Tag Archives: italian superstition


Main piece:

VS: What is this?

P.S.: This is a cornetto, a horn, which was gifted to me by my wife when we started dating, so something like 30 years ago. hmm. I actually have two, because once I thought I lost it and my wife bought a new one for me. I have always carried it with me, in my pocket. Every place I go, everything I do, this object is with me. Always. I take it out of the pocket just when I am at home. 

VS: You said you lost it once, what did you feel when this happened?

P.S: I don’t know exactly. I guess I was sorry. Not like desperate, but yeah sorry. 

VS: What does this object represents for you then?

P.S.: Mhh, I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain. It’s something like a lucky charm, a sort of protection that helped me through the years especially in my job.

V.S: How so? do you think the good things that happened derived from this object?

P.S.: I cannot tell if what happened to me was because of this object. What i know is that since I have carried this object with me, everything in my work-life turned from negative to positive, everything got in its place. One thing, then the other, then again another one. Every single thing fell into place. 

[stops talking for a bit, in a moment of reflection]. 

Yes. It is not lucky in the sense that I buy scratch cards and I win. No, it’s something in a greater sense. It has to be seen from a wider perspective. It is almost like it helped carrying out the process smoothly.


My informant is my father who was born in Belgium from Italian immigrants and who spent the majority of his lifetime in Italy. His wife is Italian as well, and this is relevant considering that this particular object was gifted to him by her. When asked about this piece, my informant put much emphasis on the fact that the cornetto was given; indeed, in the Italian tradition, for the horn to be lucky and prosperous, it never has to be acquired ‘in first person’, but it always has to be necessarily gifted, otherwise it won’t work, or worst, it could even bring bad luck. Furthermore, in Italy it’s quite common for people to carry with themselves a cornetto, either in the form of jewelry or, like in this case, in the form of talisman. 


I have seen my father, my informant, carrying this object with him since I have memory. So I decided to delve more into what the object really meant for him, and this is when this conversation happened.


I have always been extremely fascinated by this object, whose origin mainly derive from the Southern regions of Italy, but that with time was diffused in all parts of the country. It is interesting to notice that the South of Italy has always been considered more connected with superstition, magic and beliefs, than other areas, and this was for much time accompanied by a sort of prejudice Northern Italians would have towards inhabitants of the South. As a matter of fact, especially in more Modern and recent times, the South of Italy has been subjected to sorts of discriminations also because of the high levels of superstitions and popular beliefs present in the area, as they were associated to illiteracy, ignorance and obsolete traditions. I stressed the word “modern” times because I believe it to be highly indicative and relevant for this analysis. In fact, Northern Italy was the first area to be industrialized at the end of the 19th century, making it more advanced and ‘educated’; consequently, the South remained more attached to the past and the un-littered culture. An interesting observation now arises: while many nations used folklore and past traditions as an incentive and a symbol for nationalistic spirits and will of independence, Italy didn’t. The reason probably lies in the fact that, despite its small size and its unification in 1861, since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy had never been a untied country. On the contrary, throughout centuries, it had been governed by many different powers, which controlled different parts of the nation and influenced them with different traditions and lifestyles.

Beside the political-geographical value, the horn is said to be an amulet against the Evil Eye and it is said to have really ancient roots, it being the emblematic representation of the phallus of Priapus, the Greco-Roman divinity of prosperity. In order to be ‘effective’, it necessarily has to be red, which is the color of blood and life. In this way, also a connection with the female counterpart is established, the color red representing the woman’s fertility and sensuality.

The union of these two elements -shape and color- provides the object with a mystical value related to homeopathic magic: because of the law “like produces like”, the horn not only exemplifies the perfect emblem of prosperity and fertility, but it is also meant to attract prosperity and fertility upon the one who carries it.  

Salami and Women


Informant: R.P. Italian-Australian Male, 28 years old

Location: Sydney, Australia


Told to me by a 2nd generation Italian male, whose family immigrated to Australia from Italy and Naples a generation earlier. This folklore may be local to the Southern region of Italy. Informant volunteered this information after being prompted.

Main Piece

RP: “I don’t know many superstitions, but I always remember being told that women should not walk into a room if Salami is being served.”


When asked about the meaning being this folklore piece, the informant could not offer a a solid explanation for why this superstition existed. He posited that it could be related to the time of day or where the salami was being served. For much of the early 20th century,  southern Italian women were not allowed to be present in places where men would congregate, for example bars or clubs. This would be considered taboo and the women would be viewed as “working women” should they enter one of these establishments. The belief in the superstition of salami and women may be an extension of this idea and cultural practice.

