By: Katy Wong – Ethnic Seattle

October 22, 2015

Superstition is a belief that is not based on knowledge. It is a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain actions or events. Varying cultures around the world have different superstitions and beliefs, some were told by parents to keep their children well behaved, and others actually have some truth behind them.

Each country and culture have their unique beliefs and superstitions, what may be viewed as lucky and prosperous in one culture can have a dark and sinister meaning in another…For example, the number 13 in western culture is deemed unlucky because one of the Biblical disciples, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. However, number three or 13 in many Asian countries like China means “alive”, but the number 4 or 14 means “death”. So, before you head out to trick or treat this Hallows’ Eve, make sure you brush up on your cultural superstition knowledge, because you never know whose door you may knock on.

Here are some superstitions around the world to be wary about for this coming Halloween.

  1. Giving a pair of shoes and clocks as presents = Bad luck

Flickr Photo by Adrian

If you have Chinese friends, you better not give them a pair of shoes or a clock as a present. Why? Shoes are pronounced as “Hai” in Cantonese, which sounds like a person sighing and it is bad form to make your friend sigh all the time, not to mention the bad mood they will be in!

As for clocks, they are pronounced as “Song-Zhong, which has a similar pronunciation as “death” in many parts of China. Giving your friends or family a clock as a gift can be interpreted as you wishing them to die.

2. The number trick 13 vs 4

Flickr Photo by Clare Bell.

Don’t be surprised if you travel overseas and find hotel rooms with number 1013 on the door instead of 1014. In most Asian countries, four is an unlucky number that represents “death”. On the other hand, number three means “alive”. In many places in China, people avoid using the number four in their phone number, floors, and price tags. Also, number 24 actually means “Easy to die”! Meanwhile, number 3 (Pronounce as Sheng) represents “alive”.

Here are more secret codes in different parts of China:

668= Keep making money
520= I love you
1314= Forever
7= Ugly

In fact, the number 13 and Friday the 13th is an unlucky number in many countries including the United States. There is a biblical reference to number 13. Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper. In fact, some claim that Friday was the day Jesus was crucified. Similarly, there is also a Norse legend that has 12 gods sitting down to a banquet while the 13th god, who is uninvited, showed up and killed one of the other gods.

3. The Ghost Months

Flickr Photo by Sowhuan

In Chinese culture, the Ghost Festival starts in the middle of July, and July is regarded as Ghost Month. During the whole month of July, ghosts and spirits could come out from the lower realm to visit the living. Many Chinese people burn joss paper as they believe that ghosts and their ancestors will be able to receive the joss paper they burnt and use it at the lower realm.  Another side note, wearing red clothes during the ghost month will attract the spirits.

In the US, Halloween is the month where ghouls and goblins come out to play. Originated in the British Isles, Halloween is a holiday celebrated on October 31. People believe it was the time when ghosts and spirits came out to haunt the living. In the United States, many celebrate the day with activities like trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, and carving pumpkins.

Similarly, Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a Mexican holiday on November 2. Latinos/Hispanics celebrate the holiday by gathering family and friends to pray for and remember those who have died.

4. Pregnancy superstitions

Flickr Photo by Bayu Aditya

In India, many pregnant women believe that going out during an eclipse will attract evil spirits. They believe that eclipses are the most dangerous time for unborn babies. Meanwhile, people in China believe that pregnant women shouldn’t attend funerals to avoid negative feelings.

For anybody who is pregnant in Seattle and believe this superstition, you should be safe to go out at night until the penumbral lunar eclipse on Mar 23, 2016.

5. Chewing Gum

Flickr Photo by Nick Amoscato

In Turkey, many believe that chewing gum at night means chewing a dead body. There is no scientific basis or reason behind this superstition, but it is a very widespread belief in the country.

In fact, chewing gum is actually illegal in Singapore. You won’t be able to buy or sell gum in Singapore. It is not because of the superstition towards chewing gum at night, but officials want to keep the country’s public spaces clean.

