WALKING UNDER a ladder, crossing paths with a black cat, breaking a mirror, knocking on wood, and tossing spilled salt over your shoulder: these are all common superstitions many people have believed throughout the centuries. However, apart from these universal beliefs, each country has their own sayings based on their culture and historical background. South Korea has their share of sayings and superstitions that have been passed down. Your grandparents and parents might scold you with these sayings, or you might have heard your superstitious friend mutter them under their breath. But, have you ever thought about the origins of these beliefs?
You will die if you write your name in red.
This is probably one of the most famous sayings in South Korea; however, the emergence of this saying is not as deathly as the superstition itself. Many people think that this superstition emerged because blood is red, but this is not the case. As many might already know, the color red is a symbol of wealth for the Chinese. As a result, Qin Shi Huang—founder of the Qin dynasty—wanted to make this symbolic color his. He prohibited anyone else to use it, and the people were executed if caught using the emperor’s color. It is unclear how and why this saying came to South Korea, but the ancestors believed this and it was passed down the generations since then.
It brings luck to share rice cakes with neighbors when you move in to a new house.
The rice cakes that are passed out are usually covered in red beans. In similar context to the previous superstition, it is believed that the bad spirits are afraid of the color red. Therefore, red beans are commonly used in order to block bad spirits and bad luck. Out of the various types of rice cakes in South Korea, there is a specific rice cake that is covered in grounded sweet red beans. As a result, misfortune is prevented by sharing these rice cakes to the neighbors after moving in. Additionally, this kind gesture might be due to a special Korean culture, jeong. Jeong is complicated to define, even in Korean, but it is an emotion stronger than love that encompasses compassion, sympathy, unity, and affection. Since Koreans carry this emotion with them, it might have become a custom to pass out the rice cakes in order to have a positive start with the neighbors.Recently, people have started to share these rice cakes when they move in to new buildings at work as well.
It is bad luck to cut your nails at night.
In the old days, people used to clip their nails with scissors or sickles. This saying was invented in order to prevent people from cutting their nails with these dangerous tools in the dark. Nowadays, some people add creepy elements to this phrase by saying that ghosts will appear if you cut your nails late at night. Apart from this saying, there are other superstitions that are related to nails. For example, apart from it being dangerous to clip nails at night, it is also believed that the soul goes downwards during the night. For that reason, it is said that one will lose one’s soul alongside the nails. There is also a well-known story that advises not to throw away or leave the clipped nails anywhere since rats will take them and turn into copies of the owner of those nails.
Eating seaweed soup in an important day will bring you bad luck.
Seaweed soup is eaten by the mothers after giving birth because the seaweed helps with hematopoiesis, or the formation of blood cells, and in turn, it has become a tradition to eat this dish on birthdays. However, even though this soup is consumed in these celebratory events, it is advised not to eat it before tests, job interviews, and the like. It is slightly self-explanatory, but this is due to the seaweed being slimy. It is said that the slippery and gooey texture of the seaweed resembles an easy fall towards the bottom. In other words, one is more susceptible to negative results because of the seaweed’s consistency.
Having the number nine in your age is bad luck.
It is greatly believed that important events such as marriage, business deals, or moving should not be carried out when there is a nine in one’s age. This is mainly due to the fact that nine is the number before ten, which symbolizes completion, and it gives the impression of imperfection and incompleteness. The misfortune the number nine brings can also be seen in South Korea’s mythological creature Ku-mi-ho—or the nine-tailed fox. The legend states that Ku-mi-ho can change temporarily change into a beautiful lady, but the fox desired to change into a human being permanently. In order to do this, Ku-mi-ho had to eat 100 human livers, or marry a man for 100 days without him getting suspicious. In these legends, the nine-tailed fox always failed her missions in the 99th day. Her constant failure led to the superstition of nine being a difficult number to overcome. For this reason, people today are careful in making climacteric decisions on these certain ages.
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It is interesting to learn that a country’s history and culture have influences in something as simple and humorous as superstitions. However, it is important to note that many of its roots are ancient and should not control or justify one’s choices. It is clear that many of these superstitions and sayings were originated due to fears. As a result, many people have started to use these superstitions as a way to justify outcomes. In other words, if the outcomes are different from what they expected, some people tend to blame superstitions and fate. However, it is important to realize that not having full dominance of the results is normal, and there is no need to believe old sayings in order to control the uncontrollable. Instead of relying on these beliefs, you should start being optimistic.