Superstitions in Italy

Every nation has their Old Wives' Tales and Italy is no exception.

I go to Southern Italy often on holiday to see my family and not one year goes by when I get yelled at for doing something that I shouldn't be doing on a certain day.

The main thing that Italians are aware off is Malocchio, meaning Evil Eye.
Malocchio is best described as a curse, though strangely, can be something as simple as a compliment.
For example, if someone tells you your baby is beautiful, the fates have been tempted. You must make the horn sign to protect your child.
The hand sign of extending your pinkie and index finger, while keeping the others folded back, is supposed to ward off the evil spirit that someone has put on you.
Many Italians wear a horn-shaped charm (the corno) as a necklace for protection as well as having a corno hanging in their cars.

Detail from the mosaic floor in the Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

left Detail from the mosaic floor in the Gallery Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy the coats of arms of the four capitals of the Kingdom of Italy. A girl is tramping over the bull's balls: according to superstition this brings good luck. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Jan. 20 2007.

By all accounts, when Malocchio has been sent your way, you may get an excruciating headache and a Catholic that has been baptised, communed and confirmed may be able to help.
They would have said a private prayer on New Years Eve, similar to an initiation rite that would have 'empowered' them by the grace of God to rid you of Malocchio.

Many times has my Nonna, Zia's and even my mum ridded me of a headache this way. Though you must not sit with your legs or arms crossed as this

To have birds and bird feathers, especially peacock feathers in the home is considered bad luck, as they appear to have the Evil Eye on them.

On the other hand, a cat sneezing is good luck to all those that hear it.

In the UK and America, we are used to saying, "touch wood". Italians say "tocca ferro" which means touch iron especially immediately after seeing a nun, as apparently they are unlucky too.

After-death rituals were directed at keeping the dead persons spirit from returning.
Those carrying the coffin would go directly to the cemetery and survivors made sure to return home by another route, this was thought to confuse the dead.
Salt was sometimes placed under the dead persons head to confuse them too.
Including the deceased's favourite items such as a treasured photo or even cigarettes and a lighter in the coffin, was also believed to keep them from returning to retrieve their treasured possessions.
If you forgot some item, it was sometimes included in the next dead persons casket assuming that the first deceased and the second would meet up in the hereafter.
By the way purple and black are considered mourning colours so therefore are classed as unlucky.

I preti, almeno sino ad alcuni decenni fa (e i piu' tradizionalisti e/o anziani ancora oggi) portavano sempre quel loro strano cappello e non lo toglievano entrando in un edificio, pero' se e quando si recavano da un moribondo per l'estrema unzione e confessione devono toglierselo per mettersi i paramenti ed ecco che il prete, che a questo punto e' in genere seduto o in piedi accanto al moribondo nel suo letto, si toglie il cappello e lo posa sulla superficie piana piu' vicina, il letto, appunto!
Ecco quindi spiegato l'arcano, un cappello sul letto richiamerebbe una scena di morte imminente o appena avvenuta.

This translates into:

Priests, at least up to a few decades ago (and the more traditional and/or old ones still today) always wore that strange hat of theirs, and never took it off even inside a building. However, when they went to the bedside of the dying for confession, they had to take it off to put on their vestments. Then you would see the priest, who at this point was usually seated or standing next to the dying person in their bed, take off his hat and put it on the nearest flat surface - the bed!
This explains the arcane: a hat on the bed recalls a scene of death (imminent or just occurred).



This medical superstition, colpo d'aria meaning 'punch of air' is considered extremely dangerous. A draught can cause anything from a cold to paralysis. And my Nonna always tells me off for not using a hairdryer and that I will suffer for going out with wet hair.

By the way, apart from the first Friday in March it is considered ill health to shave on a Friday.

And with regard to Fridays, where we see Friday the 13th as unlucky, many Italians see Friday the 17th as an ill-fated day.

I love to buy Nonna flowers when I am there and as much as she smiles she tells me flowers are for the dead. Good job I never bought her a Yucca plant then as Italians call this the plant of happiness but it brings bad luck into the home.

No housework must be done on the 6th of January. This is the day of Epiphany, which in Italy is believed to be a witch called La Befana.
According to legend, the Wise Men asked the kindly old witch to accompany them to see the infant Jesus. She refused, saying she was too busy and had to clean her house, and so she missed the wondrous sight.
Each year, on the 5th of January, La Befana goes from house to house, leaving gifts and looking for the Christ child.
In Italy, most homes like our churches have a presepio (Nativity scene).
On Christmas Eve, the family prays while the mother places a figure of the Bambino (Christ child) in the manger.
Many Italians serve eels for dinner on Christmas Eve. They also bake Christmas bread called Panettone, which can contains raisins, nuts and candied fruit or cream, jam and chocolate.

