Russians are highly superstitious and believe in various signs and omens. Some of the beliefs are perceived as absolutely natural and included into everyday etiquette. While some superstitions fade with time, others don’t show any signs of losing the grip on reality. However, it’s widely accepted that it is only when one believes in it, the prediction will come true. And there are also ways to undo the potential damage by calling on good forces to assist.
58 Russian superstitions
- No corner seats for singles at the table. A single woman will not get married for the next 7 years if she sits at the corner of a table. It is mostly related to big festivities where lots of people gather together. (For example, during a wedding.) But since it’s also a tradition for large celebrations to move tables together into one long seat-down festive buffet, there are not many corner seats to worry about. Usually if a single girl gets a corner seat, someone who is married will happily swap places with her.
- Giving an even number of flowers (except for funerals). This superstition is widespread in Russia. One cannot give an even number of flowers because it symbolizes misfortune and even death. This belief comes from the ancient times.
- Yellow flowers to a lover. Russian girls wouldn’t be happy to receive yellow flowers because it’s a warning of a future breakup or infidelity.
- Sit down in silence before a trip. Russians do it to have a good trip without accidents. You have to put the bags down and everyone, including people who came to see you off, should sit down in silence for about a minute. Missing out on this procedure will cause problems and bad luck during the trip.
- Not going back to pick something you forgot (or look in the mirror). If you forget something, it is better not to return otherwise your day or trip will be unlucky. But if you have to go back, look in a mirror to avoid misfortune.
- Watches as presents. Such present is an omen of parting or breakup. There is “time” set on your relationship.
- Anything sharp as a present. It is thought to bring problems to the one receiving the gift.
- Black cat crossing path. Something bad may happen if you see a cat crossing the path on your way. People either use another road or wait for someone else to cross the path first.
- Breaking a mirror. This omen is disastrous and predicts 7 years of misfortune.
- Whistling at home. Russians believe that whistling indoors causes financial losses and poverty. Avoid whistling at Russian homes, as the hosts will think you are trying to put an evil spell on them.
- Handing money into hands. Russians have lots of omens associated with money. One should use his right hand to give cash and the left hand to receive it. If you ought to lend someone money in the evening, you cannot hand it—you should put the cash on a surface like a table. In all cases, it’s better to take money from a surface or plate because in this way money is free from the negative energy, which can be transmitted through banknotes and coins.
- Empty bottles on the table. It’s a prediction of an empty house. You cannot put an empty bottle on the dining table because it brings financial trouble to the owner of the dwelling.
- Birds on windowsills. A bird on the windowsill forebodes death and illness.
- Nose itching. Russians think that one will get hit in the nose if it itches. Thus, such omen stands for fights and confrontations. A more optimistic view on that is that if the nose is itching, you will be drinking soon.
- Stepping over people lying on the ground. It is believed that a child will stop growing if someone steps over him. It may also have a negative impact on his health. To cancel such prognosis, one should step back with the right leg. This omen is related to grown-ups as well. When you step over somebody, you may take his negative energy or fate.
- Buying things for a baby before it’s born. Buying baby clothes in advance is associated with ill fortune: The baby may not survive the birth or be unhealthy. This is why there is no custom of baby showers (or bridal showers) in Russia. Don’t even think of gifting some baby stuff beforehand to a pregnant lady. Do it only after the baby is born. (Though nowadays Russian mothers tend to ignore this belief.)
- Looking at a newborn child or complimenting it. People can put an evil eye on the baby if they see him before 40 days has passed since its birth.
- Giving an empty purse as a present (must have money inside). It is believed that empty purse attracts poverty and financial trouble.
- Using the same towel at the same time. Two people are not recommended to use one towel at the same time as it may cause a quarrel between them in the future.
- Licking knives or eating from them. Russians say that a person eating from the knife or licking it will be angry. Apparently, touching a knife with your tongue or lips changes your personality for worse.
- Shaking hands or talking over a doorway’s threshold. In ancient times, people believed that good spirits lived under the doorstep. It was prohibited to disturb them. Today, shaking hands over the threshold is associated with arguments and disputes. It is believed that one should greet a guest after he comes inside only. There is a funny story related to this omen about Russian and American astronauts. During Soyuz-Apollo mission, Russian astronauts refused to shake hands of their American colleagues who were stretching their arms over the “threshold”. Russians were smiling and trying to explain why they couldn’t do it.
- Making a toast with an empty glass. It’s a bad sign, which calls for ill fate and poor finances for the ones who are toasting.
- Filling a glass that is held in the air. Locals believe that a person holding a glass in the air will be poor. There are many versions of the origin of this Russian superstition. Some say that in ancient times poor people were treated with free vodka during holidays. There weren’t any tables and the glasses of the peasants were filled in the air. In the course of time, it started to be associated with poverty.
- Putting a full glass back on table. Once you lifted a glass off the desk and raised it to toast, you have to drink at least a sip. Otherwise it’s bad luck.
- Spilling salt. It is a negative sign predicting a fight in the house where it happened. The person who spilled the salt will be involved in the conflict.
