“SVYATKI” – the time for mysterious Old Slavic tradition to connect with ancestors’ spirits

Christmastide or Svyatki in orthodox culture is the time between Christmas (7 January) and Baptism of Jesus (19 January). Being just a  Christian holiday at first sight, these 12 days represent the most mysterious part of Russian traditions.

Mystery around it comes from the fact that this Christian holiday falls on the same days when Old Slavic people following their pagan traditions connected with ancestors’ spirits to predict future.

“Svyatki Fortunetelling”, K. Makovskiy, 1900s. Under the moonlight the girls are counting the number of grains picked by the rooster. If it is less than 12, then their wishes will come true. After that they will count the remaining seeds, and if the number is even then the wish will come true this year, if odd then next year.

Why at this time of the year

It is a time of a full moon; the Sun turns from winter to summer; the day moves from the darkness to the light; old year ends and new year begins. This borderline between OLD and NEW was thought to be the time when souls of dead people came from another world to the earth, and when evil spirits were liberated. According to the folk believes this invisible presence of ghosts among alive people provided an opportunity to communicate with them and to learn the future.

So what did people want to know about?

“Svyatki fortunetelling”, N. Pimonenko, 1888 (girls are looking at the shadows to predict their future)

Of course it was largely linked to the weather for the next year which was the main factor for a good harvest and therefore, prosperity. Various superstitions and spells were used to foresee and influence the future.

But the most common subject was surely LOVE. Until today young ladies practice some of the old rituals to see their future fiance, to learn his name, and find out when they will get married.

What were the most common ways to get the answer on such an intriguing question?

They are ranging from the most innocent games to really scary ones! But all of them are done in the evening or at night when the sun is gone and the spirits are active.

Example of the most harmless way to guess the future would be to write various male names on the pieces of paper and put them under the pillow. The name which the girl will randomly take in the morning will be the name of her future husband.

“Svetlana Guessing on Her Future”, K. Bryullov, 1836

Fortunetelling that requires some courage involves mirrors and candles.
For example, a young lady would need to sit down in front of the mirror at midnight alone in a quiet and dark room with a lit up candle. She should stare deep into the mirror for a long time until it gets covered by steam. Carefully removing that steam, she will see a face of her future husband. But make sure to not look at him for too long, young lady! Send him away immediately and cross yourself!

There are hundreds and hundreds of fortunetelling games which reached us through generations. Not only this tradition survived until nowadays, but it has been given some new features. For example, some fortunetelling games may now involve mobile phones and internet.

Probably this tradition is still alive due to the fact that in any century people have always been curious to unveil the mystery of unknown and to learn the future. Wouldn’t you be curious to do it too?

About the author:


Oxana believes that every person’s life can make an intriguing story for a book which can teach a lot of wisdom. Life in Russia, England, France, Hungary, USA and lots of travelling around the continents introduced her to exceptional personalities. She loves to share stories about people and destinations which bring new ideas and help to find a way to your true self. This is why she started her blog “In search of the genuine”

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