Tag Archives: Russian Superstitions

Russian Spit Luck


“So basically, my Russian great grandmother would spit in her daughter- my grandmother’s hair, for good luck. My grandmother then went and did it to my mom, which passed down the tradition to her. And then my mom would do it to me. It’s a little tiny spit in your hair, and she’d do it to me before I’d go in for any audition or big sports game. That sorta thing. I don’t know how far back it goes beyond my great grandma, but it’s always been present in my family.”


The informant, CR, is an ashkenazi jew/russian-american college student who is pursuing acting. He often has performances and big events like this where, if he’s with his mom, she will spit on him for a little extra luck. He believes in the power of this superstition and thinks it to provide that boost of confidence that can make all the difference.


CR had brought up this ritual superstition and I inquired what the full picture was. Specifically asking where this practice emerged from and what he knows about it.


Having noted how this was a practice on his Russian side of the family, I dug into the archives to see if there was any other occurrence of this strange little ritual and found that there was! In a post called “Spitting on the Devil,” a folklorist describes a tradition spitting over/on your shoulder three times to prevent the Devil from interfering with your good intentions. In this case, it’s a practice that follows the common superstition of “knocking on wood” when you say out loud a belief of good fortune so as to not “jinx it.” While CR’s example has deviated from the religious affiliation of this luck practice and anti-jinx, the lucky spit seems to be correlated.


To read more on the spitting practice, check out the archive post linked below.


Step over twice

Main Piece:

“As far as I know, there is a Russian superstition that states that if you step over another person, you have to step back over them after or else they will have bad luck for seven years.”

Background Information:

The informant heard this from one of her Russian friends who learned it when she was living in Russia. The informant does not believe this to be true and neither does her friend. However, the informant has heard of other superstitions that can bring about seven years of bad luck.

Context of the performance:

The context of this performance is whenever somebody has to step over somebody else. This can be because of various reasons that the superstition does not specify.

My Thoughts:

I have heard of other superstitions that involve seven years in terms of luck. For example, I have heard that not making eye contact during a toast with drinks will bring seven years of bad luck. Additionally, I have heard that walking under a ladder will also give you seven years of bad luck. Seven years is usually tied to bad luck. while good luck does not come in increments of seven, but instead one or three.

Five Petal Lilac


The informant is my father. He is a 55-year old white male and spent the first 26 years of his life in the Soviet Union (Moscow). He, like many others in the USSR was raised as an atheist, and his whole family (including himself) has a background in the sciences; therefore he is a very logical, analytical individual. 

The following conversation took place as a part of a larger conversation about Russian folklore during a road trip from Southern Utah to Las Vegas.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“A silly superstition that was common among students – though it was mostly my family, my mother, that did it often, kind of as a joke but kind of not – was that you take lilac – a flower with four petals and on rare occasion you find one with five petals- and it was considered that if you find a lilac with five petals right before an exam then you’ll perform well.”


This was the only piece of folklore my Dad could think of when asked about folklore surrounding school or university superstitions or legends. While I’m sure there was more that he couldn’t remember, he pointed out that because he was surrounded by young, non-superstitious people studying subjects in the STEM field, it may also just be the case that there was less folklore to spread because of the logical, evidence-based nature of the scientific field.

Russian Superstitions

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

On shaking hands:

“One superstition is you’re never supposed to shake hands with someone across a threshold or doorway. It’s said to lead to separation and falling out, because you’re like, wishing to never see that person again. So that’s pretty common. Pretty much all Russians follow this rule.”

On whistling:

“Another sort of weird superstition is that you shouldn’t whistle–especially indoors, like ever, because it’ll lead to you losing all your money and having bad luck. It used to be this belief that the wind is bad. Like a bad demon-type creature, and in ancient pagan belief. The wind whistles, so by whistling, you’re inviting the wind demon into your house.”


These superstitions are interesting because they involve things that are quite common in the U.S. In fact, most Americans wouldn’t think twice about where they shake hands with someone or if they’re whistling indoors. It definitely highlights the slightly irrational ideas behind superstitions when you hear superstitions from other cultures that aren’t your own. However, all superstitions play a part in culture and thus contribute infinitely to it.

Russian Drinking Custom – Toasting

The informant is a 21-year old student attending the University of California Berkeley. She is majoring in Media Studies and Journalism with a minor in Hebrew. She grew up in West Los Angeles with her two parents, immigrants from the Soviet Union. The following is what she said when I asked about her step-daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.


Informant: “Drinking is really big in Russian culture—you probably know that. We have a lot of family dinners and there is always drinking, of wine or vodka. Guest will bring wine or the host will bring out their favorite wines. My parents actually have a whole spreadsheet of the different wines in their wine closet. Since drinking is so much a part of Russian culture, there are traditions that go along with it. The biggest thing I can think of, I think, would be toasts. Like, there are certain traditions of what toasts you say in what order. Second toast is usually for the host. The first toast is always for the occasion you are gathered for, and second for the host. The third one is for those who are at sea.”


Interviewer: “Are there lots of people at sea…?”


Informant: “No. We say ‘at sea’, but it’s really more a reference to those who are not with us—either dead or not the at the dinner table.”


Interviewer: “Hmm, that’s really interesting that the toast for people not at the table is the ‘at sea’ toast. Do you have any idea why that is?


Informant: “No, I don’t know. I mean, drinking culture was a big think in Russia in general. And I guess originally there may have been a lot of traders? Or people at sea? What I think is so distinct about Russian drinking is this tradition of you can’t drink unless you toast. You have to validate your drinking with a toast.”



What my informant said about toasts being a way of validating drinking stuck with me. I feel like a lot of folklore, or festivals and rituals, at least, is centered in validation—validating customs already set in place, validating a relationship or new union to be had, validating a new stage in a person’s life, validating one’s entering adulthood, etc. What is sometimes seen as merely paying homage to an earlier time, or to a certain religion one follows, usually has more influence than that.


When I asked my informant about why the third toast is said for those “at sea”, when no one I know of her family is actually off at sea, it seemed like the first time the informant had really been considering the question. This illustrates the tendency not to question the traditions and the folklore one grows up with, contrasted with the tendency many people have to critique or ridicule other traditions and folklore, ones the criticizing individual hasn’t grown up with. This speaks to the us them mentality that we see quite often with folklore—one example of the mentality’s presence is in practical jokes, a form of folklore that often serves as an initiation, or a demonstration of the tightness of one group and the outsider-ness of the one being pranked. However, it is worth noting that in the person being pranked, they are many times being initiated into the group of the pranksters…


For a slightly different interpretation of the third toast, see an article in the New York Times from 1995: