In Ukrainian culture fortune telling is an interesting phenomenon. For example, Saint Catherine’s Day (7 December, Julian calendar) is an occasion for girls and women to summon their destinies and to bargain with them to be fortunate. On the eve of Saint Catherine’s Day, women perform divinations and some harmless spell-working to influence their future.
Especially unmarried women take the opportunity of the occasion. They perform special fortune telling rituals to find out who their future husbands would be and whether they will get married within a year. Below are some relevant rituals and spells that were popular in Ukraine over past centuries. Some of them would be hard to perform these days (like the ones with a well). But some are easily accomplished. On 6 December, on the Eve of Saint Catherine’s Day, if you want to find out about your future, you could do one or more of the following:
1. Cherry twig
In the morning, before sunrise, go to a garden and cut off a twig from a cherry tree. Bring the twig home and put it in a bottle with water. If the cherry twig blossoms before Melanka (14 January), it is a good sign – your destiny will blossom too. It is also an omen of your getting married within that year. A twig that dries up is not a good portent.
2. Twelve leaves
Gather 12 different tree leaves (e.g. oak, birch, apple, cherry etc.). Before going to bed, assign a male name to each leaf (e.g. ‘Matthew’ to an oak leaf, ‘Andrew’ to an apple leaf, etc). Put the leaves under your pillow and go to sleep. Next morning, pull out one of the leaves – and it will tell you your future husband’s name.
3. The leaf of destiny
This ritual is a little similar to the previous one. However, this time gather only two different leaves (e.g. apple and pear). Put them under the pillow. Choose a leaf to ‘represent’ your beloved. Next morning, if you have a younger brother, ask him to pull a leaf from under your pillow (when it comes to customs, there is an old Ukrainian belief that boys bring good luck); otherwise do it yourself. If you pick a leaf with the name of your beloved, it is an omen that your destiny is to be with him.
4. What do you see in a well?
This and the following ritual are more suited for those who get their water from wells. In the morning when getting your water from a well, do not forget to have a good look at the reflection in the water. If you like how you look, your future will be enjoyable too; it can also mean that your future husband will be handsome.
5. Do not spill a drop
This ritual is connected with the previous one. Bringing water home from a well, make sure you do not spill any of it. If you succeed and bring home full buckets of water it is a sign that your life will be fulfilled and you will get married.
6. Foretelling dreams
This is one of the easiest rituals to perform. Going to bed, think about your beloved. The very last thought before you fall asleep should be about him. Hopefully, in your dream that night you will see him. If that happens, it means you are destined to be with him. (Our book A Collection of Ukrainian Spells contains a similar foretelling ritual, which is performed on the Eve of St Andrew’s Day, 12 October. That ritual is slightly more complicated and includes a spell.)
7. Inviting destiny
Place some food in a pot (millet and poppy seed kasha was a customary choice in the past). Cover the pot with a new rushnyk. Before sunrise, go outside to your courtyard entrance and summon your destiny, saying three times, ‘My Destiny, my Destiny, come to me for dinner’. If immediately after that a cockerel crows – it’s a good sign and if it does not, your destiny did not hear you. The worst omen is if a star falls (your destiny is ‘quenching’).
By the way, in the past, fortune telling was also popular among young men. They performed the ‘Cherry twig’ ritual to find out what their wife would be like. If the twig had lots of leaves and bloomed profusely a young man believed that his future wife would be beautiful, loving and hardworking. If the twig had leaves but did not bloom, the wife would be an ordinary and unremarkable woman. However, if the twig neither had leaves nor bloomed the wife would be lazy and quarrelsome.