studying at BSC Brighton located by the coast, which has an abundance of seagulls! Even though there are many birds in the sky, it’s supposedly more rare to be pooed on by one than it is to win the lottery. That’s why, if you are one of the ‘lucky’ ones who gets pooed on, it comes as a surprise and is deemed very lucky. It’s also a good belief to make good of a bad situation, so we’re big fans of this one!


2. Putting New Shoes On The Table

While some of these superstitions may be common across the World, the stigma around putting new shoes on the table seems to be distinctly British! Believed to originate from the North of England, this superstition is related to the coal mining industry. When a miner died, their family would place their shoes on the table as a tribute. Therefore, placing shoes on the table was seen to be tempting fate.


3. Opening an umbrella inside

You may have noticed that it rains a lot in the UK, so carrying an Umbrella with you at all times becomes a necessity. However, make sure to never open your Umbrella inside, as this is said that bad luck with ‘rain down’ on you. This superstition has lots of history to it, dating back to ancient Egypt when peacock feathers and papyrus was used to protect people from the sun. Opening them when indoors would be seen as an insult to the sun deity ‘Ra’ and mean you would be cursed. Later, in the Victorian era, umbrellas were constructed with steel spokes and opening one indoors could cause injury or eye loss. Nowadays, we still think that opening an umbrella inside is unlucky.


4. Being afraid of the number 13

The number thirteen is seen as an unlucky number by many. It is said that this superstition originated in Christian beliefs from the Bible. At the Last Supper, Judas, who betrayed Jesus, is thought to have been the 13th guest to sit down. Similarly, Jesus’ crucifixion was on Good Friday, hence the origin of Friday 13th being extremely unlucky! Many roads do not have a number 13 as superstitious people do not want to live there!


5. Walking under a ladder

Another ancient superstition is the fear or avoidance of walking under ladders. In medieval times, people believed a ladder leaning against a wall resembled the gallows, where they used to hang people condemned to death. Therefore, if someone walked underneath a ladder, it was believed that they, too, would die at the gallows.


6. Coming across a black cat

The folklore or superstitions surrounding black cats varies from country to country. Black cats are generally believed to be bad luck because of their association with demons and witches as they were often believed to be symbols of evil omens. However, in the United Kingdom if a black cat walks towards you it is thought to bring good luck and if it walks away it is thought to take its good luck with it.


7. Seeing a magpie

You may have heard the rhyme “One for sorrow, two for joy…” when someone sees a Magpie. These black and white birds can signify good, or bad, luck depending on how many you see. Magpies have been associated with death, so seeing a lone Magpie is said to bring sorrow to your life. Seeing two, however, will bring luck! Although the rhyme does continue up to ten, it is most commonly used when seeing one or two. Some British people like to say “Good Morning Mr Magpie” to try and avoid bad luck.


8. Breaking a mirror

Another one with an ancient history here! Some people believe that breaking a mirror is meant to give you 7 years bad luck. This harks back to the Roman times, when they believed that mirrors were a portal to the soul, and breaking one would damage the soul, which couldn’t be amended until life renewed itself, which was believed to be every seven years.


Want to learn more about British culture and traditions?

Check out some of our other blogs that will help you integrate with British people.

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