Russian traditions and superstitions

Russian traditions and superstitions

Russian traditions and superstitions include superstitions and customs of Russia and neighbouring former Soviet Union countries. Many of them are now inseparable parts of every day life, or simply common social etiquette, though they often have their origins in superstition. The awareness of them, and their perceived importance, depends on various factors including region and age. Some are extremely common and practiced by the vast majority of the population, while some are extremely obscure.

Russian folk medicine

* It is widely believed in Russia that sitting on cold surfaces, such as rocks or even the ground, is not simply taboo for a woman, but it is extremely hazardous to her health and inhibits her ability to bear children (by somehow exposing her ovaries to the cold). It is a practice that is rigorously upheld, especially in cold weather and with young children, who will often unknowingly sit on the ground, and who will frequently be lifted up by a supervising adult. []

* Keeping all parts of one's body as dry and warm as possible in cold weather and rain is generally practiced as prophylaxis for the common cold in Russia, as it is in many parts of the world. There are a variety of home remedies used to treat the common cold, including hot tea. Cold beverages are avoided while one is sick. This is not unique to Russia; however, many Russians tend to be more adamant about it than most Westerners. []

* Traditional self-medication is prevalent in Russia. "Banki" (банки) are little glass jars that are usually applied to the back. A match is lit inside in order to burn up the oxygen and create suction. This technique is known as fire cupping in traditional Chinese medicine. "Gorchichniki" (горчичники) are mustard plasters that are applied onto the back or the chest. Mustard plasters have been and still are used by Westerners, as well. [ cite journal | author=F. Klenner | title=Virus Pneumonia and Its Treatment With Vitamin C | journal=Southern Medicine & Surgery | year=1948 | volume=110 | issue=2 | pages=36–38, 46 |url= ] Doctors often prescribe "banki" and/or "gorchichniki" instead of chemical medications or antibiotics when a patient has flu and cold-like symptoms.

These beliefs and practices may be considered as superstitious by some Westerners, who think that viral and bacterical causes of colds and flu make it irrational to associate body temperature with the probability of getting sick, and hot remedies with better recovery. However, some existing research shows that mild hypothermia inhibits the immune response, in which case Russian traditional beliefs and remedies may not be completely baseless. [ cite journal | author=S. Russwurm "et al." | title=Direct Influence of Mild Hypothermia on Cytokine Expression and Release in Cultures of Human Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells | journal=Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research | year=2002 | volume=22 | issue=2 | pages= 215–221 |url= | doi=10.1089/107999002753536185 ]

Customs that are more often regarded as superstition

* Mothers typically do not show their baby to anyone except the father of that child and the midwife for one month after the baby was born. []

* Many nationalities have a set of rituals for the guests that they have to follow to see the baby for the first time. []

* Before leaving for a long journey travelers, and all those who are seeing them off, must sit for a moment in silence before leaving the house. It is often conveniently written off as a time to sit and think of anything one may have forgotten. []

* After someone has left the house on a long journey, their room and/or their things should not be cleaned up until they have arrived. []

* Knocking on wood is practiced in Russia as in other countries. However Russians tend to add a symbolic three spits over one's left shoulder (or simply with the head turned to the left), and Russians will often knock three times as well. Traditionally one was spitting on the devil (who is always on the left). []

* Breaking a mirror is considered bad luck in Russia, as is looking at one's reflection in a broken mirror. The effect is also more severe than 7 years of bad luck (as in American culture). []

* On examination day, it is good luck to not make your bed, wear anything new, or cut your fingernails. []

* It is bad luck to use physical hand gestures to demonstrate something negative using oneself or someone else as the object. For example, when describing a scar you saw on someone's face you should not gesture on your own face or someone elses. If you must, you can demonstrate in mid-air. If one does it without realizing, it can be countered by making a hand motion towards the body part used and then an abrupt motion away (as if to pick up the bad energy and throw it away). []

* If one person accidentally steps on another person's foot, it is common for the person who was stepped on to lightly step on the foot of the person who stepped first. It is said that they thus avoid a future conflict. []

* Birthday parties should be celebrated on or after one's birthday, not before. So when one's birthday falls during the week, it's best to celebrate the following weekend. []
* Talking about future success, especially boasting about it, is considered bad luck. It is considered better to be silent until the success has been achieved or to even sound pessimistic. []

* Returning home for forgotten things is a bad omen. It is better to leave it behind, but if returning is necessary, one should look in the mirror before leaving the house again. Otherwise the journey will be bad. []

* Many Russians consider giving sharp objects, like knives or scissors, as gifts, to be taboo. You can avoid this taboo taking symbolic little money, for example one Russian ruble, in exchange as if it is a trade, not a gift. []

* Birds that land on a windowsill should be chased away. If they tap on the window, or fly into it (open or closed) it is considered a very bad omen (often of death). []

* If a chicken crows at you three times before noon, the death of a close family member can be expected within a fortnight. The chicken should be killed, but not eaten, as consuming it will bring about further misfortune. []

* Things bought for a newborn baby (such as clothes, toys, furniture, etc.) should only be purchased after the baby is born. This is usually done in a big hurry. []

* It is often considered taboo to step over people, or parts of their body, who are on the ground. It is often said that it will prevent the person from growing (if they are not fully grown already). It is better to politely ask the person to move or to find a way around them. If one accidentally steps over a person (or people), it is sometimes standard to step backwards over them. []

* Unmarried people should not sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise they will not marry. This mostly applies to girls, and often only young girls. Sometimes it is said that you will not marry for 7 years, making it alright for young children to sit there. []

