Are you khorâfâti (superstitious)? Do you believe in cheshm khordan / zadan (being jinxed / jinxing)? Because Iranians sure do. In fact, you should be choosy about who you share your blessings with as an ill-intentioned soul may cast an evil eye upon you. Everyday Persian phrases, practices, and gestures seem to be geared towards guarding against the evil eye. Check out some of the most common, complete with video and images, to learn everything you wanted to know about superstitions in Iran.
Superstitions in Iran
Did you just sneeze? Please press the pause button on whatever you were doing or wanted to do. When someone sneezes, Iranians say sabr âmad (patience came) and then, to prevent bad luck, wait a bit before resuming their actions. Even those who don’t consider themselves superstitious tend to follow this one. Allergy season is a tough time as you can’t seem to get anything done.
If we’re talking about superstitions in Iran, then we have to include something about tea, right? And it goes like this: When you pour tea, if any tea leaves float to the top of the glass, it means you will have guests. The number of guests depends on the number of tea leaves. Some even go further to say that if the tea leaves are long, the guest will be tall, etc.
Things happening in threes
The concept of things occurring in threes is also relevant in superstitions in which the third event is something to worry about. For example, first, a child falls and has a nosebleed. Manageable. Then you find out your uncle got in an accident. Thankfully, everything is ok, but now you have to wait for the other shoe to drop because, according to Iranian superstition, the third event will surely be disastrous. And that’s when they worry, khodâ be kheyr kone sevomisho (God have mercy on the third one)!
Iranians are superstitious about the 13th and final day of Nowruz (the new year). On sizdeh bedar (13 outdoors), parks and green spaces become flooded with picnickers, and unless you wish to tempt fate for an entire year, you’d better spend some time outside that day. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Tying a knot in the Nowruz sprouts
Iranians grow wheat and lentil sprouts for the new year (symbolizing rebirth) which are supposed to absorb any negativity before being thrown out on the 13th. But beforehand, single girls tie a knot with the sprouts in hopes of being married by the next year.
An itchy palm
Similar to other cultures, if your palm itches, then you can expect some money.
Running water is always positive, so this is a good omen as spilling water roshanâyi miyâre (brings light). That’s why when a person embarks on a journey, the family staying behind will throw water behind them so that this person may go safely on their travels, achieve everything they desire, and return safely (and soon).
One owl that hoos in the evening is the bearer of bad news, death, or mourning. A single crow that caws at the same time and place every day is also bad news; however, a group of crows is khabare kheyr (good news)- perhaps even a wedding! A rabbit that crosses your path is good luck.
Superstitions revolving around astronomical phenomena were more prevalent in small villages back in the day and don’t really exist now. Nevertheless, beliefs that were once held were that an eclipse expressed the wrath of God and villagers would bang copper pots to make it go away. Comets signified that someone major (for example, a king or queen) had died.
Persian expressions to ward off the evil eye
Iranians are big on the idea of cheshm (jinx). Cheshm literally means “eye” which is why the evil eye is prevalent. It’s common to hear Iranians say chesh nazanam before bringing up a topic. For example, chesh nazanam the weather has been beautiful lately.
A person with cheshme shur (salty eyes) is said to jinx you. Therefore, people who truly care about you may sing your praises, but follow up with chesham shur nist (my eyes aren’t salty).
Goosh (ear) and Zabun (tongue)
Other phrases relate to the ear and tongue: gooshe sheytun kar (may the devil’s ears be deaf), zabunam lâl (may my tongue be mute), or zabuneto gâz begir (bite your tongue). You may momentarily forget to keep your blessings under wraps and gush about them to someone. “I just got a raise and a won a free trip. I’m so excited that things are going so well.” Quick… protect yourself. Follow up with “Gooshe sheytoon kar!” As long as the devil doesn’t hear you, it’s all good.
Zabunam lâl is commonly repeated 2 or 3 times for emphasis. You can hear it in this scene from the comedy Shahgoosh where the mother asks her daughter if she could imagine- zabunam lâl, zabunam lâl- being married to her father’s murderer.
Persian expressions with dur (far)
Other times, Iranians wish for things to be dur (far). Dur az in khuneh (far from this house), dur az joon (far from the soul/spirit), cheshme bad dur (may the evil eye be far), balâ be dur (may misfortune be far). For example, if you tell someone about a funeral you went to, you would say dur az in khuneh as a way not to jinx the person you’re speaking to. Or if you have an overly dramatic friend who says they will die if XYZ happens, you could say, dur az joon (here, it’s like “God forbid”).
Just like English, there is the phrase bezanam be takhte (knock on wood). There’s also khodâ nakone (God forbid). Arabic phrases like mashallah and inshallah are also common. When friends see your children after a long time or hear of their accomplishments, they say mashallah in order not to jinx them. Inshallah is used for anything that you plan to do in the future. “I want to travel to Iran this year, inshallah (God willing).” It’s out of our hands because it’s in the future, so God willing, we won’t be jinxed in the meantime.
In yet another scene from Shahgoosh (yes, I use this series a lot. It’s an absolute goldmine for Persian and Iranian culture- not to mention the strong female characters), the man is telling the woman that she should consider his son like her own. She says khodâ nakone, zabuneto gâz begir (God forbid, bite your tongue). Then she goes on to say that if he were her son, she would have killed him by now.
Burning esfand to ward off the evil eye
A very common practice not only in Iranian households but also in public is burning esfand (wild rue seeds) to ward off the evil eye. The seeds are placed in a tin canister and heated over fire. As they making a popping noise, Iranians say betereke cheshme hasud (may jealous eyes explode) or cheshme hasud kur (may jealous eyes be blind) while waving the smoke over the heads of their loved ones. Iranian mothers do this for their children after friends or acquaintances compliment them.
Esfand is also generally burned every so often throughout the house or when someone moves into a new home as a sort of cleansing ritual to get rid of bad energy and protect the home. In these cases, it’s common to send three salavât (an Arabic phrase which translates as “God bless Mohammed and the people of Mohammed.” Think of it as something along the lines of a “Hail Mary.”).
These days, every week like clockwork, I catch whiffs of my neighbor burning esfand throughout her apartment. It smells really nice, but I also find something comforting about it.
Burning esfand is common practice at weddings in which case the groom gives money to the person waving the smoke around. Also seen is âtel o bâtel, a tray with seven spices in seven colors to guard against evil spirits. They include angelica, salt and green leaves, wild rice, frankincense, poppy seeds, gunpowder, and nigella.
A couple of gestures relate to superstitions as well. One is to bite your index finger as an anti-jinx. Another is to bite the area between your thumb and forefinger. Then you flip your hand so that your palm faces up and bite it again. As an option, afterward you mimic spitting three times.
So who jinxed you?
Now let’s say you’re khorâfâti, and you believe you’ve been jinxed. How do you find the culprit? Well, just follow what Officer Khofte’s mother does in this scene from Shahgoosh. She desperately wants her son to get married, but he rejects all the women he meets. Convinced he’s been jinxed, she wants to find out who’s done it. She holds an egg over a bowl in one hand and pokes it with a needle after uttering the names of each possible suspect. When the egg cracks, that’s the person who has jinxed you! In this case, it was, as usual, Officer Sorkhi who “bachamo chesh zade! (jinxed my boy!)” she exclaims. The father responds, “Betereke cheshme hasud! (may jealous eyes burst!),” to which she replies, “Terekid! (It burst!).” She later dips her finger into the egg and wipes it on her son’s forehead.
Are there any similar superstitions in your culture? What are some commons ones and ways to prevent them?
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