Why 13 Guests Are Bad Luck And Other Odd Food Superstitions

For scare lovers and horror fanatics worldwide, no date is quite as satisfying as Friday the 13th. In 2023, it falls in October - the unofficial spooky month of the year - an added bonus to make the day even more iconic for people holding horror movie marathons and pre-Halloween bashes to mark the occasion. But this fascination with Friday the 13th and the number 13 itself isn’t something born from pop culture, it’s a deep-rooted superstition.

The mistrust of 13 could date back as far as the Last Supper, where Judas Iscariot was the 13th person to take his seat at the table, the day before he betrayed Jesus Christ and instigated his crucifixion. There’s also a similar story that comes from Norse mythology. As per the legend Odin and the other gods were sitting down for dinner and the trickster god Loki was the 13th to arrive. Loki then tricked the blind God of War, Hodr into killing his brother Baldr, the God of Light and Beauty. 

As you can see, having 13 guests around for dinner didn't seem to turn out so well for these guys and that trepidation has stuck to this day and it’s still considered a bad omen to have 13 people at the table. Although more modern explanations will say that it’s because it results in an unbalanced number that will make conversation tricky, it’s more intriguing to think we’re still practising a habit handed down to us from ancient lore. 

Having 13 guests isn't the only food-related superstition however, there are many that are followed (and sometimes even feared) all over the world. Here are 4 more food-related superstitions to explore.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Salt

One superstition that we see the world over is that spilling salt brings bad luck. This has a number of possible origins. One is simply that salt used to be incredibly valuable and spilling it was akin to losing money. In fact, Roman soldiers used to be paid in salt (sal) which is the root of the modern word ‘salary’. Another theory is that Judas Iscariot (yes him again) is depicted spilling salt in Leonardo Da Vinci’s rendition of the Last Supper, and nobody wants to be associated with that right? Other cultures also believe that salt is a purifier and spilling it invites evil spirits. But never fear, the way to reverse it is to grab a pinch and throw it over your left shoulder, which will hopefully blind any demons lurking behind you.

Sour & Spicy Saviours

Go anywhere in India and you’re sure to see a bunch of chillies and a lemon hanging on shop entrances, cars or even homes. The idea behind this practice is to ward off the evil eye, protect the inhabitants and bring prosperity to them instead. On a scientific level, this pungent and sour combination wards off pests, and on a spiritual level, they’re thought to distract any curse or ill omens cast on you. This belief is also prevalent in Italy where people hang up strings up chillis to prevent gossip and evil intent. 

Good Guy Garlic

In many cultures, Garlic holds a special place of significance – and not just in their cuisines. Throughout history, people in Italy believed that eating garlic on an empty stomach could bring good fortune and promote good health. Now we know that garlic does have some purifying qualities, so this tradition isn’t such a stretch. In Greece, the word for garlic ‘skordo’ is always associated with good luck and families often hang ceramic garlic adornments above doors to prevent bad luck from entering. And of course, if you’re looking to keep out all those unwanted vampires, garlic is an absolute must.

Onion Lullabies

In India and in some other Asian countries, people believe that keeping an onion (and sometimes also a knife) under a newborn’s bed can help deter any bad dreams. It’s also thought that sleeping with a knife under your pillow will bring you visions of your soul mate. Though there are no real explanations as to how this superstition came about, some believe that the pungency of the onion deters insects that would otherwise disturb a child’s sleep, and of course, having a knife handy does offer a sense of protection to let the parents sleep easy too. But when it comes to letting a vegetable pick your life partner, the jury’s still out on that one.