Background: “I grew up in Lithuania, and in Lithuania, you have Poles and Lithuanians who are Catholic, Russians who are Russian Orthodox, and Jews. We were a Jewish family, and I was always told that Jews do not have superstitions. But all my friends were either Polish or Russians, and they had superstitions, and eventually, I felt like, ‘well, it’s safer to believe in it.’”
Black cat superstition:
“If you walk and a black cat crosses the road in front of you, you’re supposed to turn around over your left shoulder three times and spit over your left shoulder three times. And I would do that, just in case.
“There were four girls in my big apartment building who were the same age, and we would walk to school together. And if there was a black cat crossing the road in front of us, we would all start turning and spitting. In fact, that’s why I have this superstition. It didn’t come from my mother—my mother always said that we shouldn’t believe in that, even though she believed in cracked mirrors. But I started believing it because the other girls did it.
“I’m sure that belief is Russian because there is a Russian song about a black cat. It’s about a black cat who lives behind the corner, and everybody hates him because there is this saying that you would have bad luck if you meet a black cat. But the truth is that it’s only the black cat who constantly has bad luck. That’s what the song is about. And that was a very popular Russian song. It appeared in the 1970s, when I was a kid.”
Q. Why do you think that this superstition exists?
A. In some of the Russian fairytales, you have a witch, Baba Yaga, and she always has a black cat with her. So, it is an element from Russian fairytales. Perhaps that’s why, I don’t know.
Analysis: The custom of turning and spitting is interesting, especially because it must be done specifically over one’s left shoulder. The practice seems to be almost an attempt to reverse time, as if to undo the effects of the bad luck.
The informant mentions a song about a black cat (“Chernyj Kot”), which pokes fun at the superstition, laughingly conveying the message that people should not discriminate against black cats. (After all, cats cannot control the color of their fur!)
Transliterated lyrics to this song can be found here:
“Chernyj Kot.” Lyrics Time. www.lyricstime.com, 2002. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://www.lyricstime.com/aguzarova-zhanna-chernyj-kot-lyrics.html>.