Every culture has a set of superstitions that people from other cultures might think are a bit silly. Even though Korea is a scientifically advanced country, there are still a few superstitions that the majority of the population has yet to let go of. Many of today’s Korean superstitions are based on historical facts and urban legends. Let’s dive into these 14 superstitions that Koreans still believe in today.
The first on our list of superstitions Koreans still believe today is that you can shake away your good fortune.
I heard this Korean superstition for the first time from an elderly Korean woman. We were with some active children, who wouldn’t stop shaking their legs. She kept on insisting that the children needed to stop because they were shaking away good luck. However, it didn’t go down well with the children’s mum, who didn’t believe in such superstitions. With such passionate views on both sides, maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry. I am constantly shaking my legs while I’m sitting. I should stop before I don’t have any luck left in me.
Although whistling is often associated with happiness in other countries, it is discouraged in South Korea – especially at night. It is believed that whistling at night can summon demons and ghosts. This superstition isn’t peculiar to Korea; some other East Asian cultures share the same belief.
On second thought, whistling can serve you well if you figure someone is following you at night. If you can’t deter them, maybe the demons will.
Pigs are often seen as dirty animals in many countries, but not in Korea. In Korea, they represent wealth and fertility. Pork is the standard meat eaten in South Korea. However, it wasn’t always that way. Pork used to be a highly desired meat, reserved for only the wealthiest Korean citizens. So, dreaming of pigs signifies wealth for many Koreans.
While in western countries the numbers 6 and 13 are considered bad luck, number four is seen as bad luck in Korea. This superstition stems from China, where the number four sounds similar to the word for death. You will find many elevators in South Korea using the letter ‘F’ in place of the number 4.
This is perhaps one of the most prominent superstitions Koreans still believe today. The famous fan death is one of those Korean superstitions that makes you laugh. People are VERY serious about it.
Early electric fans gave rise to this belief at the beginning of the 1900s. A story was published speculating that the new technology could cause medical risks such as facial paralysis and death by suffocation.
The theory behind it is that sleeping in a room with all the doors and windows shut would cause old air to circulate. As a result, no new air was coming in, and you would suffocate. While there is no scientific proof to support this claim, almost all fans in Korea will come with a timer that will prevent the fan from running while you are sleeping.
In Korea, an expectant mother is usually told to eat a lot of 미역국 or seaweed soup during a pregnancy. Many Koreans believe that seaweed soup has a lot of health benefits and will help the mother bring a healthy baby into the world. And so, being associated with birth, naturally led to it becoming a birthday staple.
Rather than blowing out candles, Koreans eat seaweed soup as their birthday breakfast for good luck. However, some are combining traditions, opting for a seaweed soup cake.
For many people, moving into the new year means beginning afresh, so it seems logical to wash your hair on new year’s day. But, in Korea, washing your hair on New Year’s Day means washing away your good luck.
The same also applies before tests. Many students believe that washing their hair before exams will cause their knowledge to be washed away as well. Especially during the college entrance exam period, students don’t wash their hair.
Gifting shoes to your significant other is frowned upon in South Korea. This is one of the South Korean superstitions I don’t quite understand. I’m not sure anyone else really knows where it comes from either. Nevertheless, giving shoes as a gift means you are giving your partner the go-ahead to move on. I guess you can experiment and see it works.
It is considered bad luck to write your name in red. The reasoning behind this superstition is actually historical. The names of the deceased are usually written in red ink in official documents. So writing a person’s name who is still alive in red ink means that you wish they were dead. In the past, people even believed that writing someone’s name in red cursed them.
Although most Koreans no longer believe this, it is seen as rude to write a person’s name in red. The only time this is acceptable is when the red ink is used as a personal stamp.
According to this superstition, there are certain days you must move into a new home so as not to bring bad luck from your old place with you. These lucky days are determined by the lunar calendar. You will find that many moving companies will post lucky and unlucky moving dates on their websites.
Some Koreans believe that jumping over a baby will cause them to become short as adults. Logically, it is dangerous to jump over a baby as something can go wrong, and the baby can get injured. Although I’m not sure of its effect on a child’s height, I have no plans to jump over babies anytime soon.
You may find some interesting poo-related things while you are in Korea. There is a very popular poo-themed cafe, and you can at times spot some public art installations and statues resembling a swirly pile of turd. And so, this is the reason behind all of that.
Dreaming about poop has long been considered good luck by Korea’s traditional fortune tellers. However, I am not sure what the rationale is behind this belief.
Another South Korean superstition is that the appearance of the food the parents consume both before making a baby, and while the mother is pregnant contributes largely to the appearance of a child when they are born. Plating is key!
Finally, we reach the last belief on our list of superstitions Koreans still believe. If you trim your nails at night, rats might eat them and turn into an evil monsters. Although that does sound terrifying, there is a real danger in cutting your toenails at night. Especially when you take into account life before lightbulbs and modern nail clippers, I’m sure a few toes were lost.
Even now, it’s advisable to cut your nails during the day or in the presence of bright light so as not to injure yourself.
If you’re interested in learning more about Korean beliefs, Click Here to read about 5 beliefs Koreans have about the first snowfall of the season.