Dog, Rooster or Peasant: What to Rub at Moscow’s Most Superstitious Metro Station

PHOTO by marcorubino / Depositphotos
Over the last few years, one of Moscow’s most historic metro stations has acquired numerous legends and superstitions, becoming a sort of a temple of good fortune – even in the age of likes and memes

Afisha.Daily decided to get to the bottom of things and spoke with anthropologist Nikita Petrov, who, along with his team of students, researched Ploshchad Revoliutsii metro station.

From Urban Legend to Common Knowledge

A couple of decades ago, many Muscovites heard stories of passengers jumping off trains in Ploshchad Revolutsii to rub the dog statue’s nose and then popping back in. Or they touched the nose for a few seconds and then went on their way. The myth of the dog that brought luck was more of an urban legend than something people actually did on a regular basis. Not many people witnessed the phenomenon, only those who had time to sit and watch the dog statue.

Although it may have become a tradition in the 1990s, the practice became widespread relatively recently. Nowadays people don't just rub the dog’s nose, but pretty much every appendage of every statue they can get their hands on in the entire station – the chest of the athlete statue, the finger and shoe of the peasant statue, the leg of the child statue and the worker’s knee. The original good luck charm – the dog statue – has become so worn down that three days ago, local historian Alexander Mozhaev asked the Metro administration and Department of Cultural Heritage to protect the sculpture, or, at the very least, to place a warning sign there. The response was a promise of covering the statues with a special coating which would prevent further deterioration from rubbing.

Rub in the Right Place

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As well protruding body parts and apparel, weapons are another favourite target for luck-seekers. To date, the following items have been either stolen or broken off: the revolver, grenade, rifle stock, plus compass and gear held by the engineer statue. The latter are tools, of course, but, should push come to shove, they could be used as makeshift weapons, for sure. Finally, the attention paid to the dog statue recently expanded to include the rooster. On top of that, people are now throwing notes into the hem of the birdfeeder’s skirt.

The Rooster’s Secret

Interestingly, this seemingly nondescript bird is the metro station’s main mystery. Some say that rubbing it is actually a bad omen and will bring “unimaginable woe.” Others claim only one of the four roosters brings bad luck, but no one can say which it is. Others make no distinction between the roosters and other regularly-rubbed residents of Ploshchad Revoliutsii.

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Actually, there is no consensus on how to utilise the statues properly to bring good luck. For example, some believe that not just any dog statue will do, and that you have to to rub “Bauman’s dog,” found next to the last train car when travelling towards Shchyolkovskaya. This theory attributes the tradition’s origin to students of Bauman Moscow State Technical University, who allegedly started using the statue for good luck as soon as the station was finished, back in 1938. Some believe that there are specific objects to rub for specific purposes. The revolver brings money, the girl’s shoe helps with your love life and the dog will help you ace your exams. Well, sort of. The leg helps with a pass/fail exam, and the nose is what you need to rub to ace the final. Some people will just rub whatever they get their hands on.

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Nikita Petrov

Urban folklore specialist, Senior researcher of Centre for Folklore studies of the School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, docent at the Russian State University for the Humanities

There are many detailed online theories regarding the origin of the tradition of rubbing the dog’s nose andedia outlets and TV channels regularly run stories about Ploshchad Revoliutsii. But is it possible to discover the roots of the tradition?

It should be noted that all the statues are located on the platform. Moreover, it’s a central, interchange station with a lot of traffic, so the practice of rubbing the statues is blown out of proportion; at the same time, the online discussion of this phenomenon grows, multiplies and mutates. The most likely the source of this phenomenon is imitation based on observation: “Everyone else rubs them, so I'll do the same.” At the same time, its interpretation is dependent upon a number of factors. The sculpture’s location, its theme, the accessory – everything needs to be considered. For example, if there’s a school nearby, then the dominating theory will be students rubbing the statues to pass exams. If there’s a church nearby and the rubbed object is a tomb, stone or tree, then the idea will be associated with healing and divine grace.

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One of the most important factors contributing to interpretation of these kinds of actions is the sculpture’s theme. There is a theory that those in love rub the dog’s nose: a dog is man’s best friend, so if you rub the nose than your partner won’t cheat on you. If you rub the (now missing) compass in the engineer’s hands, you’ll have luck in any scientific endeavours. Girls rub the female student’s shoe to avoid spinsterhood: a nod to the fairytale, Cinderella.

In the fall of 2016 out of 30 people surveyed, only 6 mentioned that sculptures are specialised: four said that the dog’s nose would help them ace exams, one said that the rooster brings money, and one that the rooster brings bad luck. The remaining respondents said they rubbed any sculpture for general good luck.

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What data did the Google survey yield?

That survey was conducted by our students with a large sample size: over a thousand people took part in it. Of the respondents, 90% said they were aware that certain actions are carried out with the sculptures at the station, but 77.4% said that they did not take part in those actions.

The majority of those that did – 22.6% – remembered the dog. The most popular statue was the border patrolman with the dog (821 responses), followed by the rooster (368 votes), the soldier (148 votes) and female pioneer (102 votes). The rest of the sculptures gained 60 or fewer votes. Finally, 197 people from the sample had no idea which sculptures Moscow metro passengers rub.

This data is also interesting in terms of action interpretation and discovering sources of knowledge. The statues are rubbed because they ''bring luck in studies and help to pass exams (543 votes, 50.2%), 421 people (39.9%) wrote that the sculptures 'make dreams come true', and 410 people (37.9%) believe that they 'bring good luck for a day'. Only 12 people (1.1%) claimed that sculptures bring bad luck. The same survey allowed us to find out that people's primary motivation for patting the statues is out of subconscious repetition (459 responses, 42.5%). 266 people (24.6%) read about the phenomenon online, while 378 people (35%) also admitted that they picked up the habit from their friends or family (325 people, 30.1%).