The informant is Italian-American and lives in Staten Island. She describes a folk object of a red pepper which is said to protect against the evil eye. The evil is when someone “looks at you in the wrong way and wishes evil upon you.” The red pepper appears in various contexts and forms. It is common to find as a pendant in Italian jewelry and the informant’s family members have red peppers hanging from the rearview mirror in their cars.
When asked about the significance of the red pepper, the informant answered that “red peppers are known as the devil’s spice.” With this in mind, it makes sense that they would act as a token to ward off evil. Perhaps keeping a piece of evil with you allows it to work in your benefit, almost like a vaccine.
I’ve seen a lot of my other Italian friends wear necklaces with peppers hanging from them. Some of them told me that the pepper necklace was a sign of mob affiliation, which intrigues me. Does this affiliation have more to do with concepts of evil or with direct ties to Italian folklore?