Animal Magic in Belarus, Russia and Eastern Europe

Top Ten …  Animal Magic in Belarus, Russia and Eastern Europe


Superstitions abound regarding animals’ intuition and magical abilities.


  1.  Dogs    Despite their fondness for snuffling up crumbs which fall to the floor, a dog is said to refuse any dropped morsels from the plate of someone who is soon to shuffle off this mortal coil.

  2. Frogs     For the brave of heart, a sore throat can be cured by putting a frog in your mouth for a few minutes. The frog’s own croak is enhanced while yours disappears. If this sounds beyond the pale, you can try breathing heavily on the frog for ten minutes; less effective, but sparing you any unpleasant aftertaste.

  3. Spiders     Since their webs are thought to absorb negative influences, spiders are omens of good fortune. Traditionally, people would weave straw ‘toy’ spiders for hanging in their homes – particularly above a baby’s cradle to protect the infant from evil spirits. Woven spiders were also held over the heads of the bride and groom during their marriage ceremony.

  4. Cats  Black felines are especially potent and will soon cure a cold if they come to sit on your lap. Similarly, if you have a sore leg, you should place your feline friend on the afflicted area. If a cat on the street crosses your path, it is an unlucky: take seven steps backwards, touch one of your buttons, turn your hat around or spit three times over your left shoulder before returning home or retracing your steps. Pussy cat foresight and vanity are recognised in the saying that if your cat is cleaning itself, a visitor is sure to come knocking at your door.straw owl

  5. Birds         Feathered friends are especially revered, being thought to house the souls of departed ancestors, who are sent to guard and advise us. If a bird flies into a window something dreadful will befall those who live inside. In all likelihood, a death is imminent.

  6.  Owls        In contrast, finding an owl on your roof spells the greatest misfortune. Destruction and illness are imminent if the owl calls out three times.

  7.  Cuckoos     People say that if you hear a cuckoo in the forest, you should ask it how many years you’re going to live. Listen for how many calls it gives in response. This may have proved more accurate in the days when life-expectancy was little more than 30 years of age. If you hear the cuckoo in May, you’ll have a year full of busy housework.postcard storks

  8.  Nightingales, Ducks, Swans and Pigeons       Happily, if you hear the first song of the nightingale, you’ll have 12 months of romantic adventures.   Sighting a swan also foretells love; pigeons indicate faithfulness and a flock of ducks signify that a baby is on the way.

  9. Storks      These birds have a special place in the hearts of all Slavonic people, being commonly seen nesting in the branches of tall trees. If one builds his nest on your roof, you’ll be blessed with wonderful good fortune; with a stork living in your thatch, it’ll never catch fire.

  10. Cows, Goats and Chickens       Ancient Belarusians believed that all creatures of nature were able to straw cow straw roosters      straw.iatp.bysee where demons and evil spirits were lurking, selected their resting places to avoid such malevolence. Accordingly, people built their homes where their chickens, goats and cows chose to sleep. Roosters were so benevolent that they are traditionally encouraged to be the first creature to cross the threshold of a new home. If your cockerel dies, it indicates that evil forces are lurking nearby. To remedy this, a cat can be brought in to chase away the demons.


An alternative version of my article first appeared in Moscow’s Passport magazine.


(Photos from