(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
Fantasy and superstition are heavily woven into the fabric of icon history and veneration. Among all the various beliefs associated with icons are a number of superstitions about their use that continue even today. The student of icons should be aware of these.
Here are some of them:
If a man wearing a hat comes into a room in which an icon is kept, he must remove his hat, otherwise the owners of the house will have misfortune. Also the person wearing the hat will have bad luck and may go insane.
One should not curse or swear or spit anywhere near an icon, or there will be supernatural punishment.
Icons are preferably placed on a shelf rather than hung. Some say that hanging an icon is too much like Judas hanging himself, and in any case, a shelf is believed to be more secure and respectful.
An icon that falls from a wall or shelf is a bad sign. If it does not break, it is a warning to change one’s ways. If it is an icon of Mary, it means troubles or disease will strike the family. The same if an icon of Nicholas falls, which can also signify material loss. If an icon breaks apart from the fall, it means death is coming to the family. Some think a falling icon is a sign that evil has tried to enter the house, so those in the house must repent and behave. This is particularly associated with the “Semistrelnaya” type of Mary. A fallen icon should be asked for forgiveness, with a candle burned before it.
If one is writing a will or bequeathing one’s possessions, the first decision to be made is who will get one’s icons.
If a crack appears in an icon, it is a serious warning of misfortune coming, so one should repent and pray.
If an icon is found, it might be a good event or a bad event. Because one does not know who owned the icon previously, and whether it was consecrated, it is a risky matter. The icon might transmit bad influences if it came from an evil person or was not consecrated. To be safe, the found icon should not be brought into the house or it might bring bad luck. It should be handled with a cloth or gloves, and must first be taken to a church to be consecrated, then it may be taken home.
If an icon is bought anywhere other than a church, it must be taken to a church for consecration. Otherwise the icon “will not work” when one prays to it.
Icons should be accepted as gifts only from very close people such as parents and grandparents, etc. However, if the icon is known to have been consecrated, it may be accepted from someone else. Some also say it is acceptable to receive an icon as a gift if the one giving has “pure thoughts.”
Icons should not be given as gifts to those who might not appreciate them or to non-Eastern Orthodox believers. Icons should not be given to people of bad behavior in the belief that it might cause them to change their ways. Instead they may just disrespect the icon.
Old or damaged icons should not be thrown away, broken up, or burned, because that brings serious misfortune and unhappiness. Instead, such icons should either be restored or else put into storage, or placed in a tree somewhere, or be allowed to float away on water. This belief likely accounts for those tales of supposedly “miraculous” icons found in trees or in or by rivers, etc.
When a house is to be built, an icon should be placed on the construction site, along with bread and water.
When the new house is built, before the residents move in, an icon should be first brought into the house and placed in the icon corner before any people enter.
If a house catches on fire, the icon or icons should be taken out first. If the icon is then carried around the house, the fire might then go out on its own. But as one source cautions, “You should not particularly expect that to happen.”
Many Russian Orthodox believers still take these warnings very seriously, and often experience severe worry and stress if one of the negative icon “omens” occurs.