The nature of superstition

By Adam Spencer

Friday the 13th is traditionally a day of bad luck for the superstitious. Those who claim not to believe often avoid walking under ladders or crossing the path of a black cat, just to be on the safe side.

Please turn on JavaScript.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions.

Superstitions - Birds

Sarah Mack explores the superstitions surrounding our feathered friends. Euan follows the journey of the famous Edinburgh Christmas tree from felling in the forest to the switch-on of lights. Find out if the Young family are ready to part with their feathered friends in the final instalment of Landward's 'Turkey for Christmas' series.

How to make friends and influence people

Many Scottish farmers are convinced that it's bad luck to befriend any of their animals before showing them at Highland shows; such action would put a spell on them and prevent them from winning.

Black sheep of the family

Black sheep
Black sheep: the bringer of bad luck

In the north of Scotland, some farmers believe that the birth of a black-faced sheep brings bad luck for all the flock – this is where the expression ‘black sheep of the family’ originates. If a sheep has twins, both born with black faces, this signals a poor lambing season ahead.

You can't make a milk purse out of a cow's ear

Historically, cattle have been a target for witches. Farmers would tar the rear of a cow's ear or the root of their tail to stop witches from stealing their milk.

Hare today, gone tomorrow

The field hare is known as a bad omen around the world, yet to see a black hare is considered good luck – and in Scotland a white hare is even better luck. If you see a hare running along the road it is said to be running away from a soon-to-be fire; and the left foot of a hare is a good luck charm against arthritis.

Swans: protected species

Swans a-swimming

Swans are protected birds in the UK and it is considered unlucky to bring them to harm. Furthermore, a swan cannot hatch its eggs unless there is a storm and if, in Scotland, you see three swans flying together, it's looked upon as a sign of a disaster waiting to happen.

Aunty Mary had a canary

A Scots canary is a singer greater than all other birds and to harm it in any way causes the person to lose their voice. The strange markings on its eggs have led people to believe it is the Devil's Bird.

More from BBC Scotland

  1. Arts & Culture
  2. Comedy
  3. Health
  4. History
  5. Nature
  6. Radio
  7. Science
  8. TV
Robert Burns

Robert Burns

All 716 of his works, read by some of Scotland's biggest names


Flats in Shieldinch drama River City

River City

Follows the ups and downs of the close-knit Glasgow community of Shieldinch.


Pencil and Calculator

Learning Scotland

Educational clips and games for children and adults alike.

Edinburgh Skyline

On this day in Scottish history

Learn about what happened on this day in years past.


BBC SSO logo


Keep up to date with the latest events and broadcasts from the orchestra.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.