Be sure to bring your friends from Turkey or Singapore to visit the Gum Wall in downtown Seattle, they will be surprised by the amount of gum we have on a huge giant wall. Make sure to ask them to add some colorful gums on the wall as memories.

6. The unlucky animals

Most of us know about black cats, and owls that could communicate with the spirit world. Black cat crossing one’s path is considered to be very bad luck. In America, many believe that witches transform themselves into black cats in order to prowl streets unobserved. In fact, black cats became associated with witchcraft after the Salem witch trails.

On the other hand, owls are known to be harbingers of death in Kenya. Some people believe that if one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die.

Flickr Photo by OiMax

However, there are many “lucky cats” in Japan. You can find them in shops, restaurant, and many other places. In most circumstances, the cat will be beckoning with one hand, and will be holding a gold coin on the other hand. They believe that beckoning cats could bring money to the owners. Black cats are also considered to be good luck in Japan!


7. Bloody Mary vs. Cutting the Apple

Most of us have heard about Bloody Mary. If you want to meet Bloody Mary, you will first light a candle and go into the bathroom at midnight. Next, spin three times and say “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary”. What will happen? “Bloody Mary” will do a variety of things to the person who summons her, including killing that person, pulling them into the mirror, scratching them, and more…

The origins of Bloody Mary came from a real life historic story. Mary Tudor was the sister of Queen Elizabeth I of England. During that time, Catholics and Protestants were violently opposed to each other. Mary had put many Protestants to death as a Catholic, which is where she got the name “Bloody Mary”. She later had an ectopic pregnancy, and people believe that she had a ghost baby. Her throne was given to her sister, Elizabeth, who put her to death.

A less scary version comes from the Chinese superstition that is similar to Bloody Mary. First, stand in front of a mirror in dark and light a candle. Second, take a bite out of an apple and brush your hair at the same time. You will then see your future husband or wife. Another option is to peel an apple in a single strip and throw the peel over your left shoulder, you will also be able to see your future ‘other half’

Just in case, here is the tutorial of how to peel an apple in a Chinese way.


8. Opening an umbrella indoors

Most people believe that opening an umbrella indoors will bring bad luck. This superstition can be traced back in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians believe that opening an umbrella inside the house will offend the God of the Sun.

On the other side of the world, the superstition contains another meaning. In Chinese culture, opening an umbrella indoors will invite ghosts into your house. Since ghosts love dark places, they will hide in the umbrella. If you open the umbrella at home, they will stay in your house! Others believe that an umbrella works as an entrance for the ghost to enter your body through the shadow of your body underneath the umbrella.

9. Make a Curse with a doll

In Japanese culture, there is a way to make a curse on a person by putting a nail on a straw doll. “Ushi no koku mairi” is a ceremony in Japan. In order to make a curse, one need to visit a shrine during the “hour of the ox” from 1:00-3:00 a.m., and bring a straw doll known as waranigyou that represents the person who will receive the curse. They then use a long nail called gosunkugi to nail the doll to the shrine’s tree. People believe that wherever the nail strikes will bring pain to the same part of the cursed person’s body. It is very much similar to black magic’s voodoo dolls.

On the other hand, Villain Hitting is a popular demon exorcising in the Guangdong area of China and Hong Kong. It is also a ceremony that aims to curse a person. The ceremony requires human-shaped papers with some information about the cursed person. During the ceremony, villain hitters will beat the papers. In fact, villain hitters are considered to be a career where they will help their clients to perform the ceremony.

10. Fan Death

In Korea, many believe that turning on a fan in a closed room at night can kill a person. There is no clear explanation towards “Fan death”, but this superstition starts in the 19th century. During the 1920s and 1930s, some said the use of electric fans could cause nausea, asphyxiation, and facial paralysis. In fact, you will find many electric fans in Korea that were equipped with timers so it will turn off in the middle of the night.

Comment below and let us know what superstitions you have experienced or heard of!