Most Unusual Superstitions in Italy

Why is the number 17 unlucky in Italy? What other very weird superstitions continue to this day in Italy?

History and tradition imbue superstitions with a feeling of truth.  When you think about it, there are many superstitions we still believe in. It almost feels as if we don’t continue, then bad luck will come our way.

How many of you walk around ladders, throw salt over both shoulders or take shoes off tabletops? There may be many superstitions in the UK, but the Italians have many more.

Unlucky Number 17

In Italy, for example, the number 17 is one that potentially brings bad luck and tempts death.

What on earth could have prompted this belief? Actually it’s quite simple and understandable.

If you write 17 in Roman numerals it looks like this: XVII. What is the problem with that? Well if you rearrange these ‘letters’ you can spell VIXI that is a Latin verb that means ‘I have lived.’

Put it another way, it may well mean that your time is up and the word VIXI was often carved into tombstones from the dim and distant past. Who wants to tempt fate after all?

Group of guests smiling and posing in front of pool on holiday

Don’t mess with Malocchio

Malocchio is the name Italians use for the Evil Eye or bad eye. This concept is popular in many cultures globally. But in Italy, it is a belief that has been held for thousands of years. You can even find mosaics showing the kinds of things people did to ward off the attention of The Evil Eye.

Evil Eye Mosaic

Evil Eye Mosaic. Image via Pinterest

Great thinkers and scholars such as Plutarch did his best to explain why the evil eye happened and his ‘scientific’ explanation went as follows:

‘The eyes were the chief, if not sole, source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye.’

In contemporary Italy you will find that the response to this perceived phenomenon differs depending where you travel.  Most will agree however that the best test to see if the evil eye is present is to drop olive oil into a glass of water.

Holy water is ideal.

You would expect the olive oil to float but if it sinks then you have been given the evil eye.

The best way to rid yourself of this curse is to pray. Of course another way is to use the complex hand gestures that survive from ancient history. The mano cornuto  (or horned hand) is a fist with the index finger and your smallest finger extended.

This gesture needs to be pointed towards the floor. You could try the mano fico where your thumb is pushed up through your middle and index finger in a fist like shape. Instead of this you can carry a small red horn or corna or wear it around your neck or on your keys to protect yourself from this curse of the cuckold or even impotence.

Mano Cornuto necklace

Image credit via Etsy

Beware putting a knife into bread

Bread is the food of life. Italy is Catholic and has a long religious history and Christian belief that stretches back through the ages. Christ uses the symbol of bread in his teachings and Christ is seen as the Bread of Life.

Therefore it’s important for Italians to treat bread with reverence and one should be careful how you place your bread on a surface. Should it become overturned then it’s likely bad luck will follow.

If Christ IS the Bread of Life then why would you cut it with a knife. Bread should be broken and given the love and attention it deserves.

Fresh Homemade Bread

Should you have bread left over that is destined for the rubbish then you must kiss it first before disposing of it. You are disposing of something  considered sacred.

It’s good advice regardless of belief, as we should do our best to waste as little food as possible.

When should a woman grab the closest man’s testicles?

This is quite a question. And there is an answer.

If an empty hearse crosses your path it is superstition for a man to grab his testicles, thus affirming life. If you are female then grab the testicles belonging to any man in the vicinity and make your apologies afterwards is one type of advice.

Mind you, perhaps you won’t need to apologise unless if it turns out to be a smart move! We are kidding. Everyone knows that seeing a hearse travelling towards in the opposite direction is a relief and the Italians say you should never follow an empty hearse either.

The best advice seems to be to stay away from hearses whenever you see one.

Never put your hat on the bed

In times past, the padre would come to deliver the last rites when someone was on their deathbed. He would lay down his hat on the coverlet before divesting himself. Therefore it is obvious that laying a hat on a bed can only mean one thing.

Image credit: yipchoonwai/Getty Images

Image credit: yipchoonwai/Getty Images

So to avoid tempting fate, it’s worth laying your hat somewhere else in your home and avoid the bed.

Don’t attract bad luck when you give a toast

There are rituals in life and raising a toast is one of them. It’s done to wish good health, long life, success and friendship amongst other desires.

Guests cheers as they enjoy their holiday

But should you choose to ignore certain rituals you may get more than you might have bargained for. Here’s what you need to look out for:

  • Never raise a toast with a glass of water in your hand
  • Never cross arms when you chink your wine glass
  • Ensure you look your fellow diner in the eye as you do this.
  • Never pour wine backhanded; that is with the back of your hand facing the tablecloth.
  • Unmarried women should never finish the wine in a bottle or they will remain that way.
  • If you should spill wine then dab it behind your ears to prevent bad luck and if you spill wine on a new dress or brand new tablecloth then actually you are in for some luck.

Apart from that, you are good to go 🙂

Toasting drinks

What do you think about these superstitions? Are you going to incorporate them to your own life? Do leave a comment a below and let us know your thoughts.

  • Share this blog on:

Join the Discussion

Type your comment

Your email address will not be published.


Flavours Blog

Food, Recipes, Lifestyle and Travel blog – by the Flavours Holidays team.