Interesting to note, this practice of baring women in certain public spaces began to change in Southern Italy with the invention of the television and the viewing of television programs in large public areas due to the fact that most Southern Italian families could not afford a personal television. Instead, the town would purchase a TV for the entire community and would broadcast the programs in bars or town squares where women and children were allowed to frequent for the duration of the show.

tocca ferro: “touch iron”


“tocca ferro”

Genre: Superstition

Background: The interviewee, NB, is a European female in her early twenties. NB resides in Los Angeles however has citizenship in the United Kingdom. Her parents come from both England and Italy however, her traditions primarily spark from her Italian descent. The term “Tocca Ferro” translates into English to the phrase “touch iron.” This phrase is similar to the anglo superstition of knocking on wood. This piece of folklore was learnt through her Italian grandparents on her mother’s side of the family. NB stated that this was passed down orally through several generations, not knowing its exact origins. NB explained that the idea behind the reasoning for touching iron versus knocking on wood is that iron is stronger and more durable than wood; therefore by touching iron you have a better chance of avoiding an undesirable situation in the incidence of believing one has “jinxed” themselves. Ultimately this folklore has lead NB to partake in both superstitions: knocking both on wood, “or [her] forehead if there is not wood available,” and any metal that may be nearby.

Nationality: European
Location: origin: Italy, practiced: America
Language: Italian

Interpretation: By definition, a superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation” (Webster Dictionary). The term superstition came about sometime between 1375–1425 from English origin. When researching the idea of superstitions especially those surrounding the idea of knocking on wood, I found it interesting that different cultures use different phrases. For example in Britain they use the phrase “touch wood,” as NB stated in Italy they use the phrase “Touch Iron” and here in America I have often heard the phrase “Knock on Wood.” I find interesting that the British phrasing combines both the word “touch” found in the Italian version, and “Wood” found in the American version. After diving deeper into this phenomenon I that Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also use the phrase “Touch Wood.” The idea of knocking on a surface falls into the category of apotropaic tradition. Apotropaic comes from the Greek “αποτρέπει από τρέπειν” which directly translates into English as “prevent it from happening.” Apotropaic tradition is a type of magic, primarily practiced in Egypt, that is meant to deter harm or evil repercussions. Apotropaic traditions range from symbols, names, charms, and all the way to verbal phrases or actions (such as “knock on wood”). Another common explanation of the reasoning for knocking on, specifically, a wooden surface is that ancient pagans held strong belief in the idea that spirits and gods resided in trees. The ideas of superstitions have always held a strong interest of mine because I, like many others, believe they work. I find it interesting that so many cultures and groups use the same action of knocking to ward off evil or reverse bad luck. I am however, intrigued with the origins of the action of knocking because when i think of that action I normally related it to myself knocking on a door as if I am asking to be invited into someone’s house. This idea does not relate to the idea of warding off spirits or warding off anything in general. For this reasoning I am left with curiosites and want to dive deeper into actions pertaining to European superstitions and how they vary from those in America.

Bad Luck Toasts (Italian Folk Belief)

Context/Background: Subject is of Italian Descent and has heard superstitions around making toasts from her Grandfather and other family members. It was stated that one should never toast with anything but alcohol or it is bad luck. What is emphasized the most is the dire resentment towards toasting with water because it is worse than toasting with anything else.


“So, it’s bad luck to toast with anything that’s not… alcohol… because… if it’s not alcohol, first… it doesn’t mean anything because it’s not a toast. But, it’s especially bad luck to toast with water… because it like… signifies death… or something? Like, I think it comes from Greek Mythology where it has to do with like the underworld. I don’t really know though; But, it was always just a thing that it was bad luck to toast with water, so you never toast with water! And you shouldn’t toast with something that isn’t alcohol, but it doesn’t really matter as much.”

KA: And where did you hear this from?

“So it’s an Italian thing I think, um, but they have it in like other cultures. I don’t think it’s that specific to Italy, but my grandfather family was from Italy and it was a lot of brothers and sisters and I spent a lot of time with [them].”

Introduction: The informant was introduced by their Italian grandfather and extended family.

Analysis/Interpretation: It’s notable that one would consider water to signify death, as indicated by the interviewee when in many regions, it popularly serves as a symbol of life. I think this serves an interesting dynamic in the idea of “toasting” overall since it indicates a sense of dismissal of a vital life sign in many cultures.