|This little village is found in the hills above Pescia. The reason for the name has been lost in history.|
If bad luck befalls you this coming Friday, it could be because of an ancient Italian curse. In America, Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, but in Italy, the day to avoid is Friday the 17th. This is only one of numerous beliefs that are specific to Italy.
è vero ma ... ci credo!”
This often-used phrase—it is even the title of popular Italian
play—sums up the role that superstition still plays in the daily
lives of many Italians. It means: It’s not true but . . . I believe
it. Some beliefs come from Renaissance times, others from the middle
ages, and still more have their roots in Roman culture. Many of the
superstitions we have heard while growing up in America—for
example, breaking a mirror will cause seven years of misfortune, or a
black cat crossing one’s path brings bad luck—came from
Most rituals and superstitions are shrouded in the
mists of mystery and time, but that doesn’t stop people from trying
to explain the reasoning behind them today. Multiple explanations
exist for every belief, but most begin with “some believe that . .
.” or “one possible reason for this . . .” For example, the
reasons given for the 17th being unlucky include that the great flood
of the Bible started on the 17th day of the month, that the 17th
Roman legion was destroyed in a decisive battle in 9 AD and that the
Pythagoreans believed that because 17 lies between the perfect
numbers of 16 and 18, it was a disgrace. Another reason often given
is that 17 in Roman numerals is written XVII, which can become the
anagram of VIXI, or vissi,
a Latin word often inscribed on Roman tombs. It means “I lived,”
with the implication that “now I’m dead.”
for the background story of the broken mirror, the urban legend
website Snopes.com gives one theory: “Many sources tie the amount
of bad luck brought about by breaking a mirror to the Romans, who are
said to have believed that life renewed itself every seven years.”
It’s even quite likely that this Roman belief was inherited from
the Etruscans, Greeks or Phoenicians.
law of averages being what it is, often times superstitions are given
credit for being useful when one has a successful outcome after
following them. The Historian Pliny the Elder tells of Consul
Mucianus, who suffered from a fear of losing his eyesight and sought
to prevent the loss by carrying with him a live fly in a white cloth.
Pliny reports that this successfully kept Mucianus from going blind.
When it comes to black
cats, possibly an entire chapter could be written on all the possible
explanations that have been advanced. The fact that these
superstitions have endured is testimony to the strong need for people
to explain the incomprehensible forces of luck, prosperity and
chance, even in today’s world.
“Superstition is generally
defined as an irrational belief that magic, luck or supernatural
forces have the power to influence your life, or that actions that
aren’t logically linked to an outcome may have an effect on it,”
said Chloe Rhodes, author of Black
Cats and Evil Eyes.
She explains that many rituals started out as folklore and folk
medicine and have come to be regarded as superstitions only as our
understanding of the world deepened.
“If you carried a
rabbit’s foot to ward off digestive troubles in Roman times, you
did so because it was what your physician recommended,” she said.
“If you carried one in the 1600s . . . you might have done so
because although you knew it was mere ‘fancy,’ it had worked on a
respected friend and seemed also to have the desired effect on you.”
While Friday the 13th is not unlucky in Italy—in fact it is considered lucky—13 is considered an unthinkable number of people to have seated at one table, and most Italians will shuffle the arrangement to make two smaller tables if this is about to occur. The reason usually given for this is that 13 was the number of table guests for the Last Supper of Christ.
This could be an example of an acceptable religious reason being superimposed over an older heathen tradition, something that occurs quite often in Italy. National Geographic magazine says that “in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.”
More than half of Americans admitted to being at least a little superstitious, according to a recent Gallup poll. But do modern Italians and Italian-Americans still hold to the superstitions of their grandparents? Not to the same extent, but old habits are hard to break.
“I always say not to be superstitious, but thanks to my maternal grandmother, there are precautions that I used to take, just to avoid the ‘bad luck,’ ” said Laura Bandoni, a language teacher at Lucca Italian School. “Don’t open the umbrella in the house. I don’t know the origin of the superstition, but I refrain from doing so out of habit.”
Belief in the malocchio, or evil eye, is so pervasive in the Mediterranean basin because it far predates the Roman empire. It could have been exported by the seafaring Phoenicians, originally from Syria, who traded extensively with indigenous peoples and established colonies as far west as the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco, past the Straits of Gibraltar. They began their westward expansion as early as 1550 BC.
Every culture seems to have its own version of the evil eye and its own ways to fight it. One thing they all have in common is the malocchio is caused by jealousy and envy. A person eying you with envy can even curse you without actually meaning to.
“All it takes is to pay someone a compliment while feeling jealous or envious,” said Mirella Sichirollo Patzer, author of Orphan of the Olive Tree. “Babies are the most vulnerable to the curse. After all, who receives more compliments than a cute child? For this reason, Italian mothers are always vigilant when someone pays their baby a compliment. They will make the fig sign to ward off the evil eye. If you want to compliment a baby, add the words ‘senza malocchio,’ or ‘without the evil eye.’ ”
The grandmother of Justin Demetri, writer for the website Life in Italy, told him how his aunt was once cured of an evil eye curse.
|Berlusconi behind Spanish foreign minister Josep Pique.|
|Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath.|