All nations in the world have certain folk beliefs and superstitions in their traditions and culture. Many of them have been passed from generation to generation. This is certainly true for the Balkans, including Montenegro.
Of course, I don’t want to say that there are no superstitions in the Netherlands: Dutchies will not walk under a ladder, they are not fond of Friday the 13th and they believe that a black cat passing their path brings bad luck. But when I moved to Montenegro, I could not help noticing many other strange folk beliefs, especially in the countryside. Some of them were silly, other funny, but I was surprised to see that there were still many people who honestly believed – and still believe – them to be true.
When you live in Montenegro as a foreigner or even when you travel the country as a tourist, you will probably experience similar situations, so maybe this blog post will make you understand more about it.
As a woman, you have certainly noticed that you are not allowed to put your bag or purse on the floor of the pub, restaurant or home you are visiting. The waiter, or your Montenegrin friend or host, will immediately put another seat next to you to place your bag on. And if there is no other seat available … you can just put the bag on your lap. Why? Well, it is believed that leaving your bag on the floor will cause you to lose money. But don’t worry if you forget about this ‘rule’: maybe your left palm will start itching? That would mean that you’ll be getting money soon.
When cutting bread, have you ever put the loaf bottom-side up? Don’t do it again, as this brings misfortune to you and your family. But don’t be unhappy when you accidentally break a glass: it is considered good luck.
Are you a young unmarried girl? Don’t sit at a corner-seat of a table, as in that case you will never get married.
Your Montenegrin friend is expecting a baby? Maybe you will be astonished to see that she – in particular if she lives in the countryside – does not purchase things for the baby in advance. Setting up a baby shower before the baby arrives is considered bad luck, and you should never buy a baby gifts until it has been born. By the way, never say that the newborn baby is sweet or beautiful; this would mean bad luck or illness for the infant.
If you are a woman visiting a Montenegrin family in the rural area of the country, older women will always prevent you from sitting on a stone wall or on the ground, and from walking barefoot. This could cause cold/frozen ovaries and have a negative effect on your fertility.
By the way, don’t go outside with wet hair: your brain will be inflamed or you’ll get pneumonia. And above all: Beware of draughts (‘promaja’). They are very dangerous and can cause many ailments: colds, stomach pains, headaches. A simple draught on your exposed stomach could result in your ovaries being frozen and never being able to have children.
Hiccups? These are caused by people talking about you or remembering you. Sneezing? When you sneeze in somebody’s presence he/she will say ‘Živjeli!’ or ‘Nazdravlje’. But what happens when you sneeze while somebody else is talking about something? He will react immediately and say ‘Istina!’, which means ‘It’s true’.
Many Montenegrins believe that tea is only for sick people. There is a herbal tea for every illness and in each household you can find chamomile, mint and other home-made types of tea.
Do you know why there are so many old ruined houses in the countryside? Wouldn’t it be much easier to reconstruct them than to build a new one? No, as it is an old belief that a new house should never be built on the same place as the old house.
And finally something about Turkish coffee reading, which is still a well-known ritual, especially in rural Montenegro. This type of coffee (now called ‘kuvana kafa’) leaves a thick, muddy sediment at the bottom of the cup. If you swirl the cup and turn it upside down, the grounds will fall down and leave some patterns on the surface of the coffee cup. These images and shapes are believed to have a special meaning and to predict future happenings. There are still a lot of people who believe in coffee reading and it is a popular hobby among women in the countryside.
Many things have changed in the meantime, and maybe some of the above superstitions are not relevant any more, but I am sure that you will recognize some of these typical folk beliefs!