The power of superstition in Sicily 

Superstitious Italy: A Friday the thirteenth special

I have the Stevie Wonder song Superstition going around in my head, thanks to Maria from Married to Italy who pointed out to everyone from our expat blogging group that today is Friday the thirteenth.

Stevie kicks in again!

‘Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall
Thirteen month old baby broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past

When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way.’


So this week we dive into the world of superstition in Italy!


To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the key to everything. – Goethe

The most confusing type of superstition for an expat living in Italy are the insidious everyday ones, which don’t make sense and intensify the further south you go. I find Sicily, rather than being the key, is more like a magnifying glass, everything is blown up big time, emotions seem more explosive, pasta servings are gigantic and fear, suspicion and religion are forces of nature. 

Northern Italians secretly believe in things like the evil eye (malocchio), they fear death and try to avoid bad luck, while southerners take things to a whole different level.

Sicilians avoid compliments so as not to jinx themselves, they tie red bows on new car antennae to repel bad vibes, toss salt in front of their doorsteps after people visit to expel the envy of their guests, new-born babies sleep with a vile of holy water and religious icons under their pillows and  special prayers are recited to exorcise the evil eye from there lives. It’s all quite bizarre but if you believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Malocchio is a kind of bad Karma, which before heading back to haunt its instigator taints its original target who needs to be cleansed, hence the need for chants and the intervention of the Saints. Incidentally the evil eye can also be unintentional as it is also about envy, without realizing it someone could be secretly envious and hex themselves or others. 

Malediction is associated with bad luck and illness, the cure is black magic and sorcery. A victim can suffer from an array of ailments ranging from a simple headache, tiredness, stomach pain, re-occurring nightmares, to serious allergic reactions (one in particular is known as the ‘fuoco di San Antonio’ which produces large round sores who burn the skin with painful welts.) All are treated by special prayers and petitions to particular saints, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

It really isn’t difficult to get a diploma in basic Sicilian sorcery, the spells are passed on every Christmas night at midnight, just don’t tell the Pope, I bet he’ll be pissed to hear about this alternative tradition in Sicily. Sometimes the prayers are accompanied by soothing massages with olive oil which has a purifying role.

To help keep away the negativity there are a bewildering array of good luck charms from the classic red pepper known as the ‘corna’ or the simple alternate hand gesture of the same name.

All Italian and Sicilian superstitions have their roots in pure and simple fear. Everything from doing the sign of the cross while driving past a cemetery of touching genitalia when someone mentions death, it’s all about being insecure and worrying about the unknown.

I recently read a great book by American journalist John Keahey called Seeking Sicily: A cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean (a really long title for a succinct book), which supports my hypothesis. Along with Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia who believed islanders are perpetually insecure, a condition generated by the isles history of perpetual colonization. It appears the coming and going of invaders and conquerors in Sicily’s thirteen foreign dominations has made the people apprehensive. 

Superstition has found its home in innate fear inherited from past generations and it lives between the pages of Italy’s history and culture.

So: Occhio malocchio prezzemolo e finocchio (literally: sprinkle parsley and fennel and look out for the evil eye.)

Death notices in Sicily are like advertising posters.

Perhaps the most poignant way of illustrating the power of superstition in Sicily is to take a look at the more colorful urban myths surrounding death. I’m not an anthropologist but its fascinating to hear many of the mythologies that circulate.

I don’t want to bring anyone down, but it is ‘black Friday,’ and death in Sicily is filled with many ancient fears and beliefs.

In small town Sicily when someone dies the family holds a vigil at their home. The house is open all night to receive visitors and to honor an old superstition that says all doors need to be kept open so the dead soul doesn’t remain trapped in this world and so the soul is free and the bad luck associated with death moves on.

I heard one particularly colourful story which reflects the mixture of mysticism, naïvety and fear Sicilian’s have. They say when a person dies with their eyes opened death will take another seven to the grave soon after. It doesn’t end there, the belief is elaborated to suggest the number increases if the coffin of the open-eyed deceased is dampened by rain during the funeral procession. 

It is fascinating to observed the precise symbolism and language used in this myth. The threat comes from someone who has undeniably seen death with his very eyes. Somehow this literal witness of what lies beyond life and is transformed into a manifestation of death itself, empowered to touch others with the same fate. 

Death in Sicily may seem to be a regular part of life but urban legends like this one suggest death is focal point of collective fear. Not only of fear but a personified menace that threatens the local community.

Now if that didn’t freak you out I don’t know what will!

Happy Friday the thirteenth to all.






For fascinating and hilarious insights into the superstitious mind of the Italians check out the rest of our motley crew of expats:



Maria is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos. See her post about not messing with the Malocchio




M.Elizabeth Evans– an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay? Here is her post about witchcraft in Italy.








Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. Rick’s latest post gives us the low down on superstitions in Italy.



Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe {and the world}.  Here is her Friday the 13th post.







Gina is 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy. She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola. When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy. Here is her take on the funky world of Italian Superstitions.




13 thoughts on “The power of superstition in Sicily 

    1. Pretty freaky hey!! I swear I’ve heard some scary stories here in Sicily! You’ll be fine, just sprinkle yourself in salt and rub olive oil on your temples, you might want to add a few tomatoes and make a salad while you’re at it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reblogged this on My Sicilian Home and commented:
    Once again, the unwilling expat knocks it out of the ball park! I don’t think I could have done a better job so here is her post for Friday the 13th – Superstitions in Sicily


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