Greek Superstitions or How to Be a Real Greek
In every culture, there exist age-old superstitions handed down from generation to generation. The Greeks are well known to still, to this day, follow and adhere to many of the customs in these tales… or are they tales? Here are some very well-known, age-old superstitions and some not so well-known but believed to be true, superstitions, at least to the older generations. Knowing them will give you not only a taste of the Greek culture and heritage but will make you an immediate insider.
“The Evil Eye” (To Mati) is said to be caused by a compliment being given or by jealousy. As an example, when someone pays you a compliment on your dress and shortly after a large tear happens, Greeks may think the dress was given “the evil eye”. Or perhaps someone looked upon you in an admiring but jealous way as they thought you are beautiful and suddenly you feel a strong headache. Again, the mati! To ward off these bad spirits the common practice of wearing a protective eye charm as a piece of jewelry or adornment on your person is quite popular. This charm and symbol can be found all over Greece and is heavily marketed as a tourist item to purchase. The original eye is blue, the color said to ward off the evil eye, and also, strangely the eye color of persons said to be more likely to cast the evil eye. The most classic eye symbol is round, blue, and with a black iris. Modern versions are in the shape of an eye, almond-shaped, and come in various colors with various alterations and additions, such as eyelashes. This belief is common in North Africa and Egypt as well, however, their protective eyes are a bit different, and in Islam, the “hand” or hamsa is used.
How rude! No, wait, they are not spitting on you in disdain. Another common practice, spitting – well actually just making the sound of spitting, “ftou, ftou ftou” three times, is actually a compliment. This represents the holy trinity which offers protection against the evil eye. Often when passing a young baby an elder offers the spitting ritual to fend off all evil from the child, offering good spirits to surround the child. It is done more commonly if the baby is particularly beautiful as they might need more protection.
If for no apparent reason you suffer from a headache which lingers, a Greek might ask if you have been “eyed”. You might think about it a bit and then recall a moment recently where someone complimented you or you felt jealous energy coming from someone or somewhere. Those trained in ‘reading the coffee’, a traditional custom used to remove the evil eye, can help you out. If they start yawning a lot when reading the coffee it means the “evil eye” was heavy. Asking an older woman to say a special prayer called ‘xematiasma,’ is said to ward off the evil spirits.
Not just for vampires…. The Greeks believe in the power of garlic in warding off evil spirits and the bad, as do many other cultures and religious sects. Often long braids of garlic cloves adorn the entrance-ways to home, restaurants, and shops. Some people still today will carry a piece of garlic on them.
Cha-ching! Money is said to attract money. Therefore, always keep at least a coin in your wallet or pocketbook and never give a wallet or pocketbook as a gift without at least one coin inside. This superstition also stems from the idea to never place your wallet or pocketbook on the floor as your wealth will fall out of it.
Jinx! When you say the same word at the same time with someone you are conversing with, it is believed an argument might ensue. More commonly people will yell “Jinx” just after. In Greece, they believe that to stop an argument from happening they must each touch something red quickly. They cry out “Piase Kokkino” (touch red) and each finds something red to touch. More about fighting – do not pass a knife to someone directly as it means you will fight with them. If someone wants a knife, place it before them, do not hand it directly to them.
More food as good luck against negative energy and happenings is the belief that carrying a basil plant onboard a yacht will protect the yacht on its voyages. It is common to find a potted basil plant on the aft deck of a yacht. To double down on keeping your luck aboard while cruising or sailing, do not whistle! It is said that whistling onboard is bad luck and any seafarer will advise you against it.
If a Greek receives a gift of perfume they must in return give a coin to the gift-giver. This protects the relationship from falling apart.
Salt has been used in many cultures for protecting oneself. Italians are known for throwing it over their shoulder. The Greeks believe it does a few things. If you sprinkle at each doorway of a new home it will not allow evil spirits to enter as it will absorb them. If you have an unwanted guest, just sprinkle a little salt behind them and they soon will leave. Mystics and those who follow modern-day “self-care” practices in the West will also use salt in this way- bathing in it to detoxify the body or leaving some in the corner of a room to clean its energy.
Easter is the most sacred and special time in Greece. After the midnight ceremony and with the Holy Light of the candle from mass most Greeks will bring home the flame, carried on their own candle from church to their home, and make a cross above the home’s entrance to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the home. If you look up at the entrance of many Greek homes, you will find the cross in ashes above the door from last Easter as they leave it all year.
The Greek symbol of prosperity, the Pomegranate, is also a sign of good luck. Throughout the Christmas season they are hung on the doors of homes and on New Year Eve they are smashed on the ground. The more seeds that pop out – the more abundant health, fortune, and prosperity will for the new year.
Known in Greek as Kallikantzari, or hobgoblins elsewhere, these ugly little creatures are said to live underground. From Christmas until Epiphany Day (January 6th), they appear and cause many pranks. In many Greek villages of today, the priest will go house to house and sprinkle holy water to keep them underground for another year.
As in most countries, the Greeks cheers when toasting with wine, a beer, ouzo or any alcoholic drink but never with a coffee or water! That could bring bad luck! Another toasting superstition? Look into the eyes of the person you cheers with or else you are granted years of bad luck in bed!
Most countries believe Friday the 13th is an unlucky day but the Greeks believe in Tuesday the 13th as such.
When attending a Greek wedding it is a tradition to offer a dragées (sugared almonds given as wedding favors). Belief is that if a single-woman places it under her pillow that night she will dream of who she will marry. Other countries often do the same with a piece of the wedding cake. Sounds sticky….
Another wedding tradition is to never marry or get engaged during a leap year as the marriage will be doomed. Also do not marry on a Saturday the priest will tell you.
When a Greek sneezes it is said that someone is talking about you. Just ask someone nearby to offer a three-digit number, add the numbers and find the corresponding letter in the alphabet to get the initial of who is chatting about you behind your back. Sounds scientific!
The further one goes back in history the more of these superstitions and beliefs will be found. It seems that some of these traditions and superstitions do have logical bases though many do not, making them all that more mysterious and mystical. Perhaps it is one’s belief in them that make them true! Knowing them will give you a one up, in any case.
Best of luck!