Armenian Superstitions, Old Wives Tales, and Folk Beliefs
As you read about these Armenian old wives tales, superstitions, and folk beliefs, you will come to realize that to Armenian people, modesty and cautiousness were of the utmost importance. And if you are Armenian yourself this will come as no surprise. The epithets you are about to read pertain to western Armenians into the early 1900s or the early 20th century. Descendants of these people are commonly known as Armenians of the diaspora. This information is for educational purposes for everyone and also to give insight to people of Armenian heritage of what their ancestors commonly believed.
Some of the epithets could relate to eastern Armenians, but in most cases this group of people already has their ancient cultural knowledge intact. Most diasporic Armenians have lost track of old wives tales, superstitions, and beliefs because of genocide of older generations and the need to worry about survival in new homelands above sociological facts.
Armenian Folk Beliefs About Sex
- Girls and women should not look out of the windows of their houses because it signals sexual wantonness to men. No one is able to dissect whether this belief comes from old-fashioned modesty or from living around Muslim peoples in the Ottoman Empire. But if a girl or woman looked out of a window that faced a public road where male passers-by might be, she could be sending a signal if a male passer-by caught her eye. Remember that Armenians previous to WWI/the Armenian holocaust were frequently paired up by arranged marriages. Giving a male eye contact gave a signal that she flirting and available. And if a male spread a rumor that a man’s daughter was looking at him from her window, it could cause a town scandal, which no good family could afford to have when they wanted to marry their daughter off properly.
- A girl altering her appearance to look more beautiful means she is signaling to men her availability for sex. Conservative parents of many cultures to this day in the United States and even some full religious sects of Christianity (such as the Church of God/charismatic churches/Pentacostal Christians) do not believe women should alter their appearance for beauty. This was especially true for Armenian girls because they were to remain modest and desire-free for their future husband. Putting on makeup or changing one’s hairstyle meant she was trying to attract the attention of the opposite sex, which was not appropriate at all
- Blood should be on the sheets on the wedding night to signal the bride was a virgin and to prove the husband is sexually capable. This practice was common in not only Armenian people, but also Greeks, Jews, and some Muslim peoples. The belief that blood should be on the sheets was important because it signaled fertility, a woman’s purity when she was single, and a healthy romantic life for the new couple. It is well-known that some girls would cut themselves and draw blood just to escape any shame that might come upon their family if they thought she wasn’t a virgin. In addition, a lack of blood could also mean that the husband was not able to perform. The blood on the sheets custom is still practiced by some people in Europe and the Middle East.
- Whistling in the house invites evil. No one knows the exact root of this superstition, but suggestions are that whistling is not a noise that can be attributed to worship of God, therefore it needs to be controlled. Another belief is that while some birds sound like they whistle, birds can also bring sickness and death to humans if the birds are ill. Another idea for the root of this superstition is simply that whistling often annoys other people in the room, and can make them angry. Parents might have simply wanted peace and quiet in the home.
- Shunning a cat brings death. Many Armenian people can recount their grandparents telling them the following story: A man used to feed his cat from the dinner table on a routine basis. One day he pushed the cat away from the table when he had a guest. The cat then clawed the man to death in his sleep. The story is most likely made up. There are many superstitions in Europe revolving around cats, and this is one of the oldest. The unfounded moral of the story is that cats can be your friend but they also can be dangerous.
- Consuming alcohol brings evil. A great deal of religious western Armenians avoided alcohol. Alcohol was known as something that took the mind off of God and being a proper Christian and family member. It is also no coincidence that prohibition happened in the United States when it did. As immigrants from Europe flooded the US, the old world belief that alcohol brought evil to home and society became prevalent. Alcohol is still considered off-limits in many Christian denominations, and it is not uncommon to find western-descent Armenians that shun alcohol.
Armenian Old Wives Tales
- Eating pomegranates promotes fertility. It was believed that because the inside of the fruit was so bountiful with seeds, that eating them would produce many chances for a wife to bear a child. Nutritionists today firmly believe that pomegranates do in fact promote fertility.
- Rocks bring good luck. Rocks have a long and mostly forgotten history in western Armenian culture. No one knows why rocks were considered to be lucky. Townspeople sometimes had special geographical spots to pick up rocks. They would take them home or place them in pockets.Some people would rub the rocks on their bodies — their heads, stomachs, chests. It is not surprising to know that towns in the Ottoman empire that were prosperous were popular for rock picking. The lucky rock is probably akin to the lucky rabbit’s foot.
- A “moon face” promotes fertility. If you read some old poems, songs, and literature written in Armenian you will come across romantic interpretations of the term “moon face.” This simply referred to an Armenian woman with white skin and a healthy round face. These features were the prototype of healthy Caucasian Armenian women: milky white skin free of blemishes or signs of darkening from too much agrarian work, and a round face which is not uncommon in Armenian facial features.As were many other European cultures, Western Armenian culture was full of characteristics of Christian values and leftover pagan ideas about inanimate objects and animals. Much of the everyday cultural anthropology of occupied western Armenia is lost, but this list provides insight as to what our ancestors commonly believed.