Things Southern Italians Know … like how to ward off the malocchio

Adjusting to life in southern Italy-without a drop of Italian ancestral blood in my veins-took a bit more practice than it did for my Italian-American counterparts. You see, I didn’t grow up eating seven fishes at Christmas or fearing the dreaded malocchio.

But as Lisa Fantino of Wanderlust Women Travel explains, most Italian-American kids know of the Calabrian evil eye-and know how to protect themselves.

Calabria may be Cherrye’s adopted homeland but part of my roots come from there. The Sicilian majority of my DNA is cramping my muscles as I write this but it’s true. Yet, the Sicilian and Calabrese cultures are so close to each other that it was difficult for me, as a kid growing up in an Italian-American household, to distinguish between the two.

One thing that was taught from an early age was all about the malocchio, “the evil eye.” Southern Italians swear that this curse may herald the end of the world if placed upon you by another. Their answer to repel such cursed maladies is the gorni or horn. You’ve all seen it, that singular horn that is everywhere from men who wear the charmed amulets around their necks to nonnas who hang giant red gornis in their kitchens (along with the streghe or witches). As for me, mine was a gold one bestowed upon me the day I was born. All babies need extra protection, according to the Calabrese, because they are the most vulnerable of all.

Now, why would anyone give the malocchio to another? The answer is simple. It always has to do with envy or jealousy, from the elderly zia who curses the beautiful young women of the village, to the workers’ wives who scorn the padrone who has all of the money.

Yet, there is nothing to fear because there are a host of remedies which have been around for hundreds of years and all of them seem to work. You can wear the gorni, especially if it’s made from red coral because that’s extra protection. You can bless yourself with the sign of the cross when you come within 50 yards of the person who has cursed you. You can spit on the ground at the mention of their name. You can wear the mano cornutta (“horned hand”) around your neck because that essentially gives them the horns right back.

Lastly, you should know that you cannot truly prevent malocchio. It is all around us. Therefore, it is truly best to take precautions early:

1. Hang a bunch of skinny dried hot red pepper over your stove. They look like red horns and keep your kitchen safe.

2. Take a container of salt and sprinkle it everywhere. This is a must, from the corners of your new home so evil does not come in, to the trunk of your new car so blessings will always be with you.

3. And for added measure, just to make sure that the malocchio doesn’t find you in your dreams……….there’s the malocchio cloth, a giant piece of red material which should be placed between the floor and you, essentially between your mattress and boxspring, so that you will sleep soundly and safely.

Hey, I’m a left-brain/right-brain kind of girl with a masters and a doctorate and I wouldn’t mess with this stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Traveling south? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip to Calabria or southern Italy.

Photo: Zazzle (you can purchase anti-malocchio merchandise from this site, as well!)

9 Responses
  1. Such interesting stuff! The Italian concept of black cats and walking under ladders, sort of. The idea that a person can cause you bad luck has different variations, basically divided between the Roman tradition and the Neapolitan tradition, the general concept is called “iettatura”. It’s interesting that you say (write?) “gorni” instead of “corno”. Is that the Calabrian/Sicilian pronunciation? I’m curious!

    Here in Catanzaro, they (we?) say “corni,” I asked Lisa the same thing!

  2. Cherrye has asked me the same thing about cornuto v. gorno v. gorni. The things is everyone in the south (except for Sicilians and no one messes with Sicilians) all sort of adhere to same traditions so whether I use the word gorni with my family or with my Napoletani amici in the old country, everyone understands me and no one has ever corrected me…… I stick with gorni – why mess with a good thing?

    Sounds like a plan. 🙂

  3. My best guess on “gorni” versus “corno?” Italian-American “dialect” at its finest (e.g., capicollo in Italian = gabagool in Italian-American ; cumpa’ = goombah; cucuzza = googootz, etc.) 😉

    Ha, might be, Michelle. I was thinking maybe different dialects since some of Lisa’s family is from Sicily. Mah!

  4. Dave Serianni

    A corni, a mano cornutta, a cross and #13 charm around my neck. My nonna made sure I had all these when I was about 10… They’ve worked so far. (Of course I’m not superstitious, but also not taking any chances)

    Love it! I’m not familiar witht he #13 charm, though. Will have to look into that one!

  5. Fun article, Lisa! Well… now I know how to protect myself here in Campania! I have a little coral corno that was given to me when I first came to the Amalfi Coast. I learned that it was only good luck if someone gave it to you rather than buying it yourself. Anyone else hear of this before?

    I haven’t, but I’ll have to check. If this is true, I’m gonna need you to buy me some corni, though … deal?

  6. hi, you have a great blog. wife and i will be going to altomonte and more in the spring. that’s where my family is from. i live in austin and like you my wife is from east texas.

    anyway, the point of all of this is, the card you used (beware malocchio)was from my shop at zazzle and i am glad you used it. i would though like to give myself a plug by giving my shops web address. i have hundreds of designs and products all related to italy and being of italian descent.

    Thanks! I sent you an email about this, too. Love your cards, graphics and merchandise!

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