When immersing yourself in a foreign country and its culture, misunderstandings can easily arise. As you may have already experienced, knowing the language of a country isn’t synonymous with understanding its customs and traditions. Russia is a country rich in diverse traditions and superstitions that may not be well-known to foreigners, and sometimes even to locals. However, these beliefs still hold significant sway in Russian everyday life. Acquainting yourself with Russian superstitions, understanding their implications, and learning how to respond appropriately can prove not only intriguing but also invaluable in avoiding unintentional offence.
- In Russia, like in many other countries, certain numbers and objects carry symbolic meanings associated with fortune and misfortune. While “7” is considered a lucky number, “13” is seen as unlucky. When giving flowers as a gift, it is customary to present an odd number, such as 3, 5, or 7, as even numbers are traditionally associated with funerals.
- Russian superstitions often trace their roots back to the pre-Christian era, making them challenging to explain. For instance, unmarried girls are advised against sitting at the corner of a table, as it is thought to bring seven years of singledom. This belief stems from the fact that in ancient Rus, old maids and destitute relatives occupied the corners, which were deemed the lowest spots at the table. Some superstitions in Russia parallel those in the Western world, such as the notion that whistling indoors or encountering a black cat on your path brings trouble or bad luck.
- In Russian superstitions, a horseshoe symbolizes good luck, while a broken mirror is associated with misfortune. Breaking a mirror is considered an ill omen, indicating that someone close to you may meet their demise. Moreover, gazing at the shattered mirror intensifies this belief, foretelling your own impending death or serious illness.
- However, not all instances of breaking objects are considered negative. For example, breaking a mug or other dishes is believed to bring good luck. Similarly, sharp objects are associated with unfavourable events. Hence, presenting scissors as gifts is discouraged, as it may lead to future disputes. Offering knives as gifts can strain friendships, so it is customary for the recipient to give a small coin in return, symbolizing a purchase rather than accepting it as a gift.
- Russians hold a particular apprehension towards the devil, particularly fearing the evil eye that can bring misfortune or troubles. Therefore, when complimenting someone or discussing a positive event or imminent success, you may notice Russians performing peculiar actions. They often spit three times over their left shoulder (where it is believed the devil resides) and knock on wood three times. If wood is not readily available, they may tap their own heads, as it is believed to have the same effect.
- If you happen to leave your home and realize you’ve forgotten something, it is thought best not to return for it, as doing so may alter the course of your day, as predetermined by God. However, if you urgently need to retrieve the item, a clever trick is to look at yourself in the mirror as you enter, thereby deceiving any potential evil omens. Moreover, the threshold of a house is considered a place of evil, so it is advised not to stand on it. Additionally, passing objects or engaging in conversations across the threshold is considered unfavourable.
- It’s not a good sign if you spot someone carrying an empty bucket. So, if you come across a woman holding an empty bucket or a street cleaner pushing an empty cart, it might indicate that you’re in for a rough day ahead. In the realm of beliefs, money is said to carry the energy of its owner, particularly negative energy. Therefore, when you try to hand over your money to a shop assistant, a taxi driver, or even your landlady (just like in my case), they will expect you to place it on a surface. This action breaks the energetic connection with its past and allows it to pick it up without any apprehension.
- Placing empty bottles, keys, or loose change on the table is all associated with signs of financial loss and misfortune. To avoid any negative implications, it’s crucial to remove an empty bottle from the table, either disposing of it promptly or stowing it underneath.
- Not all superstitions revolve around bad luck or the supernatural. Russian tradition dictates that whenever a guest or family member prepares for a long journey, everyone in the household must take a moment to sit down. This simple ritual serves as a calming practice and also acts as a reminder to double-check if anything has been forgotten to be packed. It’s essentially a way of seeking a safe and successful journey.
While many Russians no longer hold a firm belief in these superstitions, they still hold cultural significance, especially among older generations. Beware, though, as some individuals might view your actions during these situations with suspicion or give you the “evil eye” if you violate these customs.