Are You As Superstitious As a Pole?

Every country has its superstitions. Some of them are still popular, while others bring a smile of disbelief that someone could have treated them seriously. And it looks like they are still alive and well in Poland.

Friday The 13th Alert
Friday The 13th Alert. Paramount actress Adrienne Ames, pictured in the mid 1930s, holding a calendar showing the infamous day that is considered bad luck in Western superstitions. Photo: Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Some are more local, and some are common in all areas of Poland. In a 2018 survey conducted by Poland’s Public Opinion Research Center, over 50% of Poles still believe in at least one superstition. The number has to be staggering, considering that, overall, one would struggle to spot such tendencies when spending time in Poland.

Sure, people are half-jokingly observing the disastrous Friday the 13th, don’t want to be the first to cross the path of a black cat, and consider a four-leaf clover lucky. But these things are culturally embedded and easily passed down to younger generations, who may laugh at first but then, involuntarily, find themselves paying attention to the same signs of (mis)fortune. Below I gathered some more unusual ones you may try to spot practiced by Poles.

Warning! Four signs of bad fortune to avoid!

Spare the spider

Let’s go ahead and get the bad out of the way. Never kill spiders in the house before noon (or in some versions, not at all. Period.) Apparently, it can bring on rain and bad weather. Just Mother Nature’s way of having her vengeance on those who brutally murder one of her (creepy) children.

Get off the doorway

The next superstition is very common. People in Poland are not keen on saying their goodbyes over a threshold (aka in a doorway). In fact, no one I know does so – as if subconsciously, one person either steps in or out of the doorway. And for a good reason.

A threshold in the past was treated as a symbolic border between the outside world and the family. Physically parting or greeting (aka kissing, hugging, shaking hands) over a threshold is believed to be a bad omen as it may invite misfortune and calamity to those living in the house. There is also a version of the same superstition saying that if two people part over a threshold, they may never see each other again. At worst, it could be due to something as serious as death, or at best – they could quarrel. Notice how Poles still do that, sometimes without being able to give any other explanation than that it’s rude.

Sit when you go back

Another common superstition is connected with completing cycles. If, after leaving your home, you realize you have forgotten something – simply going back and getting it is a bad omen that will bring you bad luck. You need to sit down, at least for a few seconds, for the return to count as “coming home and leaving again” and your previous “way of fate” to complete. That way, you can start a new cycle by leaving again.

Pay for your knife

Have you found the perfect gift for your Polish friend that happens to be … a sharp knife or another sharp object? Don’t be surprised if, after receiving the gift, your friend gives you money (a symbolic sum – like a small coin). They will do that to buy safety from the destruction and pain this object may bring.

A more religious version of the same superstition is connected to the cross of Christ. The gift receiver of a cross will give you a coin as a symbol that they will willingly take on any suffering that may befall them after receiving the gift. This is because it is believed that in giving a cross, you are sharing with them the burden of your problems – the cross you have come to bear.

There is much more we could tell you about the bad omens. But it is quite a mouthful already. Let’s take a look at what brings luck.

Four signs of good fortune – welcome with open arms!

Grab your button

Seeing a chimney sweeper is considered to be a good omen. They bring luck, and chimney sweepers in Poland are still a desired (albeit rare) sight. The amount of “conditions” that some practice afterward so that the good fortune sticks around can be tiresome. “Grab a button and let go only if you see a bald man,” or “find ten people wearing glasses.”

But, as one chimney sweeper has told me – do not grab on to a button as it shall be a button you are going to receive (a button in Polish slang means – squat). It is enough to rejoice that you are about to be blessed by good fortune. Better to listen to the professional. And far easier.

Carp’s scale

It is customary in Poland to eat carp on Christmas Eve. When preparing the meal, make sure to take one large scale and place it in your wallet. It is said to bring good luck and fortune over the coming year. My granddad always had a carp’s scale in his pocket – he would go and get one at a fishmonger’s if he had to, as he wasn’t too big on carp dishes. Talk about dedication!

Invite a Jew, invite some money

You may also notice that in many Polish houses (and sometimes businesses!), there is a small picture of a member of the Jewish community counting money, which is hanging by the door. The image is to ensure no one who comes, and visits shall cause this establishment to lose money. In fact, the picture is to invite more money into the household.

Get a kick!

And if we are talking about good luck, let me share one last superstition that is said to bring good luck. If before a big event in your life a Pole should ever give you a light and innocent kick on your bottom (with a knee), don’t turn round and start a fight! They do that to bring good fortune so that everything you need to face goes well for you.

Polish people observe many superstitions, some so deeply rooted in their culture that they are practiced as it is impolite to do otherwise. The above list is but a fraction of what you can discover when visiting Poland and observing the locals. Or perhaps you already know about something I have never heard of?

Weronika Edmunds

Holder of a DPSI in English Law and an MBA, she believes in lifelong learning. Her passion for theatre shaped her sensitivity to the spoken and written word, leading her to become a creative copywriter. She lives for words and knows how to pour life into otherwise lifeless wording. She likes to repeat after M. Ondaatje: “Words, Caravaggio. They have a power.”

Latest from Culture