Estonian Spitting Superstition

Background: My informant, HS, is a 52-year-old professor at USC. She was born and raised in Estonia and moved to the United States when she was twenty. Her mother and father were both physicians in Soviet Estonia. Even though she no longer lives in Estonia, she still stays connected with Estonian tradition through her involvement with the Los Angeles Estonian House and still speaks the Estonian language with family and friends. She also happens to be my mother.

Context: One lunch, during quarantine, I decided to sit down and interview my mother about interesting Estonian folklore she was aware of and has experienced.

Main Piece: The informant told me that in Estonia, instead of doing something like “knocking on wood” to ward of bad luck or fortune, one would spit over their shoulder three times. It is not an actual spit in the sense that three blobs of saliva have to come out but rather a fake spit where one would make a “phtew” noise with their mouth.

TS: Why do people do this? Like- is their any significance to spitting?

HS: I have no idea.

Interpretation: Having visited Estonia myself and being around many Estonians over my life, I have never heard or noticed this superstition. Interestingly enough, after doing some more research on this superstition I found that their Judaism has a similar superstition where one spits three times for good luck. While I still do not know the exact origin of this superstition, it is definitely safe to assume that the significance of the number three in not only Estonian culture, but even American culture (‘three strikes’ for example) plays a large role in why one would spit three times over their shoulder to ward off bad luck.