Unusual and weird superstitions from Italy

Unusual and weird superstitions in Italy

Why is the number 17 a weird superstition in Italy? What other very unusual and 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 weird superstitions in the UK, but the Italians have many more.

If you’ve ever been on an Italian holiday with us, you may have learnt about some of the following Italian superstitions.

Unlucky Number 17

Roman numbers placed within a clock

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, which 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?

Don’t mess with Malocchio

The evile eye hanging from a wall

Malocchio is the name that 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.

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.

Beware putting a knife into bread

A knife placed within a loaf of 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. Should you have bread leftovers 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.

Don’t take a bath if you are ill

A relaxing looking bubble bath ready for use

Whenever we feel rubbish in the UK, most of us tend to run ourselves a bath to relax and soothe our pain. In Italy, this is not the case. Italians believe that going for a bath when they feel ill will only make them feel worse. This weird superstition from the Italians is actually pretty understandable. 

Placing a hat on a bed is one of many weird superstitions in Italy

A blue hat placed on the edge of a 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. 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

A group of people raising a toast and attracting good luck

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.

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
  • 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. Who’d have thought that wine could be so superstitious.

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

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Flavours Blog

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