Admit it: You experience a little apprehension if someone opens an umbrella indoors. Go ahead, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed. People have been considering this innocuous act to be a portent of bad luck for over a century. Have you ever stopped to wonder why in the world opening an umbrella indoors would bring back luck? This superstition as we know it dates back to relatively recent times, but has its origins back in the ancient world.
Before I reveal the answer to this mystery, take a moment to think about how a superstition surrounding an umbrella might have arisen. Where would this superstition most likely begin? Think about a country famous for rain and the necessity of umbrella protection against the elements. You got it: merry olde England. Or, at least, merry old Victorian England. London is known for its thick fog, of course, but where there’s fog there’s usually precipitation. The umbrella was a necessary part of life in 18th century London, often replacing the more popular walking stick. The thing about the umbrellas of those days is that they were clunky affairs, make with hard metal spokes and a spring trigger. Merely engaging that spring to open the umbrella could be quite hazardous to hearth and home, and eyeball for that matter. These umbrellas would violently pop open, and the metal spokes were known to injure anyone who might be nearby, or just break any fragile object in its path. Many a disagreement and quarrel erupted over the spring-loaded British umbrellas. Some might well say ill-timed opening of umbrellas during this era resulted in bad luck for many a British gent. One legend surrounding the superstition of bad luck converging after the opening of an umbrella indoors is that it was invented specifically to cut down on the number of accidents and incidents that sprang from the umbrella mechanics of the day. By spreading the idea that opening an umbrella indoors brought bad luck, the intention might have been to severely curtail the number of unfortunate cases. Another idea is that the superstition just naturally sprang up as a result of the fact that so many Londoners experienced the bad luck of losing valuable knicknacks as a result of being gored with one of the metal spokes. Whatever the true origin of the superstition, most folklorists agree that the contemporary superstition does spring from the spring-loaded umbrella of Victorian England.
Long before the peers of Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, however, the idea of a superstition being associated with the umbrella was manifested in ancient Egypt. Since rain was a precious commodity in this area of the world even back then, Egyptian umbrellas were used not to protect against precipitation, but against the sun’s rays. These early umbrellas were designed using papyrus and the feathers of a peacock, and they carried with them great spiritual significance as well a utilitarian need. These Egyptian umbrellas were designed not just to protect against the sun, but also as a small-scale reproduction of the celestial canopy created by their goddess, Nut. Nut was traditionally represented in an umbrella shaped way, bent across the earth with only her fingers and toes actually touching the ground and the rest of her body spanning the earth. The umbrella was designed to capture Nut’s essence and, therefore, were suitable for use only by the highest nobility. So sacred were these umbrellas that anyone found standing in their shade even accidentally who was not a member of the elite was deemed to be a bringer of bad luck.
Not quite the same as opening an umbrella indoors, but almost surely the bad luck this poor Egyptian commoner experienced was substantially worse than what the average Victorian Londoner experienced.