According to folklore, avoiding bad luck when crossing paths with a black cat can be as simple as spitting three times behind your back. If you forgot or misplaced something, then the best course of action is to sit down and count to ten; a lady should never leave her purse lying on the floor as it will inevitably cause her to lose money. Walking under a ladder could bring grief and misery. It seems that the only way to avoid “tempting fate” and favor good luck is to knock on unpainted wood, pick a four-leaf clover, or hang a horseshoe above the door.
Probably one of the most Polish superstitions has to do with broken mirrors and seven years of misfortune. As the story has it, the Polish noble and magus Pan Twardowski sold his soul to the devil in exchange for special powers. One of Twardowski’s most valuable possessions was the magic mirror which reflected future events and summoned spirits. According to the legend, Twardowski ended up stranded on the moon, and his mirror found a new home in the sacristy of The Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Węgrów. In 1812 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France stopped in that church, looked in the mirror, and it showed him his future retreat from Russia and the collapse of the empire. In anger, Bonaparte struck and broke the mirror in three places. The damaged artifact still hangs on display in the basilica.
In Poland, spilling salt is considered a bad omen that can foretell a family quarrel. In olden times, salt was considered a valuable and expensive substance. Salt was used as a way of payment, hence the term salary, and as a means of preserving food. The history of salt is best discovered in the stunning, UNESCO-listed Royal Salt Mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia.
During travels to Poland, one should be on the lookout for the chimney sweep. Donning an unmistakable top hat and clad all in black, the chimney sweeps are said to bring good luck. Upon sighting a chimney sweep, one must immediately grasp a button on one’s jacket for the charm to work.
We share similar beliefs and superstitions across cultures, so the folk wisdom of Polish culture may be surprisingly familiar. However, with that in mind, discovering Poland’s lesser-known and distinctive tales can be a grand adventure when exploring Poland and discovering her story, her people, and customs.