Have you ever noticed that some elevators in Korea have replaced the number 4 with the letter 'F'? Four is considered to be bad luck, even causing death in Korea because the number 4 is expressed as the Chinese character 死, which means death. Have you ever been told not to present your significant other with a pair of shoes in Korea? In Korea, presenting someone with a pair of shoes could cause the person to run away. Besides these two, there are plenty of superstitions in Korea. But, do you know any of superstitions in other countries? The Sookmyung Times interviewed three international students from different countries to learn about superstitions in their home nations.
Superstition, the Deification of Nature
Pramudita Kristikasari (Indonesia)
Department of English / Exchange Student
Dita, from Indonesia, introduced SMT to several superstitions in her home country. She focused on people living on Indonesia’s most populous island, Java because Indonesia is a country comprised of over 1,000 islands. In other words, each island has its own culture and superstitions depend on the area where one is from. She introduced the magazine to three unique superstitions believed among the people of Indonesia.
According to Dita, Javanese believe mountains are homes to gods, ancient spirits, and supernatural creatures. The belief stems from animistic traditions practiced across Java long before the arrival of Islam, which is now practiced by the majority of Indonesians. She said, “Tour hikes up certain mountains on Java will be packed with stories by tour guides of spirits that haunt the mountains. They comfort people by saying have no fear for as long as you don’t anger the spirits of Java’s most active volcanoes, including Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta and Mount Lawu, on the border between East and Central Java, you are safe.” In regard to this, she said, “To outsiders, these superstitions might sound ridiculous, but to locals, particularly those who live in the shadow of these volatile volcanoes, it is really important to keep the spirits who guard them happy.” When a volcano erupts, Javanese believe it is because the spirit is angry and is demanding an offering.
She went on to say, “Some beaches on the southern coast famed for their big waves and great surf spots are considered sacred because they are associated with Nyai Roro Kidul, Queen of the Southern Sea.” According to Javanese belief, people should not wear green clothing on these beaches. Anyone wearing green runs the risk of offending Nyai Roro Kidul and, according to legend, could drown in the sea. Every Tuesday or Friday Kliwon, people who live along the southern Java coast, give offerings such as meat, flowers, fruit, and animal heads to Nyai Roro Kidul. She said, “The ritual might generate a lot of litter, but people don’t seem to care because they believe it makes the Queen happy. Personally, I don’t believe in this superstition. In fact, there are often cases of people drowning at the beach because of the intense waves. It’s pretty dangerous for people to swim there.”
Various Superstitions from Germany
Oliver Jonas August Hanan (Germany)
Division of Business Administration / Visa Student
There are a lot of superstitions in Germany. In Germany, people hate black cats, so if a black cat passes in front of someone, especially from left to right, people believe bad things will happen. People hate black cats because they regard black cats as being the devil. Besides, Germans believe that it is bad toast with water when others are toasting with beer. They consider the act as a vow of death to the other people. When SMT asked him about more common superstitions, Oliver explained one: “One of the most famous superstitions is the one associated with the breaking of a mirror. You end up getting seven years of bad luck. This superstition is pretty common across Germany and is probably still manifested in the minds of people today. In order to reverse the bad luck, the person who broke the mirror must pick up the shattered pieces and store them forever or leave the pieces on the floor the entire day.“
According to Oliver, there are 3 distinct reasons why those superstitions were created and why they are still around today. “Superstitions originated during the Medieval period in Germany and came from local beliefs and religion. Christianity had a big impact on superstitions,” said Oliver. Superstitions like it is good fortune to meet a chimney sweeper were made during the Medieval period because that’s when the job existed. Also, the superstitions like if someone passes under a ladder, the person would no longer continue to grow, arose from Christianity because they regard all ladders to be like the ladder that appear in the Bible. In the Bible, in his dream, Jacob saw an envoy of God climb up and down a ladder. It effected many local beliefs, so local people in Germany believed there were many evils hiding under ladders. Nowadays, people tend to think that the evil or demon under a ladder harasses people.
When SMT asked whether Oliver believed in superstitions, he answered, ”Personally, I don‘t believe in superstitions, but they definitely cross my mind from time to time. You do tend to think of them whenever you hear about them or when something happens.“ Because Oliver does not believe in superstitions, he doesn't have any experience to share with SMT. Still, SMT asked Oliver his thoughts on Korean superstitions like those introduced at the beginning of the article. Oliver laughed saying, “cheating on your partner because of new shoes is a very unique superstition. It’s one that I could have never imagined. I would never believe it though because shoes are common gifts to give between friends or lovers in Germany."
Same But Different Supersititions with Korea, China’s superstitions
Zhou Ziyun (China)
Division of Korean Language & Literature / Exchange Student
When SMT asked about Chinese superstitions, Ziyun told SMT about common one. “Pregnant Chinese ladies never use scissors because they believe that if they use scissors, they will bear a deformed child.“ The Chinese also have superstitions that are similar with those in Korea. For example, Chinese people believe that if they hang the letter 福, meaning lucky, upside down, luck will pour out to them. Similarly Korean people believe that hanging the letter, Ipchun Deagil upside down in spring, the energy of spring will rise up from the Earth to them. However, there is one superstition that differs completely. For example, Chinese like the color red and consider it a color restricted to the King when he writes his name. However, Koreans believe use of the color red when writing one’s name signals impending death.
Ziyun said people believe in superstitions from ancient times. “Ages ago when science hadn’t been developed yet, people had to imagine explanations for what they couldn’t explain. Sometimes, people overheard surprising happenings, they passed this onto others by word of mouth. These stories evolved over time to become the superstitions that we know today." Also, the long history of China and its various minority races could be reasons why China has so many various superstitions. Because China is a nation comprised of various races, each has its own traditional culture. Moreover, the environment in which those races live have also influenced people’s thoughts and experiences.
When SMT asked whether she believes in Chinese superstitions, she said, "No, I don’t believe in them, but I think they are part of the traditional historic culture of China, so we should know them even though we don’t believe them at all." Also, SMT asked if she had ever had a unique superstition experience. She told us, "One day, taking an elevator, I realized there was no fourth floor. The numbers went from 3 to 3 plus, instead of 4. I realized it was related to the superstition that use of 4 in a building would mean all those on the 4th floor would die." Lastly, SMT wondered what Ziyun thought about Korean superstitions, so SMT asked her about the presenting of one’s partner with shoes. She replied with, “Actually, we have a very similar superstition in China. Although I’d never believe such a thing, it is funny. I guess it is one way of expressing the culture of a generation and one’s hidden desire to separate from her or his partner.”