Are you fascinated by Italy’s unique and rich culture? If so, you may have heard of many superstitions deeply ingrained in many Italians’ daily lives. From the evil eye to the number 17, superstitions in Italy have been passed down through generations. They continue to shape the way many Italians view the world around them.
What Are the Most Common Italian Superstitions?
Malocchio (The Evil Eye)
Malocchio, or “The Evil Eye,” is a powerful and pervasive superstition in Italian culture. It is believed that certain individuals can cast a curse or inflict harm on others simply by looking at them with envy or ill will.
According to this superstition, which has existed since ancient times, the evil eye can cause many negative effects, including bad luck, illness, injury, and even death. The curse is considered particularly potent when cast by someone envious of another person’s success, wealth, or happiness. While widespread throughout Italy, this belief is especially prevalent in southern Italy.
Italian culture often employs several common rituals and practices to protect oneself from the evil eye. These include wearing amulets, talismans, or a lucky charm, such as the cornicello (a horn-shaped charm) or the mano cornuta (the sign of the horns), which are thought to ward off the curse. Another common practice is to make the sign of the cross or recite prayers, such as the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary,” as a form of spiritual protection.
In addition to these rituals and practices, some Italians also believe in the power of certain foods and beverages to protect against the evil eye. For example, it is said that wearing or carrying garlic can ward off the curse, while drinking red wine can provide spiritual protection.
Gatti Neri (Black Cats)
In Italian culture, black cats are often associated with superstition and folklore. It is believed that if a black cat crosses your path, it will bring bad luck or misfortune. This belief is so deeply ingrained in Italian culture that many people will go out of their way to avoid crossing paths with a black cat.
One possible explanation for this superstition dates back to the Middle Ages when black cats were associated with witchcraft and evil spirits. During this time, it was believed that witches could transform into black cats, and anyone who encountered a black cat was believed to be in danger of being cursed or hexed.
Another theory is that black cats were associated with the Devil, and therefore, they were considered to be evil or bad luck. This belief may have been reinforced by popular culture, often depicting black cats as sinister or ominous.
Despite these superstitions, many people in Italy believe that black cats are good luck. In some regions of Italy, black cats are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity to their owners.
Overall, the superstition surrounding black cats in Italy is a complex and multifaceted belief passed down through generations. While some people may view black cats as symbols of bad luck or evil, others may see them as symbols of good fortune and protection.
Il Numero Tredici (The Number 13)
The number 13 is generally considered a symbol of bad luck in Italian culture. This belief is rooted in ancient traditions and superstitions passed down through generations.
One possible explanation for the negative connotations of the number 13 is that it is associated with the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion. According to tradition, thirteen people were present at the Last Supper, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth person to arrive. As a result, the number 13 is sometimes referred to as “il numero del tradimento” or “the number of betrayal” in Italian.
Another explanation for the negative connotations of the number 13 is that it is associated with bad luck and misfortune in general. Many Italians believe that if thirteen people sit down at the dinner table to eat together, one will die within the year, a superstition often referred to as “the Last Supper curse.” That is why you rarely see an Italian dinner table with 13 people.
Interestingly, while the number 13 is generally considered a symbol of bad luck in Italian culture, some believe it can bring good luck. This belief is based on the expression “ho fatto tredici,” which means “I did 13” in English and is often used when playing totocalcio, a popular Italian soccer betting game. In this context, “ho fatto tredici” means “I guessed all 13 games correctly,” which is a difficult feat that can result in a large payout.
Despite this positive association with the number 13 in the context of totocalcio, the superstition surrounding the number 13 as a symbol of bad luck is deeply ingrained in Italian culture.
Il Numero Diciassette (The Number 17)
The number 17 is often considered an unlucky number and a symbol of bad luck in Italian culture. This belief is known as “il malocchio del 17” or “the evil eye of 17.”
