MOSCOW — On winter nights set aside for fortune telling, young Russian women drip hot wax, throw shoes out of the window and crumple newspapers, hoping to foresee their future husbands and careers.
In a ritual vividly described in 19th century literature and still alive today, Russians tell fortunes in the evenings between Russian Orthodox Christmas (January 6-7) and the festival of Epiphany on January 19.
While fortune-telling is practised between Christian holidays, it is frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church, which sees it as a remnant of paganism.
Many Russians take the tradition very seriously.
After examining a piece of wax dropped into a bowl of cold water, Yelena, 29, decided to take a life-changing decision to leave her office job and set up her own public relations company.
"We poured melted wax into cold water and I saw the shape of a single person climbing a mountain. It was then that I decided to leave my company and work as a freelancer," she told AFP.
Two years ago, her friend Inna also changed the course of her life after seeing the shape of a microphone in the wax. She took up singing seriously and last year recorded her first album.
Yelena claimed to be sceptical about the fortune-telling, nevertheless.
"Everyone sees what he wants. These omens only confirm our dreams," she said.
As well as career moves, women look for advice on their love lives and some swear that they spotted their future husbands.
"Fifteen years ago I saw the profile of my future husband" said Katya, 36. Instead of dripping hot wax, she studied the shadow projected by a ball of crumpled paper onto a wall.
She and her husband divorced three years ago, but she still attends fortune-telling seances, saying she now does this for fun.
Olesya, 37, a manager of Internet projects, said that two years ago her group of friends spotted the shape of a dove in the dripped wax, signifying that one of them would marry.
On Tuesday she planned to meet friends at a bar in Moscow to hold a new session.
Numerous techniques are used to divine future husbands.
Some women throw shoes out of the window and if a man picks it up, they ask his name, believing it will be the same as that of their future husband. Others read coffee grounds to spot a man's face.
During the Soviet era, the fortune-telling continued, and women even used the official organ of the Communist Party, the Pravda newspaper, for occult predictions.
Marina Kirilenko, 71, who still works as an engineer, used to crumple the newspaper into a ball and study the shapes formed. In 1963, she saw the shape of a chariot which she believes predicted her subsequent move from far eastern Russia to Moscow.
A few years later, she spotted a wax figure of a man with a briefcase, in an apparent prediction of her marriage to an official, the director of a collective farm.
"The more you believe in miracles, the greater the chances that they will happen," she said.
Psychologist Svetlana Fyodorova puts the faith in fortune-telling down to Russians' close links to their pagan past.
"Russians love fortune-telling because it frees their subconscious," she told AFP.
"As compared to Europe, in Russia Christianity is young and the traces of a pagan traditions can still be felt here," she said.
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