Don’t mess with the Malocchio, capisci? (Italian Evil Eye Curse).

I hesitate to write this post, lest The Powers That Be mistake my humor for irreverence. But, alas, this is a risk I must take. (Cue dramatic, ominous music).

The group of expat bloggers with which I have been associated recently has decided that today, Friday the 13th, is an appropriate day to tackle the subject of superstitions in Italy, as seen through our foreign eyes. The problem is that my eyes are not really all that foreign, and the gravity and seriousness of the following subject is one which still gives me pause.

(Da dum dum dum…. that’s the music again).

My mother’s grandfather was born in a small impoverished town in the province of Messina, called Bauso. In 1898, he followed the cue of almost the entire population of the town and immigrated to Boston in search of a better future for his family. Soon after arriving, he sent for his siblings one by one. They each arrived in Boston with all the ambitions of the New World and all the traditions of the Old World.

Just four kilometres away from Bauso, a village called Divieto was home to the girl who would become my great-grandmother.

She spoke no English, was illiterate and uneducated, and had been raised in a house across the street from the town’s Catholic church. Throughout her childhood (so the story goes), she had not been allowed to leave the house except to attend church across the street. When the time came for her family to arrange a marriage for her with a cousin (many poor families did this to maintain as much wealth as possible within the family), she rebelled. One night in 1903, under the cloak of darkness, she stowed away in an oxen cart bound for the port of Palermo. With a ticket paid for by a supportive aunt, she immigrated to Boston, where she would soon meet and marry my great-grandfather.

my great grandparents on their wedding day 1903

my great grandparents on their wedding day 1903

While breadwinning and business matters rested on the shoulders of the men, specifically the oldest sibling and default patriarch of the Famiglia – my great-grandfather, it was the general wellbeing of each family member that most concerned my great-grandmother. As a devout Sicilian Catholic, she was well versed in the management of spirits. Some of my fellow bloggers have very aptly described the juxtaposition of religion and (what we view as) superstition in Italy, and I highly recommend that you follow the links at the end of this post to learn more about how these two seeming extremes can coexist here. For the purposes of this dramatic context (cue music again), I’ll continue with my story assuming the reader has a basic understanding of this cultural phenomenon.

As I was saying, my great-grandmother knew the spirit world intimately. The power of being able to ward off the Malocchio (the Evil Eye) is an ability that is handed down mother to daughter over many many generations, and one that was (and still is) an immensely important skill set. I have grown up with my own mother’s tales of the Malocchio, always told with a very serious tone which I sometimes mistook for mocking or sarcasm, given the lack of religion in our lives. However, it seems that even though the practices of the Catholic faith quickly dissipated in the new American generation of my Famiglia, the reverence and fear of the Malocchio remained.

Because the power to ward off the Malocchio is a skill that can only be passed down from mother to daughter, my grandfather was unable to bestow this gift upon his children. It must be passed down in an uninterrupted maternal line. However, the fear can pervade all genders, and we were brought up with a healthy dose of warnings against the Malocchio. “Never take it in jest” and “do not underestimate its powers”.

I recently have become reacquainted with some of our cousins in Boston, descendants of my grandfather’s sister. In fact, last year, I was able to visit them in Boston, and I was lucky enough to witness the ritual of removing the Malocchio, a right that my female cousin has learned from her mother, who learned it from my great-grandmother.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Anyone who knows me will hear the tone in my voice that so delicately balances the fence between ridiculing and revering this supernatural power. You see, as Sicilian-Americans we’ve been raised to BELIEVE in the powers of the Malocchio. We are not religious, we are not superstitious, but we don’t mess with the Malocchio. Ya feel me? Often, a conversation in the family will start about some streak of bad luck someone is having or some physical ailment, and someone will almost jokingly suggest that it could be the Malocchio. Everyone starts to laugh, but then we catch ourselves and furtively glance about us… as if it can see us laughing. Inevitably someone from the elder generation always corrects the line of conversation and reminds us, “the Malocchio is naught to be messed with”.

(Da dum dum dum!)

So last year, when we were visiting these cousins in Boston, my female cousin offered to help my mother with some joint pains she was having by performing the ritual to see if the cause was, in fact, the Malocchio It was likely, my cousin said, that she picked it up off of some envious woman’s gaze because my mother looks younger than her age. We gathered around and held our breath as the tension in the air became thick. If we had been in a Lord of the Rings movie, it would have been that part where the Eye is searching the land for us and we’re desperately trying to conceal ourselves before it finds us. Yeah… it would be that feeling mixed slightly with that urge you get to laugh out loud in a completely silent crowd.

First she prepared a bowl of water and a small dish of olive oil.

She dipped her little finger into the olive oil and let a few drops fall into the bowl of water.

She then shook her head and muttered something…

Yes, yes. She had the Malocchio. “See how the oil drop broke into many small pieces in the water? This is a sure sign of the Malocchio.”

There are moments that Italian tradition and custom reflect so perfectly the inherent contrasts in this centuries old culture. This was one of them. She explained to me that the natural, healthy way for water and oil to interact is when the oil maintains its form in one big bubble floating on the surface of the water. When the oil breaks up into many pieces, the necessary balance is off. I couldn’t help but compare this to living in Italy in general.

It’s often these huge contradictions and contrasts that are so difficult for us expats to understand and get used to. So we rebel, thinking that we can mix tradition with novelty. But in reality, the only true balance between tradition and modernism that can exist in Italian culture is much like the way the oil settles in the water – in small pockets of stark contrast.

In the case of my mother’s joint pains, my cousin had to drop the oil in 3 times before being able to obtain a full and complete oil droplet. Each time she dropped the oil in, she would recite a chant which I unfortunately cannot remember.

