A bird in the house and burning ears: what superstitions do Russians believe in?

Jan 14, 2022

Sber subsidiaries SberInsurance and Sberbank life insurance held a survey in cities with a population of over 500,000 and learned that almost one-third of Russians believe in folk omens. However, only 10% of citizens employ “magic” practices to protect themselves from potential misfortune. According to Russians, one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from potential trouble is through an insurance policy. The survey was conducted ahead of New Year's Eve, when people often make wishes and pay more attention to signs.

Curiously, women are more superstitious than men: 12.9% of women and 7.5% of men responded affirmatively to the question about noticing omens and using rituals to prevent misfortune. Older people are also more inclined to believe in omens, with 23% of people over 60 keeping track of and protecting themselves from omens, alongside 14.2% of people aged 51-60, 5.6% aged 31-50, and only 3.4% of respondents aged 18-30.

More than half of Russians who believe in omens (53.5%) believe that there are more bad omens than good signs. This opinion is most common in Penza (63.8%), Novokuznetsk (63.7%), Yaroslavl (62.6%), Rostov-on-Don (62.2%), and Samara (60.9%). In contrast, Makhachkala (72.1%), Astrakhan (60%), Irkutsk (57%), Tolyatti (56.6%), and Vladivostok (53.8%) tend to expect good omens.

The study showed that Russians are more likely to believe in omens related to physical sensations. A quarter of respondents (24%) will pay attention to an itchy hand, foot, or eye, ringing in the ears, or a twitching eyelid. Birds and bats flying into the house or knocking on the window frighten 19.3% of respondents, while 14.4% of Russians believe that a burning face and burning ears or cheeks are an omen. Other omens enjoy significantly less belief: e.g., only 3.6% of respondents are concerned about meeting a black or calico cat, 2.4% about broken mirrors, 1.9% about wearing their clothes inside out, and only 1.3% about spilling salt.

Residents of Vladivostok turned out to be the most superstitious, with 17.6% influenced by omens. Indicators are also high in Novosibirsk (16.3%), Krasnoyarsk (15.2%), and Ulyanovsk (14%). Makhachkala showed the greatest rationality, with only 2.1% of respondents believing in omens. Residents of Naberezhnye Chelny (4.7%), Tomsk (7%), and Lipetsk (7.1%) are not afraid of black cats crossing their paths either.

Denis Kuzmin, director of Protective Products and Services, Sberbank:

“Today barely anyone in Russia believes that you can protect yourself from trouble by spitting over your left shoulder or refusing to return home for a forgotten item. Only 7% of respondents consider knowledge and observance of omens an effective way of preventing trouble, while another 9.4% believe that well-honed intuition will help avoid them and 0.4% advise others to develop their intuition. According to Russians, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself is by taking out an insurance policy (33.8%), which makes sense: the most a magic ritual can do is calm your nerves, while insurance is guaranteed to cover damage resulting from any unfortunate incidents.”