Folk Item/Folk Remedy – Sicily, Italy

Italian Folklore- Talisman/ Folk Remedy from Sicily

“The bull horn is worn as a talisman to guard against demons and protect its wearers from the evil eye. Another similar symbol worn in Sicily is the image of a fist with the thumb and pinky fingers pointed outward.  These symbols come out of a superstitious culture, and Gramma says as good Catholic people we are supposed to trust in God to protect us and shouldn’t rely on old superstitions.  They continue to be worn however because it is tradition, and even Gramma has them.  One of them is in the form of a keychain and resembles a red chili pepper more than an actual horn which I find quite amusing.  Whenever I ask Gramma about old traditions she dismisses them saying, “What do we know, we’re dumb immigrants” and this sentiment reflects how, as for many immigrants of the early twentieth century, it was more important to become Americanized and adopt American traditions then to hold on to the old Italian ones.

Another tradition I recall Gramma telling me about is her famous folk remedy to cure ear infections. She was around five at the time she used to get pretty regular ear infections and ear aches. Her mother used to take her down to nursing mothers at the hospital and they would spray breast milk in her ears. Because she was so young, she doesn’t remember if the home remedy worked or not. I don’t think she uses this remedy anymore. She doesn’t get ear infections anymore, but more importantly, she abandoned a lot of her old Italian ways the more she accustomed to American traditions.” – Mary Z.


Mary later told me that the talisman, which looks like a chili pepper, evolved out of the phallic symbols of pre Catholic Italy, which she learned on the History Channel. More women than men wear this talisman as a way to ward off the evil eye, which is the blanket term for a curse that someone might cast on someone else’s family. Although her grandmother does not believe in the talisman’s power to ward off the evil eye, she continues to wear the amulet out of tradition. Her quick abandonment of Italian rituals probably had to do with the fact that she settled in Cleveland, Ohio, a city that does not particularly have a high concentration of Italian immigrants. This talisman, also known as the “corno,” which translates into “little horn,” can be coral, gold, or silver. The horn part of the amulet is always gold or coral. It is common for non-Italians to mistake this amulet for a chili pepper. At the same time, many Italians today don’t know the full origin of the corno and its homage to both the Lunar and Sea Goddess (

Rose Scurria, Mary’s grandmother, is 89 years old and was a homemaker her whole life. She was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but spent her childhood years travelling back and forth between the US and Sicily. Her family lived in the small mountain village of Lonngi. Lonngi is one of several poor mountain villages in Sicily, where residents wash clothes on rocks and essentially live backwards lives. Constant travelling and prior experience living in the mountain village of Lonngi has given Rose a wealth of knowledge as far as folklore and folk remedy go.

While I do not have a solid understanding of Italian culture, I can relate to the culture in terms of its belief in superstition and the power of talisman. I wear a cloth bracelet that I got from Brazil, which honors a saint in the Northeast city of Bahia. While the bracelet does not ward off evil spirits, it supposedly brings the person wearing it good luck if they tie the bracelet three times in a knot while making a wish. If anything, I wear the bracelet as a constant reminder of my Brazilian identity and belief in the good luck it brings.