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Svyatki And Ancient Russian Divinations

One of the best times in the year to do the fortune readings of any kind are Svyatki. It is a time period between two orthodox holidays – Birth of Christ on the 7th of January and Baptism of Christ on the 19th of January. It was believed that those weeks are a peculiar transitionary period, when the last year is already gone but the next year is not yet here.

In this strange time the veil between the human world and the world of supernatural becomes thinner and magic becomes stronger.

In the old times the first week of Svyatki was called “holy”, and the second one “scary”. During this time it was prohibited to work in the dark of the evening, young men and women went carolling, everyone cleaned their houses from the negative energies and malicious entities by having the water blessed and smudging the house with frankincense.

The fortune-telling rituals were generally held at night. First and foremost, the participants were supposed to be released from the protection of their gods or spiritual entities for the time of the divination. People took off their christian crosses and other protective amulets, everybody tied knots on their clothing, let their hair down. In order not to get harmed by evil spirits, the participants could draw a circle around them before starting the ritual. The place was also chosen carefully. It should have had a certain dark energy to it, often people chose abandoned houses, sometimes even cemeteries. The places that indicated the border between the two worlds were also fitting, for example gates, crossroads, wells.

The fortune-tellings could be divided in three groups: divinations about harvest, about family, and about love.

One of the ways to know whether you’ll have a good harvesting season this year was to go to a crossroad on the 1st of January, after the morning service. There, one needed to draw a cross on the ground and put their ear on the mark. A person listened closely and if they heard a full waggon coming, it was a sign of abundant crops. The sound of an empty waggon – of a hungry season. Another way to predict how much harvest awaits you in the upcoming year was to use gramineous plants. People made little wisps of ears of every plant they had and left them outside for the night. The bundles that were covered in frost on the next day told which kind will grow well this year.

In order to know what the next year will bring to you and your relatives, families went out together to eavesdrop. Silently, people approached a house and tried to hear what is going on there. To hear someone having an argument indicated a stressful year ahead of you. If you heard crying, a sickness would come to your home.

A prayer, on the contrary, was the sign of a blessed year for you and your loved ones. There was also a way to learn the future of the family. Everybody could go and lay down in a place where people did the threshing, and listen intently. If one heard a knocking sound, it meant death, the ringing told you of a soon wedding, the sounds of the threshing signified wealth.

During the time of Svyatki, the love rituals were the most popular kind of divinations and the most important ones for many young men and women. There were and still are a great amount of fortune-telling rituals one can conduct in those magical nights of January. For example, on a clear night, one can take a mirror and angle it towards the sky so it reflects the moon. When a person catches it on the mirror’s surface, they should stare at it intently until the image starts to blur and multiply. The amount of little moons in the mirror indicates how big their family will be.

Another belief connected to the night sky states, that if a girl sees a fallen star, the direction it flies, shows the way to her future husband. Also, at night, an unmarried women could make a little bridge out of rods and put it under their pillow. Before going to bed she should say: “Whoever my betrothed is, they will lead me across the bridge”. It is believed that the future lover will be seen by the girl in her dream.

What do you think?

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Photographs: Alexander Savchenko

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