Compared to modern society, the Romans seem extremely superstitious. But then today’s major religions have all throughout their past discouraged, even combatted, Roman superstitions.
for the ancient Romans, the mirror reflected the health of a person and breaking it meant ‘breaking’ one’s health for 7 years!
Ancient Roman Superstitions and Beliefs
The belief that objects or living beings could possess special spiritual properties was widespread in primitive societies. The Romans were no strangers to this idea. Stones, trees, spring, caves, lakes, swamps, mountains – even animals and furniture – were all deemed to be hosts to spirits (numina).
Stones, in particular, were often seen to contain spirits, especially if they were boundary stones, dividing one man’s property from the other. It is very telling that the Latin word for such a boundary is terminus and that there actually was a Roman god called Terminus.
This odd deity took the form of a huge piece of rock which rested in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Apparently, several attempts to move the bolder when constructing the temple had failed. And so it remained within the temple because it had ‘refused to move, even for Jupiter’.
Some Roman Superstitions Facts
The superstition that if a black cat crosses one’s path, one would be down with bad luck also dates back to the ancient times. This was because black cats were associated with witchcraft and were believed to be witches in disguise. Strangely enough, though, the ancient Egyptians worshipped the cat and considered it to be sacred!
They even had a goddess called Pasht who had the head of a cat and had 9 lives. When a cat died, the mummy of the cat was preserved and a cemetery which had been discovered by archaeologists showed that it contained thousands of mummies of black cats!
Werewolves (Versailles), men who would turn into wolves and roam with the real wolves, perhaps attack herds at night, before turning back to human form, were also a belief known to the Romans. Further, there was the belief that some old women knew the art of changing their form into birds.
The stormy north seas were also said to be teeming with ghastly monsters, some being shaped half man, half beast. Witches and vampires would sneak into the house of a dead man to rob and mutilate his corpse, for example; eating its nose.
Listed below are some events that were considered to bring good luck to the ancient Romans:
- Cut your hair on the 17th and 29th of a month to prevent headaches and baldness
- Say “Good health” (bona Salus) after someone sneezes
- Say “two” (duo) at the sight of a scorpion to prevent it from stinging
- Silently cut your nails, beginning with the index finger, while in Rome on a market day
- Spit on your hand after inflicting a blow to lessen any resentment from the person struck
- Spit on your right shoe before putting it on
- Spit on your urine
- Retrieve a thrown horseshoe
- A bride touches a doorpost with pig fat upon entering her new home
Another strange superstition was that one could stop oneself from having unpleasant thoughts by moistening a finger with saliva and rubbing it across the skin behind the ear.