The first few months of my beautiful bambina’s life was quite tough on everyone, as I imagine most first time parents would admit. She suffered from colic and spent a large part of most days screaming her little lungs out as me and my husband sang every song we knew, danced, recreated techniques demonstrated in “miracle” videos and pleaded with her to stay calm. It was during this time that I first heard of the curse of the malocchio.
As we were tucking into our standard 65 course Sunday lunch with the entire family; I say we, I was tending to my little munchkin who for no apparent reason had transformed from a sweet smiling baby in to bright red, ball of eardrum shattering anger, my mother in law turned to me and said “Do you think she’s been overlooked?”. Initially I didn’t know how to react to this. Was she talking about some medical problem that the doctors in the hospital hadn’t picked up on? Had I forgotten to do something? No, this was a way of saying that someone might have afflicted her with the malocchio, the evil eye.
Now I’m not a superstitious person so I almost choked on my spaghetti at the thought that she could be crying because someone has looked at her with a certain glare but others around the table nodded affirmatively at the suggestion and started to explain the curse of the malocchio.
Despite being a devoutly Catholic country, superstition still prevails in Italy, more so in the South. You will often here the phrase, “Non è vero ma ci credo” (It’s not true but I believe it) which shows how ingrained certain traditions and superstitions are; It’s far easier to avoid certain things than risk some ill-fate. The malocchio (Evil eye) which is present in lots of different cultures can be inflicted both intentionally and accidentally coming from an envious thought. It can be as seemingly innocent as paying a compliment while being jealous of someone but can result in any physical or emotional injury. Sports team losing? Malocchio. Bad hair day? Malocchio. Things going wrong recently? Yep, you’ve guessed it.
So what can you do? Well, my mother-in-law knows a woman who can help apparently. According to local culture there is a cure for the malocchio which involves a special ceremony where an elder recites a prayer while dropping olive oil in a bowl of water. If the oil forms a shape of an eye you have indeed suffered the malocchio from someone. But not all is lost. With a couple more prayers to the relevant saints and the form of the cross made on your hands, the curse can be lifted. So can I learn the prayers? No, they can only be passed down on Christmas Eve.
Another amulet that Italians believe will ward off the evil eye is by wearing the horn (corno or cornicello). This horn shaped pendant is often found in people’s houses or on key rings and is thought to protect you against the evil eye. Often in bright red plastic, gold or silver (like the one pictured here from Amazon) by keeping it close to you, you are able to keep bad thoughts away. Men can also avoid the curse of the malocchio by touching their genitals… at least that’s their excuse!
Whether or not you choose to believe it, malocchio forms a distinct part of Southern Italian culture but superstitions don’t stop there. As well as many superstitions we have in England such as not walking under a ladder, or seeing a black cat crossing your path, there are a few other superstitions that Italians follow in order to not bring bad luck. When I was pregnant and I had cravings I was told not to touch any part of my body while thinking of the food and to make sure I satisfied my craving as otherwise it would produce a birthmark on my baby in the shape of my craving. I don’t quite believe this however because my little girl has no pineapple shaped birthmarks, that would be quite on trend though!
Bread is another thing which is surrounded in superstition, mostly because of its links with religion. When making bread, you start the process by making the sign of the cross over the dough to show respect to God and you can never, ever throw bread away without kissing it first, regardless of how stale or mouldy it might be!
Another area where I have committed terrible errors according to tradition is to do with the cross. When you finish a plate of food you should never allow your cutlery on your plate to form the sign of the cross, besides being terrible table manners, the cross is the sign for the dead therefore by making this sign you are provoking some ill fate. The same goes for when you meet people and you’re in a group, if you want to shake hands you must make sure that your arms don’t cross as again this could signal death to someone within your group!
Whatever your thoughts about superstition, these traditions certainly give you something to think about and while of course they aren’t true, I am perhaps starting to believe them 😉
Do you know any other traditions or superstitions associated with Italy? If so let me know what they are below in the comments section, I’d love to hear them.
If you’re interested in buying any amulets to ward off evil spirits click on the picture of the horn above. Find this article surprising? Click here to read other surprising facts about Italy.