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Superstitions and Creeds

The fear of the unknown combined with the insecurity of life creates superstitious beliefs in humans.

Superstitions and Creeds

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 17/03/2022

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Specialist in Scientific Documentation

The fear of the unknown combined with the insecurity of life creates superstitious beliefs in humans.


Superstitions have their origins in the beginning of civilization and with it they must die. They are part of the human intellectual essence and can be found in the entire history of humankind.


They are part of many acts in human life, from the most illiterate to the most educated individual, the scientist, the writer, the artist.


Superstitions always have a defensive nature and are respected to avoid evil or unwanted incidents.


Amulets transformed into adornments and jewels are visible signs of superstitions. They are defensive objects, to which is attributed the virtue of warding off evil and bringing good luck, such as a fig, a rue branch, an eye, a whelk, and a clover. The talisman has the same purpose as the amulet, but it is made especially for someone, and only that person will be defended by it.


For personal or home defense, there are herbal baths and rituals that “cleanse” the surroundings.


Superstition is also believing in the existence of folklore myths, such as Saci, Headless Mule, werewolves, witches, magic spells, or evil eyes.


There are beliefs that do not imply fear or defense of any evil, such as: cartomancy readings during midsummer, eating certain foods on New Year’s Eve dinner, and children throwing their baby teeth on the roof to get new stronger teeth.


Superstitions related to pregnancy and childbirth are ancient and have great importance in several cultures. Filipinos believe in an evil spirit that disturbs childbirth, making it painful. Hungarians used to shoot over the head of the parturient to ward off evil spirits. Some African ethnic groups believed that pregnant women should not attend to funerals because the soul of the deceased could incarnate in the baby. For the Amazonian Indigenous people, women, especially when they are pregnant, should not watch the curare (poison) being prepared, they cannot pick-up game animals and weapons nor eat lowland paca, otherwise they would not be able to sleep.


There are lots of known superstitions passed from father to son and found in the daily lives of many people:

  • Scissors should not be left open for a long time. It brings bad luck;
  • Green grasshoppers bring good luck, and their appearance means hope;
  • When accompanying a funeral, people should not enter the cemetery before the coffin;
  • Stepping on a cat’s tail attracts misfortune;
  • Do not go under stairs or break a mirror. It brings bad luck;
  • Upside down flip-flops attract misfortune;
  • Placing brooms behind a door kicks visitors out of the house;
  • A child who has a closed hand at birth will be miserly when grown up;
  • A child who plays with fire at night wets the bed;
  • When children dream that they are falling into a well, it is a sign that they are growing up;
  • Itchy palms are a bad sign;
  • Leaving a suitcase open is a bad omen, as it resembles a coffin.


There are also some superstitious people who wear the same type of clothes to bring good luck when, for example, their soccer team is going to play an important match. This is very common during FIFA World Cup, both among fans and players.


Recife, June 11, 2003.


sources consulted

CÂMARA CASCUDO, Luís da. Dicionário do folclore brasileiro. Rio de Janeiro: Edições de Ouro, [ s.d.].

CARVALHO NETO, Paulo de. Folclore sergipano: primeira sistemática sintética e primeira antologia 1883 a 1960. Aracaju: Sociedade Editorial Sergipana, 1994. p.59-61.

LIMA, Maria do Rosário de Souza Tavares de. Uma pitada de folclore. São Paulo: [s. n.], 1995.

VIEIRA FILHO, Domingos. O mundo das superstições. São Luiz: Departamento de Cultura do Estado, 1963.


how to quote this text

GASPAR, Lúcia. Superstitions and Creeds. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available at: Accessed on: mês dia ano. (Ex.: ago. 6 2009)