Russia Culture Traditions Fortune Telling

Fortune Telling

Fortune telling is a time-honoured tradition in Russia. Throughout the year, it was the custom to tell fortunes on the eve of all important Orthodox holidays. The most propitious time for fortune telling, however, was believed to be yuletide and the summer solstice.

Yuletide (svyatki) began on Christmas Eve and lasted until Epiphany (Twelfth Night). Because this period lay at the end of the old and the start of the new years, people were particularly interested in learning of future events in their lives. The forces of evil were a crucial factor in ensuring the reliability of forecasting and their presence was believed to be particularly powerful on New Year’s Eve.

There were different ways of telling fortunes in Russia. One of the most popular methods involved looking into the fire. Other ways were interpreting the shadows formed by the flame of a candle on the wall or studying the charred splinters of firewood left over from a fire. Water was another element used to predict the future. Melted wax or tin was poured into water and the meaning of the resulting figures was analysed.

Fortunes could be told by observing the behaviour of cattle or poultry. If a hen or cockerel pecked corn before a certain girl, this meant that she would soon be married. Fortune telling with cards only became popular in the nineteenth century.

Summer was the period of the “green” svyatki, which began on Midsummer Night (St John the Baptist’s Day) and lasted until St Elijah’s Day on 20 July. Symbols of nature, plants and flowers figured prominently in summer fortune telling. The main themes were marriage and the coming harvest.

On Midsummer Night, young girls wove garlands of flowers and threw them into a river. They would then run along the river bank, closely observing the way the garland floated in the water, which was supposed to reflect her future fate.

The summer religious holidays were also associated with the presence of evil spirits. On Midsummer Night, when witches and sorcerers gathered for their sabbath, the power of their charms and spells was believed to be especially potent.

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