May 8, 2007, 08:11pm #1
Superstitions have existed since the beginning of mankind. They are the belief that particular events, rituals, actions and objects bring good or bad luck. Poland, like any other culture, has its own superstitions which we are going to have a closer look at in this article.
Polish people are very superstitious about the number 13, especially Friday the 13th, which is believed to bring bad luck. Also, no one has to be told to stop walking or driving if a black cat crosses the street as it will bring you bad luck too. You can also spot people trying to omit the ladder as they try to avoid passing under it, which might also bring bad luck during the rest of the day. The same happens when you break a mirror which will cause you to be unhappy for seven years. If you happen to forget something from home and you must go back to retrieve it, you better sit down for a moment and count to ten. A widespread superstition in Poland is "knocking on wood". If you want to succeed in something or are afraid of a sudden change of fortune, you could do worse than knock on wood to scare bad luck away. Another popular superstition says that if a woman puts her handbag on the floor, she will have no money.
Many Polish superstitions are rooted in ancient times such as not greeting your guest at the door or over the threshold. The history of the superstition says that in ancient Rome people did not do it because they never knew if the person that had just come wanted to kill the master of the house. Thus, before greeting each other, two people had to stand face to face and shake hands to show that they didn't have any weapons in their hands. There is also a conviction that all border lines need special protection, as they separate secure indoor spaces from the chaos outside. Thus the custom to carry the bride over the threshold is practiced all over the world.
As for the spilling salt superstition, known of bringing quarrels, it has its own history too, that dates back to Middle Ages when salt was very expensive. Only the richest could afford to buy this rare spice. You can imagine a huge quarrel when a servant spilt it. This is why people remembered salt spilling as a bringer of a bad luck.
Poland has some lucky charms too. It is widely believed that if you see a chimney-sweeper, you have to grab your button (hopefully you have one at that particular moment - on your wardrobe, bag, etc). According to the saying, only by grabbing it, you will be guaranteed to have good luck.
Red slip-knots are also a popular superstition in Poland. As red is said, in many cultures, to undo spells, it is very common for Polish people to attach red slip-knots to a babies stroller or clothes to protect the baby if someone looks at it with an evil eye.
People also believe in the magic power of lucky objects such as horseshoes, elephants with raised trunks and four-leaf clovers. Many superstitious people wear talismans or carry lucky stones to scare evil spirits away. Some students often bring their lucky pens to exams, and others who graduate from school wear red underwear during the traditional ball, which is organized a hundred days before final exams and then they wear it on the day of the exam. Brides wear "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" for their wedding ceremony.
Speaking of weddings, there are some Polish superstitions related to this ceremony as well.
First of all, it is good if the wedding is in a month that has the letter "R" in its name while it is considered bad luck to have it in May. Secondly, the day before the wedding the bride should put her shoes on the window sill to have nice weather for the next day. The bride's bouquet should not have roses in it since sharp spikes symbolize a cut on the heart. It is also important not to be seen by your future husband in a gown and also not to look at your reflection in the mirror when you are completely dressed. What is more, there should be money in the bride's shoes to assure wealth. And here is a little tip: if you want to rule in your upcoming marriage throw delicately a patch of your dress on the groom's shoes while kissing in front of the altar. At that moment you will gain the power of deciding.
There are also superstitions typical of particular holidays. Let's talk for example about Christmas. It is believed that if the first person to enter a house on a Christmas Eve is a woman, it is a bad omen, thus is it more preferable when a man is the first to cross the threshold of the house. During supper on Christmas Eve, each dish has to be sampled. A traditional meal consists of twelve dishes. The more you eat, the more pleasure will await you in the upcoming year.
Superstitions in Poland are also popular among students. Many think that if you drop your exercise book, it is likely you will be graded on a particular subject by a teacher. What is more, most first-year students at college don't cover their index books, unless in a borrowed binding, and nearly everybody folds the page with the school certificate. It is also quite popular to kick those who enter examination rooms and to blow one's fingers for luck.
As you can see, superstitions are still present among Polish people. There is something funny about them and mysterious at the same time. Although, to contemporary, well-educated people the word "superstition" can sound offensive and ridiculous, somewhere inside we believe in them. There is an anecdote that even Albert Einstein had a horseshoe nailed above his door. Somebody asked him, "You, man of education and a physics genius believe in this superstition?" To which he replied, "No, but apparently it works even if you don't believe it".