When you believe in things you don’t understand

I’ve been running into a lot of superstitions lately, as in people keep telling me: “Don’t do that! It’s bad luck.” So I’m keeping track of the superstitions here, if only because my brain is too limited to hold them all inside. I’m sure this will expand, but here’s the most recent take:

  • If you say something over water, it will come true. To that end, never say falsehoods or bad things while drinking tea or water. [Given that every meal here involves drinking tea, I wonder if this one is along the lines of our, “Never talk politics or religion at the dinner table,” just with a superstitious twist.]
  • Along the lines of voodoo magic, bad imams (Muslim priests turned bad) can be used to enchant someone and cause them to falsely fall in love and marry. When a marriage results from such enchantment, the person put under the spell will fall ill within 3-7 years and the marriage will be unhappy. But the enchanted one is powerless to initiate a divorce, since he/she is still under the spell.
  • Chicken bones.

    This is not, by Kyrgyz standards, clean enough.

    If you’re (1) young and unmarried and (2) don’t clean all the meat off the bone as you’re eating, you won’t get married for the foreseeable future.

  • In general, if you don’t clean your plate it’s bad luck (I equate this with U.S. Great Depression-era thinking)
  • If a cat – or for that matter, any animal – crosses your path, it’s bad luck. Some people run in front of coming animals to cut them off and cross in front first.
  • Many believe in the evil eye – i.e. falling ill from people looking at you with jealousy or bad intentions – and the whole related complex of illness and cures. Wikipedia has this one covered.
  • Don’t shake hands / hug / kiss while standing in an entrance / door frame – you may never see that person again. (This one is definitely borrowed from Russia)
  • Don’t whistle indoors. It means that the owners of whatever building you’re in will lose money and end up poor.
  • If you hiccup, it either means: (1) you’re cold – go inside immediately, or (2) you stole something in the recent past.
  • If you write your wishes on a piece of paper and attach them to a specific tree (a wish tree), your wish will come true. I’ve seen these trees in Jordan and Turkey too – I think this is a pan-Asian/Arab world belief. Or maybe tied to Islam? Not sure.
  • If you get married during the winter months, you’re more likely to divorce.

Some Western/US superstitions NOT recognised here:

  • It’s bad luck to break a mirror. (When I asked my Kyrgyz husband about this, his response was, “Why would you want to break a mirror? That’s silly.”)
  • It’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.
  • Breaking the wishbone is not a thing here.
  • Nor is there a belief in making a wish when you lose an eyelash.
  • People here recognise the meaning of knocking on wood – i.e. you do it after saying something good to make sure that good thing stays true – but they don’t do it themselves.
  • People don’t seem to toss coins into fountains or make wishes on this basis.

What other Western superstitions are there? If you have any thoughts, leave them in the comments section and I’ll ask around to see if people here believe in them, or at least have heard of them. Or if you know of other Kyrgyz superstitions, I’d love to hear them.

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