About Italian-American Superstitions

Voodoo, curses, witchcraft. We’ve all heard the stories about magic and mischief. 

But growing up Italian, you may have experienced these kinds of things more intimately than most. 

Sicilian curses have been around forever. If you are Italian, it’s most likely a thing you grew up with but may not know a lot of information on them. 

Temple in Sicily and broken statue in front of the camera - The Proud Italian

What are they? How do you get rid of them? How did it all start? 

Not all of the superstitions are bad, though. There are Italian good luck charms ridden throughout these stories, too. Hidden within the mundane of this world are hints of a life you never realized were a reality for some people. 

If you look closely, you’ll be able to find them in your everyday life! 

Italian-American Superstitions 

The Evil Eye: Malacchio 

While jealousy exists in all cultures, Malacchio is a curse that can be put on a person without even meaning to. If someone envies you or your family, the curse may be placed on those people. 

A sure sign of knowing whether or not you have the curse is to drop olive oil in a bowl of water. If it clumps and stays in a circle in the water, you have the Malacchio curse. 

Corno (The Devil’s Horn) 

The Devil’s Horn is a piece of jewelry that men wear to ward off The Evil Eye. 

It is common to see these at festivals and pass them as a simple piece of jewelry. However, these can help to keep you safe from getting curses that are either intentional or unintentional. 

Red cornicello amulet - The Proud Italian

Whether you believe it to be fashion and nonsense, or a way to save yourself from a curse, The Devil’s Horn is an interesting thing to keep in mind for the future.

Italian Birds 

Growing up, you may not have been allowed to have a pet bird in your house. It is seen as bad luck to Italians to own them or even have bird feathers in the house, such as peacock feathers, which were once seen as an object of high fashion in Europe–but not in Italy. 

Of course, as with many of these Italian superstitions, they have relaxed, but some still believe wholeheartedly. 

Don’t Leave Your Bread Upside Down 

Known throughout Europe, this superstition of upside-down bread will bring bad luck to your family. 

Because bread was such a staple in everyday life for centuries, seeing upside-down bread was thought to bring misfortune and starvation to people. Especially in fishing boats, if the bread is turned upside down, it can be seen as an omen for catching no fish, or worse. 

Bread in the bowl on the table with glass of grape juice behind with a spoon in the glass - The Proud Italian

Some believed that bread in fishing boats meant that the whole community would be cursed with no food for long periods of time. 

So, those in more traditional lines of work in Italy may still follow this particular superstition more carefully than others. 

Lucky (and Unlucky) Numbers 

The number 13 may be very unlucky in American culture, but it’s actually not seen as one of the Sicilian superstitions in Italy. In fact, it’s actually a lucky number. 

With that in mind, be sure to stay away from the number 17. When written out in Roman numerals, it is VIXI. In Arabic, it is a man in the gallows, and in Roman, it spells out “I have lived,” which was on ancient tombstones. 

Blessing the Home 

Exorcising the home when it is first built or moved into is a Sicilian superstition that is still somewhat used today. However, it was more prevalent in past generations for newlyweds. 

Because not everyone buys a new home when they move to a new place, blessing the home is seen as a way to rid the place of evil spirits or energy that may have been left behind from past owners.

Witchdoctors 

When modern medicinal remedies fail, Italian superstition invites a mix of ancient techniques and folk tradition that borders on witchcraft. Sometimes, if money were scarce, this would be the primary technique to ridding the body of sickness or curses. 

In villages in Italy, there were often designated people made to perform the rituals. 

The Sicilian Curse Tablet 

Souvenirs from Sicily - The Proud Italian

One of the oldest Sicilian curses was found on a tablet that appeared in Athens. It is relatively long in length and extremely complex—the curser names himself: Apellius. The overall text curses his lover’s rivals and condemns them never to be more successful than him. 

This tablet was handwritten, and for its length, that is quite a feat. 

Good Italian Omens 

A Cat’s Sneeze 

Though seeing a black cat is a widely known omen of bad luck, hearing a cat sneeze is one that is extremely lucky. 

Knock on Iron 

Tacca ferro” means “touch iron.” Just like the phrase, “knock on wood,” the Italian version of this is to “knock on iron.” 

This wards off any bad luck. Some people like to carry around a nail in order to always have luck on their side, just like some do with a rabbit’s foot. 

Often, many people will tell the other to “break a leg” when they wish them good luck. Saying thank you to “tacca ferro” can mean that you will not receive the luck because you closed the omen to the world. 

The Number 13 

Number 13 - The Proud Italian

As mentioned before, the number 13 is extremely lucky. Because it’s connected to the Goddess of Fertility, it shows abundance and luck, especially pertaining to gambling.

Why Does it Matter? 

Find it interesting how something from ancient times can continue through to this day? 

Understanding Sicilian curses and omens is not just a way to learn about what a culture believes or believed in. 

It could be something as simple as finally understanding why your grandmother has the belief system that she has or why your parents tell you to “knock on iron” instead of wood. 

For many, this is still a way of life that occurs daily. From The Evil Eye to the number 17, understanding and partaking in this way of life could change the way you look at the world.