Russian Superstitions II
Text and illustrations by Elena Krivovyaz
Show your tongue and beware of the evil eye
In the preceding issue we looked into the most popular Russian superstitions which have anything to do with money. But these are not the only superstitions that affect Russians’ lives. Now let’s look at some weirder (for foreigners) ritual habits that many Russian take to be normal.
However strange it may seem, the majority of Russian superstitions are concerned with some supernatural power or mystic existence, that can ruin people’s happiness and luck if certain specific rituals aren’t followed. Russians are not only respectful but afraid of that mysterious thing called fate, that peculiarly Russian factor that can change lives in drastic ways, and not always for the better. Being subject to doses of fear or unhappiness that cannot be confronted, like everyone else on the planet, arguably more often than others have, Russians invented vast numbers of superstitions, beliefs and legends many centuries ago that still exist and even control their lives and behavior.
Russians don’t like to talk about their personal affairs and success with people that seem envious
“Don’t come back, it’s bad luck!”
This is a really weird and common superstition that can ruin your plans for the entire day. Imagine a trivial situation: you lock your apartment door in the morning on the way to work but after leaving home you realize you’ve forgotten your phone or money. The first thing you want to do is to run back and get whatever it is you forgot. But a Russian will hesitate, because to go back is bad luck, and the whole day can go wrong. But if you really have to go back home, like if you have left a tap on, you should look at yourself in the mirror and stick your tongue out at yourself when leaving. After this complicated ritual, Russians calm down and know that they have won over this particular superstition and some evil forces.
“He put an evil eye on me!”
Sometimes evil forces may live in somebody’s head, consider Russians (really!, see Besi by Dostoevsky for example). And these people should be avoided at all costs. This often happens when somebody is intensely jealous of somebody else, he or she may unconsciously radiate negative emotions towards you. This can cause you to feel bad or cause things to go wrong, many Russians think. That’s why Russians don’t like to talk about their personal affairs and their success with people that seem dubious or envious. If somebody faces a misfortune after a long period of bad luck, he starts to think that some jealous people put an evil eye on him. This phenomenon is called sglaz (сглаз) or portcha (порча) in Russian. Of course, in big cities you are unlikely to find too many evil eyes, but in smaller cities or villages, this kind of semi-witchcraft is still evident, and being a witch is still a career prospect in Russia. The lion’s share of witches’ income nowadays comes from business people who want to deflect the evil eye cast on them from their business rivals, political opponents and personal enemies. Many large Moscow entertainment newspapers and even glossy magazines still publish classifieds like this: “Fifth generation witch. Deflection of Evil eye, 100 % guarantee!”
Believe it or not, but many Russians are willing to spend a fortune just to have a witch saying that he or she is “absolutely free of evil eye forever after”. Russian authorities don’t pay much attention this kind of ‘business’. But they want the tax income. So if you register your witch business officially as a consulting service and pay your taxes as you should, officials probably will not come around, and if witches pay their taxes, the authorities don’t really care what they get up to.
Young children are considered to be the most susceptible to the evil eye. That’s why babies are kept from strangers; just in case they cast an evil eye on the newly born. And for God’s sake, don’t let any strangers or doubtful people complement your baby and say how cute and healthy it is, because it may fall ill after that! Taking pictures of your child and showing them to everybody is not welcomed either because the evil eye may sometimes have a long distance affect, believers suppose.
Russians have been afraid of looking glasses since olden times, and nobody knows why. Anyway, mirrors are considered to be one of the most mystic appliances in any world culture, and in Russia they are awarded a special role in the hall of fame of spiritually charged artefacts. According to a common Russian superstition, it is not recommended to look in a mirror after midnight (probably no one does anyway, especially those who ever seen the 2008 horror movie directed by Alexandre Aja called Mirrors) because you can see—my hands are almost trembling while writing this—some creatures from the other world peering through to you in the mirror. No one can say exactly whether there is evidence of ghosts in mirrors after midnight, but it is arguably not a good idea to stare into a mirror in the night. That’s why some Russians rush so quickly to the toilet if they have to pass a mirror on the way.
Mirrors are considered to be mysterious and spiritually charged artefacts
As a mirror half belongs to the world beyond, it is not considered to be an appropriate present for your friend’s birthday or house-warming party. Thus, bringing a pier glass or something similar as a present is often being perceived as bad manners. No need to say that breaking a mirror promises you bad luck.
Anyway, we don’t want you to go insane knowing all of these superstitions. And moreover, a good way to conquer a superstition is not to take it seriously. So all of this is complete rubbish! Just watch those evil eyes in the mirror!