Do you take 3 steps back when you see a black cat? Or have a rabbit’s foot on your keychain for good luck? Every culture has superstitions they believe in and so does ours. In Italian culture, the most common superstition is Il Malocchio, meaning an evil eye. Italians believe that if someone stares or glazes inspired by jealousy or envying your good looks or your success, gives you Malocchio. People believe that this way Italian curses you to have bad luck or misfortune. Think of how nonna looks at someone who has wronged her… 

The origin of Malocchio - The Proud Italian

The origin of Malocchio

There are traces of the evil eye superstition going back to Mesopotamia, five thousand years ago in the Sumerian region. Being one of the first known civilizations, people in this region engraved the earliest beliefs about the misfortune of the evil eye curse. 

There are writings in ancient books about the power of the evil eye. Dating back to the classical era, a period of intertwined cultural history of two civilizations, ancient Greece and ancient Rome. 

Many poets and authors like Hesiod, Plato, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder wrote about the evil eye.  Described by Pliny the Elder some African enchanters had the “power of fascination with the eyes and can even kill those on whom they fix their gaze”.

The origin of Malocchio in holy books - The Proud Italian

According to writings about the enchantments of the evil eye in religious books, like the Bible, the Quran, and the Jewish Talmud this spell can kill plants, crops and even can be the cause of people’s death. Here are just some of the writings from those sacred books: 

“I said to them, ‘Cast away, each of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ (Ezekiel 20:7) 

The Quran states: “Say: ‘I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn, from the mischief of created things; From the mischief of darkness as it overspreads; From the mischief of those who practice secret arts; and from the mischief of the envious one as he practices envy’” (Quran 113:1-5). “For one who dies of natural causes, ninety-nine die of an evil eye” (Rab. Talmud: Baba Metzia, 107b). 

Nowadays this belief is passed through generations, transcending through time and cultural changes and it is still popular in the modern era. Nazal is the name for the evil eye in Turkey, Mal de Ojo in Central America and Mexico, Drishti in India, Zle Oko in Poland, as you can see the magic behind the evil eye is embedded in almost every county and religion worldwide.

Malocchio in other cultures - The Proud Italian

The story

Everything surrounding us is energy. That’s why the ancestors believed that you can be cursed simply by bad energy sent your way. Ancient belief is that a person’s eyes are a window to the soul, and just an evil gaze with bad energy can cause someone misfortune and ill-feeling.

The belief about the power of Malocchio is not some supernatural power that “chosen” people can possess, but it’s a power of every ordinary man that is very jealous or harbor’s a great amount of envy for another man’s success, possession or looks. That’s why you won’t hear from Italian that everything in their life is perfect even if it is, they don’t want to attract unnecessary jealousy.  

If you have been casted a Malocchio you could experience severe headaches, nausea, even a loss of strength. The “diagnosis” of the Malocchio states that even if you have a strike of bad luck you’ve been cursed. Lifting of this curse goes through few “treatments” performed by “healer”, or so it is a belief in the countries of the Mediterranean region. 

The “healer” performs a ritual to determine if you have been a victim of the evil eye spell. It usually involves a bowl of water and oil drops. If the oil and the water mix you have been cursed, and if the oil stays on top of the water you are clean. Also, “healers” use milk and herbs to lift off the curse, accompanied with a sacred prayer to free the victim. 

People still use the healing properties of the herbs like basil and rue, and in some countries burning olive leaves release you from the evil eye causing misfortune. 

Protection from Malocchio - The Proud Italian

How to protect yourself from Malocchio

As protection from the Malocchio people use, different amulets, pendants or even hand gestures. In Italy, you can see amulets shaped like horns, usually in red color, silver or gold, called “cornetti”. 

The red “cornetti” can be easily mistaken for chili pepper. There are “cornetti” hanging everywhere, on keychains, in cars, on windows, basically every place that people believe needs to be protected from the evil eye of jealous and envious people. 

Red cornicello amulet - The Proud Italian

But still, the best protection is if you have a talisman on yourself, or as my grandmother would say, “wear more shiny jewelry to “catch” the eye of evil intended people.” 

In parts of Italy, people wear pendants, as a piece of jewelry made of stone, most common obsidian, coral or onyx decorated with silver, so it will absorb and fight off the bad energy caused by Malocchio, protecting the person who wears it. 

A common belief is that if the decorations of the necklace fall off, it has been full of bad energy and should be replaced with a new one. As a tradition, the talismans against Malocchio are gifted from older relatives to pregnant women and newborns. 

Religion advises using prayer to send back the bad energy to the sender to stop it affecting you reciting that you have Jesus and saints on your side. Or you can imagine a big mirror in front of you warding you from the malicious intent of the Malocchio and send it back to the sender. 

Summary

Even though there are things and feelings that we can’t explain, we simply know they exist. So believing in Malocchio or not you unconsciously you can feel someone’s gaze over you. And it’s up to you if you chose to wear some kind of talisman, repeat some prayer or ward yourself with an imaginary mirror. Or simply believe that by not giving power to the evil eye, the curse can’t get to you.