Superstitions, Rituals and Customs in Poland
Poland, like many of its central and eastern European neighbours, has its own set of unique and unusual superstitions and customs. Despite not being a deeply superstitious nation, Poles do have more than their fair share of quirky beliefs and historical customs that have developed as a result of the Slavic, Jewish and Catholic influences in the country. Let’s take a look.
The exact origin of traditional funeral customs in the country, for example, is impossible to trace; however, direct influences can be seen in some of the more historical customs that are no longer in practice. One of the most famous funeral rites, the Pompa Funebris, was a funeral ceremony reserved strictly for the Polish nobility and can trace its roots to rituals of the Catholic Church. This grand and expensive custom, that was mostly practiced during the 16th and 17th centuries, involved the consumption of a lavish dinner as well as the building of a catafalque for the adoration of the dead, which was aptly named the Castrum Doloris (castle of the dead).
Even today, the process of mourning is as important throughout Poland as other ceremonial rituals like marriage and baptism. The practice of covering mirrors is of Jewish origin, but many Poles will still cover all the mirrors surrounding the body of the deceased. If they didn’t, the soul of the departed could enter the mirror and spend eternity haunting the living as a terrifying reflection. In many of the traditional villages and towns throughout Poland, it is customary to stop all the clocks nearby the deceased at the moment of their last breath. There are two reasons attached to this: the first is to announce to the living world that time has passed for the deceased and the second is to prevent the clocks from getting confused and counting down to the death of any living person present.
Not all the customs and superstitions still in practice throughout Poland honour death. Some also celebrate life and are quite comical:
You’ve heard about getting out of bed on the right side for a positive and productive day. Well, in Poland, they take this a step further! In order to ensure “Powodzenia” (Polish for good fortune) throughout the day, Poles believe you have to wake up with the right foot. Upon waking, you should place the right foot on the floor first to avoid bad fortune; but if you forget and step out with your left, then disaster will follow you during the day!
If you come across a nun while out exploring the streets of Warsaw, Krakow or Gdansk, then you’ll need to go and find a man wearing glasses straight away and look at him to ensure you’ll get good fortune for the rest of the day. If you can’t find a man in specs, well, it’ll be a day of bad fortune for you!
To wish a Polish friend or companion else good fortune for an event or situation, instead of saying “fingers crossed”, you’ll need to say “trzymam kciuki”, which roughly translates to “thumbs up”!
So, the next time you take a trip to Poland, remember to pay your respects to the dead if you happen to notice that all the clocks have stopped in the place where you are staying. Make sure you step out of bed every morning with your right foot and keep a spectacled man close to hand when you’re walking the streets, just in case you spot a nun. We’ll be wishing you “tryzmam kciuck” that you won’t pick up any bad fortune during your travels!