Uncover the mysteries behind these strange beliefs

Are you superstitious? Most people do have at least one or two little rituals for encouraging good luck and warding off bad luck. For example, do you say 'bless you' when somebody sneezes? Or do you carry around a lucky coin or piece of jewellery? Superstitions come in many different forms - some stranger than others!

Most superstitions originated hundreds or thousands of years ago when people didn't have the scientific knowledge to explain events, such as a thunder storm, an unexpected death or a failed harvest. So superstitions were the closest people could come to understanding and trying to influence the world around them. Check out these weird and wonderful superstitions. Do you believe in any of them?

1) Unlucky for all? Number 13

An aversion to this number is perhaps the most enduring and universal superstition around. Poor old number 13 - what did it ever do to be considered so unlucky? Fear of the thirteenth numeral probably dates back to the shift from Paganism to Christianity. The number 13 is not unlucky in many Pagan traditions, although it is the number of change - so can be unsettling.

In Christianity, Judas was the 13th disciple to take his seat at the Last Supper. Likewise the Crucifixion was said to have taken place on Friday 13th - an explanation for the dread this day still seems to hold! However, older traditions were in terror of this number, too. The Romans saw it as a numeral foretelling disaster and death. While the Vikings also hated 13, because it signifies the death of Baldr, god of light and joy. The legend says, trickster god Loki was the thirteenth uninvited guest to a feast, where he ordered the assassination of fellow god Baldr. As Baldr was killed all light and happiness vanished from the earth.

2) Evil vegetables!

Love them or hate them, the small, round vegetables called Brussels sprouts are quite bizarrely the subject of superstition! Have you ever noticed how many people cut a cross into the stem of the sprouts while preparing them for cooking? Perhaps you do this yourself? But why? It's not because it help them to cook better! The tradition of slicing a cross into sprouts dates back to medieval times, when people thought tiny demons hid between the leaves of the vegetables! So the cross drove out the devils.

3) Mirror, mirror on the wall...

You can see your face in a mirror but does it also reflect your soul? The superstition of bad luck arriving if you break a mirror comes from the idea that you are shattering your soul along with the mirror. Spooky! The Romans took a more literal view, believing the bad luck was confined to the body. But that it would dissipate after seven years because the body took this amount of time to rejuvenate.

4) Feline powers

Cats have been linked to the supernatural from the moment humans first caught sight of them sashaying across the jungle or dessert. With their mysterious feline nature and sinuous movements it's easy to see why they are so enchanting. The Egyptians worshipped cats as divine beings. Their feline goddesses were called Bastet and Sekhemet. Cats were sacred. So killing a cat in ancient Egypt, even by accident, was more than unlucky. It was a literal death sentence. But the superstitious tides turned for cats with the rise of Christianity, which viewed cats as evil Pagan familiars. Hundreds of felines were burned alive alongside supposed 'witches' in the infamous witch-hunts of the 17th century. The idea that a black cat crossing your path is unlucky still survives from this superstitious time. Although the more enlightened will see it as a good omen.

5) Fingers crossed

Plenty of people still cross their fingers when hoping for good luck - even if it's a half-joking gesture. Its association with good luck is the belief that the hand gesture calls on the talismanic power of the Christian cross.

6) Cursed umbrellas

The superstition still exists today that it's bad luck to open your umbrella inside the house. The reason for this may date back to ancient Egypt. In this hot part of the world, umbrellas were used to shelter from the sun, not the rain. So opening one indoors was an insult to the Sun god Ra, who would curse the owner of the offending umbrella!

7) Bless you

One of the most popular superstitions is to say 'bless you' when somebody sneezes. This is a medieval tradition from a time when killer illnesses, such as the plague were an everyday threat. Sneezing could be a sign that a person is infected with a deadly disease, so it was hoped the blessing would ward off the illness for the person who sneezed and also for those around them.