One possible explanation for this superstition is that 17 is written as XVII in Roman numerals, which can be rearranged to form the Latin word “VIXI,” meaning “I have lived.” This phrase is often associated with death, and it is believed that 17 can bring bad luck to those who encounter it.
The curse of Friday 17th is a widely recognized superstition in Italy, with many people believing it brings bad luck.
Toccare Ferro (Knocking on Wood)
Toccare Ferro, or “Touching Iron,” is an Italian superstition similar to the English expression “knock on wood.” However, Italians often touch or knock on iron instead of touching or knocking on wood to ward off bad luck or prevent a negative outcome.
The belief in the power of iron is based on the idea that it possesses a natural strength and protective energy that can absorb and dispel negative energy or evil spirits. As a result, many Italians will touch or tap on a piece of iron, such as a nail or a horseshoe, to invoke this protective power.
The phrase “Tocca ferro” or “Touch Iron” is often used in casual conversation to express the hope that a positive outcome will occur or to avoid jinxing a situation. For example, if someone is discussing a potential job offer, they may say “Tocca ferro” to indicate that they hope they get the job and to avoid tempting fate.
In addition to being used in conversation, touching iron is often employed in more serious situations, such as during illness or childbirth, where it is believed to provide spiritual protection and support.
Touching iron remains an important and widely recognized aspect of Italian culture, with many people using it to invoke the power of iron and the natural world to protect themselves from harm.
New Year’s Eve Superstitions
One of Italy’s most common New Year’s Eve (“la notte di San Silvestro” in Italian) superstitions is the tradition of throwing out old or broken objects from one’s home or business. This practice, known as “l’usanza di Capodanno” or “the tradition of New Year’s Eve,” symbolizes letting go of the past and making way for new beginnings in the coming year.
The objects thrown out can range from small items, such as broken dishes or old clothing, to larger items, such as furniture or appliances. Some people may even throw out entire Christmas trees or decorations as a way of starting fresh for the new year.
In addition to this all-Italian tradition of throwing out old objects, there are other New Year’s Eve superstitions in Italy, such as the belief that wearing red underwear or red undergarments will bring good luck in the coming year or eating lentils at midnight will bring wealth and prosperity.
Fare le Corna (The Sign of the Horns)
To make the sign of the horns, or “fare le corna” in Italian, is a popular Italian superstition believed to offer protection against the evil eye. The gesture involves making a fist and extending the index finger and little finger outward while tucking the middle and ring fingers into the palm. It is said that the extended index and little fingers represent the horns of an animal, which can be used to ward off negative energy or evil spirits.
The origins of the corna gesture are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have been used as a form of protection and a good luck charm for centuries. Some say that the gesture originated from ancient pagan rituals, while others believe that it has roots in Christian symbolism, representing the horns of the devil or the power of Christ.
Regardless of its origins, the corna gesture remains a popular and widely recognized symbol of good luck in Italian culture. It is often worn as a charm or pendant and can be found in various forms, such as in jewelry, keychains, or even on the hoods of cars.
While believing in the corna gesture may seem superstitious to some, it remains an important and respected aspect of Italian culture. Many use it to protect themselves from negative energy or invoke good luck.
Olio d’Oliva (Olive Oil)
Olive oil is an important symbol in Italian superstitions and folklore. It is believed to have powerful protective properties and is often used in various rituals and traditions as a symbol of life.
For example, it is a popular belief that anointing oneself with olive oil can ward off evil spirits and protect against the evil eye. Others believe placing a small amount of olive oil on the forehead or a baby’s feet can prevent illness or ward off bad luck.
New Home or New Journey? Right Foot First!
Buying a new home? Make sure you enter your new place with your right foot first. Starting a journey or entering a new place with your left foot will bring ill fortune. This superstition is based on the idea that the left side of the body is associated with negative energy and that beginning a new endeavor with the left foot can invite misfortune and negativity.
