by Mikai Tilton
Why don’t black cats get adopted as quickly as others? Why do some buildings lack a “13th” floor? Why do we fear breaking mirrors? All around us, society jumps through hurdles to avoid “bad luck.” But why?
The number 13:
An estimated 10 percent of the United States population fears the number 13—an extreme fear of this number is called triskaidekaphobia. Buildings often skip a 13th floor, and airplanes have been known to skip a 13th row. An avoidance—of marriage, traveling, and working—on Friday the 13ths costs the nation about $800 million annually.
Judas, the disciple that betrayed Jesus, was said to be the 13th seated at the Last Supper. The occasional year with 13 full moons instead of the expected 12 would pose major problems for church festivals and monks in charge of characters. The tarot card XIII is the card of death, featuring a pale rider and horse. The earliest known written text, the Code of Hammurabi, was said to have omitted a 13th law. (This was later uncovered to be an early translation error, as the text is not ordered numerically and other texts have included this missing line.)
Breaking a mirror:
It was once believed that a man’s reflection was not only of his physical appearance, but of his soul itself. Thus, breaking a mirror directly damaged one’s soul as well as his body. Some believed that this would cause the soul to be unable to fight off bad luck; others believed that the damaged soul itself would take revenge for its mistreatment by killing a close friend or family member.
Romans believed life renewed itself every seven years, so “seven years of bad luck” was the time that it took for the spirit of a human to be fully recovered to its original state.
The ASPCA reports that black cats are the least likely to be adopted from animal shelters than any other cat. Shelters in the United States and Canada often hold black cat adoption days and events near Halloween and Friday the 13ths to combat this stigma.
These felines are thought of as bad luck themselves, but it’s an extremely bad omen when a black cat crosses your path.
An avoidance of black cats can be traced back as early as the 14th century. As they were associated with the devil, many black cats were exterminated during the Black Death pandemic. Ironically, this would only have spurred the plague, as it was spread by rats.
A popular fairy in Scottish folklore was the Cat Sith, a giant black cat that could steal newly deceased souls before gods could claim it. This led to watchmen called the “Late Wake” that would protect bodies before burial from this force.
Because of their association to the Devil, black cats were quickly associated with the rise in “witchcraft” accusations of the sixteenth century. Over time, this association shifted from a witch’s “companion” to “familiar,” and witches were thought to be able to turn into these cats.