On New Years Eve however, eating lentils at midnight is good luck in fortune and ladies wearing red undergarments will have good luck in love.

By Helen Binotti



Thursday, December 25TH, 2008 by Guest

I remember being told that my great grandfather who immigrated from Italy to the US in the 1880's had a superstion where he would whack you with his walking cane if your dared to step on his shadow. Has anyone else heard of this?

Sunday, January 31TH, 2010 by Guest

OmG those superstitions freaked me out and im italian those r really creepy i better watch out

Monday, September 06TH, 2010 by Guest

i was invited for a vacation to napoli. Im an extreme joker. I would remember every single stiff, and then do everything to make my self a malocchio. But of course I would wear my horn. Proudly.

Wednesday, December 01TH, 2010 by Guest

This is a very interesting article. I liked it a lot. I've never heard about Bad Eye. Now I'll be more careful with compliments when I go to Italy. Not long ago I read a very interesting book about body language (downloaded it from shared files SE ) . It is so unusual that the same body movements mean different things in different countries. Read it, I'm sure you like it. It is very funny.

Wednesday, June 01TH, 2011 by Guest

Born and raised in Calabria now living in NYC it's funny and great to read something that I grow up with il mal occhio is there n I know i get it many times

Monday, June 20TH, 2011 by PaoloNascimbeni

I just chaned one of the image and added the Image of the Italian President Leone cha 'fa le corna' to chase away any unlucky event. There is a similar image also with president Ciampi.  Italian are used to touch iron ( or in Rome private parts ) to chase away any unlucky event. I do it too and I am not a believer of this.  It is the same as when in the US you say 'break a leg' instead of Good luck,  each country has its own superstition

Tuesday, July 05TH, 2011 by Guest

 My Italian Grandma used to tell people who admired my big ,pretty eyes not to ' over look me'. I think that was her term for this malocchin. Anyway, there must be something to this evil eye because I've spent most of my adult life with serious eye problems even though Grandma  prayed to St. Lucy to protect my vision!  Six surgeries later all I can say is don't over look the malocchin....that and Lucy! you got lots a s'planing to do!

Sunday, October 30TH, 2011 by Guest

Guys, these things are done and seen by  modern italians as a funny thing, more a pitoresque joke than a serious thing.
No one would really believe in malocchio, when you ear that word in Italy is more referred to someone who envy someone other, not really a magic curse. Please, from this post Italy seems like a medieval place fullfilled with magic rituals and beliefs.

Sunday, November 20TH, 2011 by Guest

I'm from Southern Italy (Calabria, actually) and not only i confirm the existance of "malocchio" but i can also confirm the existence of a "ritual" (in the form of a spoken prayer) that could send the evil eye away. That prayer can only be passed on Christmas Eve from mother to daughter and only women can use it effectively - the target that needs to be purified can indifferently be male or female. Being male myself i remember every word in that prayer but if i had to use it that would have no outcome on the target. Also the target must not have arms or legs crossed - the same thing is required when you read somebody's future with tarots or cards, 'cause crossing arms or legs harms energy flows around your body by blocking them. Believe it or not - personally i don't, though i believe some sort of negative energy (such as the one generated by envy) can be "attached" (volountarily or not) to other people. Maybe the prayer only helps one focus on his positive energies, thus defeating the negative ones.

Saturday, November 26TH, 2011 by Guest

Born and raised in Argentina, country that was like U.S in the north, in the south receive a big waiwes of european inmigrants, second generation of sicilian. I can remember la Nonna do il mallochio (oggiatura) and the cure of the sole, with a plate in the top of my head with water and using a glass with a cotton ( always need to be done in inpairs numbers of times, ex: 3,5,7) on fire and put upside down inside of the plate with water, also if you have an indigestion or upset stomach she have a cure with a  red ribbon in the center of the stomach and doing a ritual with his arm, using the part between the elbow and his fingers, after that, pinch your back and put leaves of grapevines covered with olive oil and fastened with a bandage around the stomach, the Italians equal to others Europeans use those rituals that are millenaries, "creere o reventare", (believe or burst) those things work fine for me and for many people of my generation, nothing wrong  with that! Arrivederchi, VIVA ITALIA!