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Susie Atsaides

 

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  Greek Surperstitions

Greek Traditions

 

 

Greek Traditions - Village Superstitions

I’ve been visiting through the villages and must say that I am just amazed at the amount of information I’m getting from the older village women. There are so many traditions and stories in Greek Lore that I’m having a hard time getting them all down in writing.

During my quest for information, I have found that many of these superstitions date back to the days of our great, great grandmothers and are so old, that people just do them because they are supposed to. I’m still hunting down the roots of many of these tidbits of Greek Lore, so there will be a lot more to come.

Spit…, Spit…, Spit…,

Susie Atsaides

If you have a question about a particular Greek custom and would like it explained, or if you would like to add one from your Island or Village, feel free to email me at:

 Village Superrtitions  Index

Bat Bones Plants & Cuttings
Bread Priests
Cactus Salt
Crows Shoes
Evil Eye Sneezing
Fish Spiting
Garlic / Skordo Talismans / Filahta
Knives Touch Red / Piase Kokkino
Money Tuesday the 13th
Onions Whooping Cough / Kokitis

 

Bat Bones

I have found that many of these Greek superstitions vary not only from Island to Island, but in between the Villages as well. Bat bones are a good example.

For some Island folk, bat bones are considered to be very lucky. These people carry a small bit of the bone in their pockets or purses with them where ever they go. The only problem is getting the bone as it is supposed to be very bad luck to kill a bat.

Other Islanders believe quite the opposite. They think that bats are unholy creatures and should be avoided at all costs, and would never dream of carrying a piece of one as a talisman.

 

Bread

Bread is considered a gift from God. It has roots from the bible story, Sermon on the Mount, of how Jesus Christ fed thousands with the fish and the bread. The older village women always make the sign of the cross over a fresh loaf before slicing it. No bread is ever thrown away. If it is not eaten in some way or another, it is fed to the animals - chickens or pigs, and even dogs, as it would be a sin for it to end up in the garbage and has to be consumed by some living creature.

 

Cactus 

No Greek home would be complete with out at least one cactus positioned somewhere near the front entrance. In a big ‘Feta’ can or garden pot, a cactus with its thorny spikes, takes it place proudly warding off the evil eye from the property.

 

Crows

Crows are considered omens of bad news, misfortune and death. When you see or hear a crow cawing, you say "Sto Kalo… Sto Kalo…. Kala Nea na me Feris" which loosely translated means, go well into the day and bring me good news.

 

Evil Eye

The most commonly talked about ancient superstition in the Greek Isles. The evil eye can strike at any given moment. More than likely, you’ve had it happen to you, but you’ve just never realised what did it.

Take a moment and think about it. Perhaps there was an occasion that you were dressed up and someone told you how nice you look. A few minutes later you spilled coffee down the front of you or split your pants. Or maybe someone told you how beautiful your new vase was and a while later it fell to the ground shattering in a thousand pieces. That’s the evil eye.

To ward it off, there are a few different things you can do. They sell ‘eyes’ here that are like charms, blue in colour with an eye painted on them to ‘reflect’ the evil and you wear them on a necklace or a bracelet. You can also purchase a blue bead to wear instead of an eye. Blue is the colour that wards off the evil of the eye, but it is also commonly thought that blue eyed people are exceptional givers of it. So beware when a blue eyed person pays you a compliment, according to the superstition, it could be disastrous.

Another way to ward off the evil eye is with garlic. There are rare instances when a single clove will grow into the shape of a small head of garlic. If you’re lucky enough to come across one, guard it well as it is the best thing to keep away the evil eye. You can carry it in your pocket, or as I do, keep it in a hanky in your bra. I know what you’re thinking, but believe me… as long as the skin is left on, it doesn’t smell at all.

If you can’t brave the garlic, there is an alternative. When you get a compliment remember to say ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under your breath and spit three times on your own person. If you know the individual that is complimenting you, tell them to spit on you too.

The Greek Orthodox Church also believes in the evil eye, and they refer to it as "Baskania".

Also See - Talismans - Garlic - Spiting

 

Fish

Fish are believed to be wise and knowledgeable. But the Church also sees the fish as a revered symbol of silence. Fish don’t speak or make noise.

Perhaps some of you have seen the sign of the fish in your own church, as many non-orthodox religions also use its symbolism with the Greek letters ‘  É×ÈÕÓ

É×ÈÕÓ- ‘Ichthis’, translated means fish and is the Greek name for the zodiac sign of Pisces. But it also has a deeper meaning. If each letter is taken individually, you will see it’s religious significance.

Garlic / Skordo

The evil repelling powers of garlic is not just for vampires. Greeks believe very much in its power to keep evil away. You will usually find beautiful braids of Garlic, or some huge, one of a kind head, dangling in the entrances of shops, restaurants and homes. It is thought that garlic not only wards off the evil eye but also keeps away evil spirits and demons.

It is also common for some folk to carry a clove of it on their persons or in their pocket books. A single clove, head of garlic is the best, but very hard to find.

 

Knives

Never hand some one a knife. Set it down and let them pick it up, or else you will get into a fight with that person.

 

Money

Greeks believe that Money attracts money, so never leave your pockets, purses or wallets completely empty and never completely empty your bank account. Always leave at least a coin or two. It is also considered good luck that when you give a gift of a wallet or a purse, that you put a coin or two in it before giving it to the recipient.

