Life in itself is a mystery. Add to it the deep-rooted superstitions and it becomes even more complex. You like it or not, there are many superstitions that exist in our society. Most of them were born to help mankind and were based on sound reasoning. But with time the logic was left behind and the belief became a superstition. The perplexity is one can neither believe them nor ignore them. Particularly those superstitions that predict future. Anything from a bird’s call to the falling of utensils can alter your life.
As far as superstitions go, fear of a black cat crossing one’s path is of relatively recent origin. It is also contrary to the revered place once held by the cat in Egypt, around 3000 B.C.
During the middle ages, the dread of black cats first arose in England. The cat’s characteristic independence, willfulness and stealth, coupled with its sudden overpopulation in major cities, contributed to its fall from grace. Alley cats were fed by poor, lonely old ladies, and when witch hysteria struck Europe, and many of these homeless women were accused of practicing black magic, their cat companions (especially black ones) were deemed guilty of witchery by association.
One popular tale from British lore illustrates the thinking of the day. In Lincolnshire in the 1560s, one moonless night a father and his son were frightened by a small creature that passed across their path into a crawl space. Hurling stones into the opening, they saw an injured black cat scurry out and limp into the adjacent home of a woman suspected by the town of being a witch. Next day, the father and son encountered the woman on the street. Her face was bruised, her arm bandaged. And she now walked with a limp. From that day on in Lincolnshire, all black cats were suspected of being witches in night disguise.
‘Breaking a mirror’, one of the most widespread bad luck superstitions still in existence, originated long before glass mirrors existed. The belief arose out of a combination of religious and economic factors.
The first mirrors, used by the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews and Greeks, were made of polished metals such as brass, bronze, silver, and gold, and were unbreakable. By the 6th Century B.C., the Greeks had begun a mirror practice of divination called catoptromancy, which employed shallow glass or earthenware bowls filled with water. A glass water bowl was supposed to reveal the future of any person who cast his or her image on the reflective surface. If one of these mirrors slipped and broke, the seer’s interpretation was that either the person holding the bowl had no future (because he or she would soon die) or the future held events so dreadful the gods were kindly sparing the person a glimpse of their fate.
The Romans adopted this bad luck superstition in the 1st Century A.D. and added their own twist—our modern meaning. They maintained that a person’s health changed in cycles of seven years. Since mirrors reflect a person’s appearance (that is, health), a broken mirror augured seven years of ill health and misfortune. The superstition acquired a practical, economic application in 15th Century Italy. The first breakable sheet glass mirrors with silver-coated backing were manufactured in Venice at that time. Being very costly, they were handled with great care. Servants who cleaned the mirrors were frequently and emphatically warned that to break one of these treasures invited seven years of a fate worse than death. Such effective use of the superstition served to intensify the bad luck belief for generations of Europeans. By the time inexpensive mirrors were being manufactured in England and France in the mid-1600s, the broken mirror superstition was widespread and firmly rooted in tradition.