- Stepping on someone’s foot. It signifies a future dispute between the two people. The one who got stepped on should “disarm” the omen by thumping on the offender’s foot as well.
- Not marrying on the planned date. It’s a disastrous sign demonstrating that this couple will not be happy, as it obviously wasn’t meant to happen.
- Celebrating birthdays or anniversaries early or congratulating someone before the date with their birthday. Nobody does it in Russia. No one would be happy to receive congratulations in advance. They say that it shortens the person’s life. It’s like you’re hurrying his life.
- Putting a handbag on the floor. It’s another bad sign calling for poverty.
- Opening an umbrella indoors. It brings misfortune to the house.
- Showing illnesses on oneself. It may attract the said illness to you.
- Naming a baby after a family member who is still alive. It is not recommended because the child may follow the fate of the name bearer and won’t be able to live his own life. And it is even worse to give the name of the relative who died early or had a tragic life.
- Sitting on tables. This omen comes from the old times. The family’s negative energy accumulates over the table because most of the problems are discussed while sitting around. Such an action may lead to miserable life.
- Sitting on cold rocks for women. The woman can become childless.
- Rain on a wedding or funeral. Rain during a wedding is a good sign symbolizing a happy marriage for the couple. If it’s raining during a funeral, it means that a good person has died and even nature cries together with the family of the deceased. Such people go to heaven. Even if they had some sins, the rain washed them off.
- Unlucky in cards, lucky in love. If you’re unlucky in cards, you’ll be happy in love. The opposite is also true: won in cards, will lose in love.
- Breaking a plate or glass. It is considered to bring good luck. If you break a plate or glass in a Russian house, the hosts will just smile.
- Anti-hoodoo—spit or touch wood. Russians tend to knock 3 times on the wood to prevent themselves from bringing bad luck to a venture. Alternatively, one can pretend to spit 3 times over the left shoulder, where a little devil is believed to be sitting, so the creature cannot spoil prospects. (Be careful and don’t spit over the right shoulder where your guardian angel sits.) This is done when discussing future plans, to avoid them being ruined by evil forces. Touching wood or spitting over the left shoulder can also assist if you discussed something bad that might happen, to avoid calling it upon yourself. In general, Russians prefer not to discuss future plans with others for the fear of jinxing them. It also applies to thinking in advance about preventing certain misfortunes from happening. If you talk about it out loud, you might call for it to materialize.
- Spider on walls, doors, clothes. Spiders are good signs meaning wealth and good news.
- Hand itching. Left hand itching predicts money while right hand itching promises a friendly meeting.
- Lips itching. It means you’ll be kissing soon.
- Not being recognized by a person you know. It means that you’ll be rich. If you haven’t recognized someone on the phone or when you saw him, you can say he’s going to be rich. This will cheer him up.
- Being talked about before you enter a room. It’s a positive token that brings luck to the one who was talked about.
- Cat washing face. Guests will be coming to the house.
- Sneezing after saying something. You’re telling the truth or what you suggested will come true.
- Lucky ticket. The lucky ticket is the ticket where the sum of the first three digits equals the total of the last three digits. Such ticket brings success. To ensure the luck is not lost, you are supposed to eat the ticket immediately. Just watch for the ticket control.
- Raining when leaving. It’s a sign that your trip will be pleasant.
- Getting pooped on by a bird. Rejoice: You will receive lots of money and success.
- Dropping cutlery. If you drop a knife it means that a male guest is going to visit your home. Fork or spoon stand for a female guest.
- Ears or cheeks burning. Someone is talking about you or discussing you.
- Hiccups. Someone is thinking about you. To stop hiccups, you have to guess who the person is.
- How you celebrate the New Year’s Eve, this is how the whole year will be. If you are lonely, you won’t find a partner in the coming year. And vice versa, if you’re in a happy relationship, you’ll be satisfied with your life during the whole year. It all depends on how you’re spending the New Year’s Eve.
- The break between the first and second toast should be short. So, as soon as you toasted for the first time and drank to the bottom quickly, the glasses are filled up again. This is why you are supposed to finish your first glass as soon as possible.
- The person who is late drinks a full glass. It’s a way of “fining” the person who came late and make him as drunk as the other members of the party.
- Before leaving, the person has to have a drink “for the road”. This custom means a good trip for the ones who leave.
Making a wish
- Fallen eyelash. If someone sees an eyelash on your face, he asks you to guess from which eye it has fallen. If you guess correctly, then you take the eyelash and blow it making a wish.
- Ringing in the ear. If you hear a ringing in the ear, you should make a wish and ask someone which of your ears is ringing. If she is right, your wish will come true.
- Standing between people with identical names. If you are standing or sitting between two people with the same name, make a wish. It definitely should come true!
Originated in the past, superstitions shape the cultural identity of the nation. Beliefs and signs become an integral part of the culture. Getting to know local traditions and customs helps to avoid misunderstandings one may face when communicating with a person from abroad.
In general, fascination of the locals with superstitions is part of their cult of Destiny (Fate), a predetermined path that is written for each individual. This is hardly a complete list of superstitions that Russians adhere to. But the most typical to be aware of are listed here.