At the end, when she seemed satisfied with the form of the oil droplet, she declared “ok!! You’re all good now!” and broke into laughter. Her laughter cued our nervous laughter, as we now saw that the tension had passed and we could move on to poking fun at the situation. Someone sarcastically questioned my mother, “well? Do you feel healed?” My cousin, who had been laughing along seconds before, slapped her hand on the table suddenly –

“Do not mock the ritual!

Her pains will start to go away on this very day, mark my words.”

Sheesh! Ok, ok. Sorry.

Like I said before, don’t mess with the Malocchio, capisci?

Now, as a conclusion to this little story, I will say that whether it be our familial origins in Catholic witchcraft or some serious powers of persuasion, my mom’s joint pains did disappear by afternoon.

That’s all I’m sayin’. Draw your own conclusions.

*I’m still waiting on some photos that are being sent to me of our ritual – I’ll update this later with visuals.

For more on Italian superstitions, remember to check out this craziness here:

my partners in Blog Debauchery have had their partners tackle the same subject with much hilarity. Check out their links for a good laugh:

“My husband’s grandma was a witch: Italian superstitions”

M. Elizabeth Evans of 'Surviving Italy' - an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay? (Visit  M.Elizabeth's blog at SurvivingItaly.com).by M. Elizabeth Evans of “Surviving Italy”: Misty is an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?

“Superstitions in Italy”

Rick Zullo - Ricks Romeby Rick Zullo of ‘Rick’s Rome‘: Rick is an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon.

“It’s Friday the 13th – let’s talk Italian superstitions!”

Georgette Jupeby Georgette of ‘Girl in Florence‘: Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe {and the world}.

“Italian Superstitions, or How I Learned When It’s Socially Acceptable to Molest Yourself In Public”

ginabaxby Gina of ‘The Florence Diaries‘: Gina is a 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy.  She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola.  When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy.

“The Power of Superstition in Sicily”

rochelle-del-borrelloby Rochelle Del Borrello of “Unwilling Expat”: Rochelle is a writer, translator, blogger and journalist from Perth, Western Australia. She has a complex relationship with her adopted island home of Sicily and still has much love for her native antipodean land, even if it is too far away from everywhere. She blogs about all things ‘expat’ at Unwilling Expat and contributes regularly to the Times of Sicily which brings Sicily to the world.

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22 thoughts on “Don’t mess with the Malocchio, capisci? (Italian Evil Eye Curse).

  1. You should win a literary prize for this line: “The only true balance between tradition and modernism that can exist in Italian culture is much like the way the oil settles in the water – in small pockets of stark contrast.”

    Can you answer a question re fare le corna? I’ve read that the gesture should be made with fingers pointing down to ward off bad luck but I never seem to see anyone (or photos of anyone) making this gesture with fingers down. Thoughts?

    • Thanks, Kristen! That’s so nice of you! (Except that I just reread it the whole thing and found like 6 grammar errors… boh!)
      Yes, “faring the corna”, as I refer to it, is a common thing. My husband does it frequently, each time with more fervour than the last. I’m Texan, so I always think of it like the Hook ’em Horns sign, but down instead of up.
      I’m surprised you’ve never seen anyone do it!! It’s like to ward off bad luck. It would be used in the conversation at the point when we would knock on wood, for example.

  2. Pingback: The power of superstition in Sicily  | Unwilling Expat

  3. This was a very fun post to read! I sent it to my cousin and told her she’s responsible for protecting us from malocchio since since she’s the last person in a straight female from our Italian immigrant ancestors.

  4. Pingback: Superstitions in Italy as seen by expats.

  5. The Malocchio is real. I have no idea why. Just trust this. It’s real. Take precautions. I’m part-Italian and will never doubt the evil eye again. Do the sign of the cornuto against it, pray, and be cautious of envious associates. This may sound nuts, but… take it from one who was skeptical.

    NOW I KNOW

  6. Hey it’s real. I am Sicilian and I have seen it done when I was a kid. The woman shut all the lights and put garlic in her mouth to ward off the evil in the room, I remember well. I also remember my grandmother giggling about it but I also remember her telling me about the water and oil and I think she did it once in this house. My families story is much like yours. I live in Boston and I’d love to visit your family who does this.
    You talk of the same parts of Sicily my family is from. Are we related? LOL

      • I don’t think we are related. I am 100% Sicilian. My grandfather came from Augusta and I am not sure where my grandmother came from but I believe the same place. The other side (Father side) came from Polermo and Catania. This set of grands were second cousins and married in America.
        I remember my grandmother talking about visiting a church in Polermo that is on the edge of the water. The baby fell out of the mother’s hands and down to the water. The mother prayed to the church that baby be alright and the baby was.
        So many stories…so long ago.

  7. I had a Terri card reader tell me my own mother was a witch and know the Malocchio was put on me because my acid re flux was really bothering me so I did the olive oil thing and when I was done a big bubble of acid came up and was burning my mouth and after that I started feeling better.
    Mother abused me as a child and to this day tries to abuse me but I do not talk to her any more.
    I even did it in my son’s home and got a chill all over my body when I was done she even attacks my kids with this.

  8. I too believe in the maloochio Groening in in a strictly sicilian household in New jersey and being first generation American I had no choice but too, but now I have a dilemma I believe my ex wife the putana put some sort of variation of it on me and over the past few years I’ve had numerous surgeries , difficulty in relationships, and troubles with employment, I even moved states and it continues. Is there anyway you can have someone remove it for me, my beloved nona New how but has passed and my mother never remebers how to any help is appreciated ty

    • Catholic Nona Italian witch will do it in a little shop on Bay Ave. Pt. Pleasant New Jersey. Very nice lady and family. Need to make appt. though.

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