 

Onions

Even in these days of modern medicine, you can still find a few village women that strongly believe in the ‘Old Ways’ to cure many different ailments. Onions seem to be popular ingredients and their healing powers go way back in village Folklore.

For colds and sniffles, you can grate onions and use them as a mustard plaster on the chest.

To ease the swelling from a bad sprain, grate onions and mix them with a bit of Ouzo. Apply the paste to the swollen area and bandage it up. Leave it on over night and by morning, the swelling should be gone.

 

Plants & Cuttings

If you have tried to take a cutting and root it without success, maybe you are doing something wrong. Greeks believe that in order for a cutting to root, it has to be stolen. You have to nonchalantly cut off a piece of the desired plant and take it home without telling the owner. According to superstition, it will root easily.

 

Priests

Greek Orthodox priests are very revered. When greeting one, it is customary to kiss his hand or ring in respect. But it’s considered a bad omen to see one walking in the street, and most folk whisper ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under their breath.

 

Salt

We are all familiar with the superstition of throwing salt over our left shoulder to repel evil or a demon. In Greek Folklore, salt can be used to get rid of an unwanted human presence as well.

If you have an unwanted guest in your home and you want them to leave. All you have to do is sprinkle salt behind them. The powers of the salt will chase him out.

It is also customary to sprinkle salt in a new home before you occupy it, as the salt will drive any evil out and away from you and your family.

 

Shoes

Overturned shoes (soles up) are considered very bad luck and even omens of death. Never let your shoes lay upside down. If you accidentally take them off and they land soles up, turn them over immediately and say ‘Skorda (garlic)’ and a spit or two won’t hurt either.

See Garlic - Spiting

 

Sneezing

 

In Greek superstition, If you sneeze, it means that someone is talking about you. If you want to know who it is, there is a way you can find out. Ask someone around you to give you a three-digit number. Count each digit together and then count down the alphabet. Whatever letter it falls on, is the initial of the person that is talking about you.

For example, 534 is the number given. Add it together 5+3+4=12 . Count down the alphabet to ‘L’, which is the twelfth letter. That is the first initial of the person that is talking about you.

Because you never know if what they are saying about you is good or bad, it wouldn’t hurt to whisper ‘Skorda (garlic)’ under your breath, just to be on the safe side.

 

Spiting

Greeks spit for a number of superstitious reasons. The most common is to keep evil away from you. For example, if you hear of some one speaking of misfortune or bad news, and fear the possibility of the same thing happening to you, you would spit three times on your own person. Greeks say " Ftise Ston Korfo Sou" or loosely translated, spit on yourself/your cleavage. It wards off the evil from coming to you. Now I’m not talking about drawing from the depths of your throat… a simple little spray will do. Spit three times and remember …Ptew not Phtewwey.

Spitting is also commonly used to avoid misfortune, so you don’t give the ‘evil eye’ to yourself and jinx some endeavour. Take for example Greek fishermen. They will spit in their nets before lowering them into the sea so they ward off evil and get good days’ catch. Likewise, a student may feel that he wrote a wonderful report and spit on it before handing it in for grading. The spit will chase the bad spirits away and avoid the jinx.

See Evil Eye

 

Talismans Filahta

Talismans or ‘Filahta’ are regularly used in Greece. Most commonly you will see these charms pinned to the backs of small children’s and infant’s clothing. But you will also find that many of the older people carry them in their pockets and purses or have them discretely pinned to their clothing too.

There are numerous items that are used for Filahta that are thought to guard you from the Evil Eye or what the Greek Orthodox Church calls Baskania. Of course, there are the simple gold crosses or medals of Saints, and evil eyes and beads, but there are also small pieces of cloth sewn into sachets, holding an array of mysterious contents.

These sachets can be filled with pieces of olive branch or basil that have been used by a priest in some ceremony, dirt from the grave of a Saint or maybe burnt candle shavings from a Church altar. Anything can be used for these charms, but the rule is that it has to be something from holy ground or something that has been blessed. Any one item, or a combination is sewn into a very small, triangular sachet and sometimes adorned with beads in the sign of the cross.

The Nuns and Monks of Jerusalem make beautiful Filahta that are filled with dirt or stones of the Holy Land. Perhaps the most famous of all Filahta is the "Constantinato". Gold Medallions that St. Helena had commissioned and named after her son Constantine. The legend says that these Medallions contained wood shavings from the Holy Cross itself, mixed in with the gold. But that is another story.

See Evil Eye

 

 

Touch Red / Piase Kokkino

It might be considered a form of ESP or maybe just coincidence, but sometimes two people have the same thought and speak the same words at the same time. Take for example two girlfriends going out shopping together and stopping to admire a dress in a window. They both say ‘That’s Beautiful’ simultaneously.

Greeks believe this to be an omen that those two persons will get into a fight and they say to ‘Piase Kokkino’ or ‘Touch Red’ to avoid the argument. Both persons have to touch something that’s red, right then and there. Any item will do, clothing, food – anything.

 

Tuesday the 13th

Different from Western cultures, it is Tuesday the 13th of the month that is considered unlucky in Greece and not Friday the 13th.

 

Whooping Cough / Kokitis

In the days before vaccinations, Greeks held that donkeys’ milk should be given to a child infected with whooping cough. According to the old wives tales, there is some kind of substance in the milk that cures the illness. As strange as it might sound, I know a man who hunted high and low for a nursing donkey and managed to get the milk. It was given to his son for a few days and after that he was cured. I don’t know if it was just coincidence, but I won’t argue with superstition either.

contact  Susie Atsaides


 

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