Every culture has superstitions – and of course, Scandinavia is no exception – in our countries, old wives’ tales and superstitions still reign today. Everybody knows about not walking under a ladder, not putting new shoes on the table and not opening the umbrella indoors, but Scandinavians have a few of their own unique ones. Here are some of the best. Feel free to add your own in the comments – we’d love to hear more!
The black cat
In Scandinavia, a black cat is unlucky. In Sweden and Norway, if a black cat crosses your path, you have to spit three times to ward off evil spirits. An alternative is to just say ‘tvi-tvi- tvi’ over your shoulder instead. Either way, to be avoided.
A wonky slice of cake
In Denmark, if you cut a slice of cake and it falls on its side as you serve it, the recipient will end up with an all-round crazy mother-in-law. In Sweden, if the cake falls to the side as you accept it, you’ll never get married. Slightly contradictory if you put the two together. Either way, you’ll either not get married or your life will be made hell by a bonkers mother-in-law. Lesson: do not eat cake.
Flags after sunset
In Denmark, if you forget to take the flag down from the flagpole in your garden, you’re said to be raising the flag for the Devil. You don’t want to be THAT guy.
Keys on the table
In Sweden, you must never put your keys on the table; it is considered very bad luck. Once you delve into the history of this, however, the origin of this superstition is that, back in the day, prostitutes used to indicate their availability by placing their keys on the table. After a while, it became bad luck to do so, seeing as people would not want to be thought of in that way. Even today, a Swede will hand you back your keys if you place them on the dining table (but few will know why).
Break a leg
In Norway, instead of saying ‘break a leg’ , people say ‘tvi-tvi’.
The number thirteen – Scandi version
In Norse mythology, twelve gods were invited to dine at the table in Valhalla. Loki, the mischievous god and shape-shifter, crashed the party and made it thirteen – and everything went to pieces. Lots of fighting. Baldr the Beautiful (god of joy and gladness) was killed with a mistletoe arrow because Loki made Hodr the Blind do it. As Christianity took hold in the centuries that followed the Vikings, the old Norse legends were reinforced in the form of the Last Supper, Jesus and Judas and thirteen at the table.
People all over the world like to touch wood to prevent bad things from happening or tempting fate. In Denmark, if you’ve said something to tempt fate, you knock three times under the table (under, never on) and say the numbers ‘syv-ni-tretten’ (‘seven-nine- thirteen’) – one number per knock. It’s a sort of double security with some lucky and some unlucky numbers in there. The number seven is thought to be lucky, nine is the number of worlds in old Norse mythology and thirteen is generally considered unlucky. In Sweden, people say ‘Peppar, peppar ta i trä’ (‘Pepper, pepper, knock on wood’) to be extra-safe. The knock on wood/touch wood superstition has pagan origins, from the spirits and creatures who inhabited the woods – knocking on tree trunks would awaken them for protection.