To counteract this belief, it is customary in Italian culture to begin a new journey or enter a new place with the right foot first. This is believed to symbolize starting on the right foot, literally and figuratively, and bringing positive energy and good luck to the endeavor.
Overall, while the belief in the left foot as a symbol of bad luck may seem superstitious to some, it remains an important and widely recognized aspect of Italian culture, with many people taking great care to begin new journeys and endeavors with the right foot as a way of inviting positive energy and avoiding bad luck.
Superstizioni di Compleanno (Birthday Superstitions)
Regarding birthdays, one Italian superstition is that giving someone a sharp or pointed gift, such as a knife or scissors, is bad luck. This is believed to symbolize the severing of a friendship or relationship. Instead, it is customary to give gifts that are rounded or curved, which are said to symbolize good luck and longevity.
Speaking of Italian friends, one superstition is that giving a wallet or purse as a gift to an Italian friend is considered bad luck, as it is believed to symbolize the loss of money. Instead, it is customary to give a small amount of money inside the wallet or purse, which is said to bring good fortune.
Another birthday superstition in Italy is that it is good luck to receive birthday wishes (“tanti auguri” in Italian) from someone with the same name as you. This is believed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.
Gettare Sale (Spilling Salt)
Gettare Sale, or Spilling Salt, is considered a bad omen in Italy and believed to bring bad luck. In Italian culture, it is said that if someone spills salt, it can attract negative energy and bring misfortune to the person or household.
To counteract this bad luck, a commonly known remedy is to throw a pinch of spilled salt over the left shoulder. Throwing salt over the left shoulder is believed to symbolize throwing the salt into the eyes of the devil, who is said to lurk behind a person’s left shoulder, waiting to cause mischief and misfortune.
It is important to note that the salt must be thrown over the left shoulder specifically, as this is believed to be where the devil resides. Throwing it over the right shoulder is said to have no effect and may even worsen the bad luck.
Incrociare le Dita (Crossing Fingers)
Crossing your fingers is a way to ask for good luck or to ward off bad luck. This is one of the most common superstitions in Italy. This ancient symbol represents the Christian cross and is believed to protect against evil spirits.
Aprire un Ombrello in Casa (Open an Umbrella Indoor)
Opening an umbrella indoors is considered to bring bad luck, as it is believed to anger the spirits of the house. This superstition probably comes from the fact that umbrellas were once considered luxury items, and opening one indoors was a sign of flaunting one’s wealth.
Specchio Rotto (Broken Mirror)
Specchio Rotto, or Broken Mirror, is an Italian superstition believed to bring bad luck if a mirror is broken. The superstition is based on the idea that mirrors can reflect a person’s soul and that a broken mirror can cause a disturbance in the soul’s reflection, leading to negative energy or misfortune.
In Italian culture, it is believed that if a mirror is accidentally broken, the person who broke it will experience seven years of bad luck. Several common remedies are often employed to counteract this, such as throwing salt over the shoulder or making the sign of the cross.
Many people take great care to avoid breaking mirrors and use these remedies if a mirror is accidentally broken to protect themselves from the superstition’s supposed effects.
In Bocca al Lupo (Wish Someone Luck)
The Italian expression for good luck is “In bocca al lupo,” meaning “into the mouth of the wolf.” And the response to this must always be “Crepi il lupo,” meaning, “May the wolf die.” This expression is commonly used and is just as traditional as “Buona Fortuna” (Good Luck).
In conclusion, superstitions in Italy are a fascinating and integral part of the country’s culture and heritage. Whether carrying a cornicello charm (horn-shaped charm) to ward off the evil eye, throwing salt over your shoulder to neutralize bad luck, or avoiding specific numbers and hand gestures, these customs and beliefs are deeply ingrained in everyday life of superstitious Italians.
Understanding and respecting these superstitions allows you to better appreciate Italy’s unique and rich culture. So the next time you find yourself in the Bel Paese, keep an eye out for these fascinating customs and traditions, and perhaps even embrace a few of them yourself.