* When giving an animal as a gift (a cat, dog, bird, etc), the receiver should give the giver a symbolic sum of money, for example one Russian ruble. []

* A purse (or any other money holder) as a gift requires a little money inside. Given empty it causes bad financial luck. []

* A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is bad luck. []

* A woman with empty water buckets coming towards you is considered a bad omen. []

* A group of two or more people should not walk on either side of a tree. They should all keep to one side or the other. []

* Bread should only be cut with a knife, not with your hands. Otherwise, it is said, that your life will be broken. The opposite is held true by some people. []

* Two or more people should never use one towel at the same time to dry their hands or bodies, or it is said to bring conflict. []

* A stranger should not look at a newborn baby before it is a certain age (between two months and one year). If one looks at the baby it is considered bad luck to compliment it. Instead, one could say, "Oh, what an ugly child!". []

* It's good luck to trip on your left foot. []

* One should never hand a knife directly to another person, as it is said that the two will get into a fight. Instead a person should always place the knife down on a surface, and only then can the other person pick it up. In several cases you can give it directly, but only pointing the sharp end to yourself and making the knife's handle accessible for the opposite person. []

* If one feels that he or she may have been cursed by someone (had the "evil eye" put on them) or just has the feeling of a hostile presence, it is recommended to remove one's coat and then put it back on starting with the hand opposing the usually used one. It is also recommended to pin a French Pin inside your clothing to avoid the curse of evil eye in the first place. []

* It is considered bad luck to put one's keys or cap on the kitchen table. []

* It is considered bad luck to leave a knife on the kitchen table. []

* One should not to shake hands or give something through a threshold. []

Traditions for the use of alcohol

* When you have alcohol, it must be drunk until it is gone.
* One should not put a glass with alcohol back on the table.
* Traditionally alcohol is poured out to all the people present, though they are not required to drink.
* One should not make a long interruption between first and second wine glasses.
* The latecomer must drink a full glass (so-called "penal")
* Outgoing guest must drink last glass, so-called "na pososhok" (russ. "На посошок"). Literally it is translated "On a small staff", really means "For lucky way".
* As a rule, every portion of spirit is accompanied by a touch of glasses and a toast. Funeral and commemoration are exceptions; there the touch of glasses is forbidden.
* It is not allowed to pour out by hand holding a bottle from below.
* It is not allowed to fill a glass being held in the air.

"Cause and effect" Russian superstitions

* If your ears or cheeks are hot, someone is thinking or talking about you (usually speaking ill). []

* If your nose itches, you'll be drinking soon. For children they might say, "You'll get hit in the nose." []

* If your right eye itches, you're going to be happy soon. If your left eye itches, you'll be sad. []

* If your lips itch, you'll be kissing someone soon. []

* If your right hand itches, you're going to get money soon. It sometimes means you're going to greet someone. If your left hand itches, you're going to give someone money. []

* If you have the hiccups, someone is remembering you at this moment. []

* If an eyelash falls out you'll receive a gift. If someone finds an eyelash on someone he or she will sometimes let the person blow it away and make a wish. []

* If a fork or spoon falls on the ground, expect a female guest. If a knife falls, expect a male guest. []

* If you eat from a knife, you'll be "angry like a dog". []

* If someone is not recognized when seen or heard, he or she will be rich. So if someone calls you on the phone and you don't recognize them you can cheer them up by telling them they'll be rich. []

* If a cat is washing its face, expect guests soon. []

* If a black cat crosses your path, it's bad luck (as it is in most places). People will often avoid crossing the place where it crossed, or will at least wait for someone else to cross it first. []

* If a hare crosses your path, it's bad luck. This is much less common than the cat superstition, which is understandable given the lack of hares in urban conditions. []

* If you spill salt, it's bad luck and is said to bring conflict, but no one will throw salt over their left shoulder. []

* If you step on a crack, it's bad luck. This one isn't very common, and Russians who do avoid cracks don't do it in an effort to save their mothers' backs. []

* If it's raining when you leave a place, it means you'll return, and it is considered a generally good omen. []

* If it rains on someone's wedding, it means they'll be wealthy. []

* If someone sneezes while telling something, it means he or she is telling the truth. []

* If one or more birds defecate on you, it's good luck. []

* If you find a bay leaf in your soup (commonly Borshch) while eating, it means you'll get mail from someone.Fact|date=November 2007

* If you wear clothes (such as an undershirt) inside out, you will get beaten. Your friend should point this out, wait for you to fix the clothes and then punch you symbolically. []

* Lucky in cards not lucky in love. This, however, is only a pre-marital superstition. The reason for the division is that marriage is a sacrament in the Russian Orthodox Church, and this sacrament, ordained by God, eviscerates the pre-marital superstition. Thus, when a man is bonded by divine sacrament to a single woman whom he loves the cause and effect is reversed: namely, his married love for a single woman, and her love for him, will bring him good fortune in all endeavors including cards. []

* If you wear a shirt backwards, you will become acquainted with someone new. []

* In Russian superstition if a couple sets a wedding date and doesn't end up getting married on that date they can not set another date and should not get married as their union will be cursed. []

Russia lacks some of the superstitions Westernerns find commonplace. Most Russians are not particularly concerned with the number 13 Fact|date=September 2008, opening umbrellas indoors Fact|date=September 2008 or walking under ladders Fact|date=September 2008.

Notes and references

External links

* [ Russian superstitions at the Slavic Paganism Encyclopedia] (Russian)
* [ Russian supertitions in an article] (Russian)
* [ Another article]
* [ A collection of Russian superstitions]
* [ Another article]
* [ A collection of them]

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