spit on the devil

1) I recall my friend used to always “spit over his left shoulder” when something made him superstitious (e.g. a black cat crossing the street). I met up with him over spring break and asked him what that was all about, and he responded: “oh… that’s actually a piece of Russian folklore… my mom taught me to do that whenever a black cat crosses the road… a lot of my friends from Orthodox Church did this too…” “What does it mean?” I asked. He explained “you’re spitting on the devil.”

2) The informant is my close friend from high school and a Russian international student. He was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. He claimed that he finds validity in doing this “folk practice,” under appropriate circumstances. Although I questioned the rationality of this practice, he simply responded, “me and my family are superstitious people,” and “this is an expression of that.” He claims he thinks I should be more superstitious like him because he thinks it will protect me in the future. 

3) This was performed when I visited my friend in Boston at the end of spring break. I asked him to demonstrate the practice after talking about its origins. 

4) This practice is known to be popular within Russian communities and is often paired with the act of “knocking on wood,” which is a practice also known in America. An interesting parallel could be that Russian Orthodox Christians kiss icons, yet “spit” on the devil, suggesting that in both instances Russians are hyperfocused on form or image. The icon is a literal image of Jesus, while spitting on the devil on one’s left shoulder requires an imaginary image of a form present to spit on. Here, the key issue is that regardless of whether or not this superstitious practice, which is derived from Biblical legends as adopted by Russians, is proven effective, its value of folklore is gained from the fact that many Russians practice it.