Shadow Superstitions


If you sit with your shadow thrown on the water, you will not catch fish.

If someone broke something onto which the shadow or reflection appeared, people believed that their soul was harmed. 

Shadows are a representation of the soul or even a manifestation of the soul itself.

The Ancient Greeks believed that whomever entered the sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Lycaeus would lose his shadow and therefore was doomed to die within the year. The Greeks believed that the shadow contained the soul and that none could live very long once the soul was separated from the body.

It was a custom for magicians on the Indonesian isle of Wetar “to injure a man by stabbing his shadow with a spear or hacking it with a sword.”Here the shadow is used as some sort of witch-doll or voodoo-doll, but instead of using pins, spears or swords were used to cause the victim great pains.

The shadow was used in magic also by Gypsies. As he writes: “There is a superstition among the gypsies that if the shadow of a cross on a grave falls on a woman with child she will have a miscarriage, and this seems to be peculiarly appropriate to girls who have ‘anticipated the privileges of matrimony’.”

Another curious practice can be found among people in south-eastern Europe. The people of Greece sometimes use shadows as a sacrifice when the foundation of a new building is being laid. This can be done by laying the foundation-stone upon a man’s shadow. The sacrifice is believed to give stability and strength to the building. The man however, whose shadow is secretly used for sacrifice, will die within a year.

In many folk tales the soul appears as a shadow long after the person or better said, body, has died. There are many legends which describe how graveyards are haunted by grey and black shades at night. Shades which clearly have the silhouette of human beings and move around like humans as well but have no other human features. In some cases these shadows were seen as an omen of death. The person who encountered such a shadow was thought to die within a few days or someone very close to him would die.

In a Dutch folk tale in which a couple of men are ice-skating and think they are being followed by devils or demons. They go faster and faster but the ‘devils’ keep chasing them. As it turns out at the end the so-called devils chasing them are their own shadows.

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