Whatever you do, don’t sleep with your feet toward the door, don’t light a scented candle inside your home, and don’t spill that olive oil!
Though many Italians are deeply Catholic, certain pagan-like superstitions, beliefs, and rituals survive. Logic is powerless as many things are just considered…well, evil or bringers of ill omens. And the more south you travel in Italy, deep in the boot, the more absurd the jinx-chasing gestures may seem. Here’s a round-up of the most interesting jinxes—and how to ward them off.
Black Cat Crossing the Street
The Brits adore cute black cats, believed to bring good luck. But in Italy, it’s a no-no. The black cat is believed to be the devil’s pet and the lord of graveyards. During the Middle Ages horses were said to be so scared by their blinding yellow eyes that several popes burned black kittens at the stake for their alleged evil mojo. So if a black cat crosses the street right in front of you—STOP. If you move on, the cat’s devilish curse will fall upon you. Best to slow down or park and wait for the next car to drive on—jinx will hit those poor oblivious drivers.
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Never Sleep With Your Feet Towards the Door
A bedroom is a sacred place and the position in which we sleep seals our fate. If the bed faces the exit with the feet pointing to the door it brings bad luck as it means it is very likely a person will soon die a horrible death. It is a common belief that a corpse goes out just that way, carried on a stretcher or in a coffin with the feet pointing to the exit from life. Amen.
Stay Clear of Cemeteries
A top tourist activity in many Anglo-Saxon countries is a nice stroll in historical or monumental graveyards, admiring the romantic beauty of graves. Not in Italy. Locals go to the cemetery only to commemorate their dead loved ones, particularly on Sundays and All Saints’ Day. If it’s not to that sole end, burial grounds are off-limits. Passing by chance or going for a jog is like walking among the dead, as if one is calling for a premature death. When cars drive by a graveyard most drivers—especially in Rome and Naples—grab and scratch their genitals, a ritual believed to keep evil at bay.
Avoid Lighting Candles in the House
Unless two lovers are having a romantic candlelit dinner, lighting a candle on a shelf, table, or in the bedroom can generate a negative vibe and could wreak havoc. That’s because candles, particularly those with a strong scent, are commonly lit inside churches during prayers to the dead and are the “natural” light of graveyards where tombs are decorated with dozens of candles left as tokens of remembrance. So lighting a candle in the living room or bathroom is like rubbing shoulders with spirits in the afterlife—a huge jinx.
Never Open an Umbrella at Home
It’s fine if this happens by mistake at a friend’s place on a rainy day, but if by any chance the umbrella pops open inside your home or is stretched out to dry on the floor, it’ll literally tear down your life. An open umbrella indoors may bring financial doom: it’s a sign that you may soon no longer have a warm and cozy roof to live under either due to a natural calamity like an earthquake or another sort of tragedy including losing your job and no longer being able to pay for the rent, electricity bills, and food. That’s why many Italian families keep an umbrella holder on the doorstep, outside the house.
Be Careful Not to Break a Mirror
Even if it’s just a tiny looking glass or a pocket mirror, shattering it into pieces shouts for the cruelest of jinxes. It is believed that a broken mirror will bring the careless person who let it fall seven long years of disgrace (unclear why seven and not five or 10), during which the worst things could happen. This superstition is probably tied to the primitive belief that a mirror reflects one’s own image and could therefore trap the soul so when it shatters, it breaks you. If the mirror drops and explodes into shards in front of the photo or portrait of a friend, parent, or relative, that person might face immediate death.
No Hats on the Bed
Grandparents still recall when doctors came home to cure a family member and in the rush would drop their hat on the sick person’s bed. Or—in the worst-case scenario—when a priest arrived, called to give a dying Christian their last blessing. So if a hat is placed on the bed, the sleeper will be doomed with years of bad luck and a likely painful death that will strike ahead of time.
Look Inside the Funeral Car
It’s pretty clear why it’s a jinx but it all depends on whether it’s empty or occupied by the deceased. Drivers go into a fit when they pass by a long, shiny black limousine and immediately place their hand on their genitals to ward off any chance death might next strike them. However, if the funeral car is carrying the flower-decorated coffin to the graveyard or the church for the funeral, there’s nothing to worry about as the coffin has already been filled with a corpse. But if the limousine is empty you might be the next occupant, sooner rather than later. While men scratch genitals, ladies usually cup their buttocks or breast.
Don’t Spill Oil and Salt
Italians are pazzo for extra-virgin olive oil, the ideal dressing for their salted grilled bread bruschetta. In ancient times oil and salt were both precious and expensive ingredients that few families could afford. After all, the word “salary” comes from “salt” and Italians use the term “salty” to describe a costly dinner or receipt. So if salt or oil inadvertently fall on the table, money could be lost and family fortunes ruined. To exorcise the looming evil, quickly pick up the salt grains and throw them behind your shoulders three times with the left hand (three is the number of the Trinity and the left hand is associated with sinister things so in this case, evil chases away evil). The salt grains will land on the floor where other passersby will pick-up the jinx. If it’s spilled oil, a pinch of sprinkled salt will do the trick.
Never Walk Under a Ladder
In pagan times stairs and staircases were associated with man’s ascension to heaven, while in many Egyptian tombs tiny ladders have been found symbolizing the closing circle of life. Such beliefs survived and were reinforced by Christianity. A ladder leaning on a wall forms a triangle, the symbol of the Holy Trinity so walking beneath it is defying God and winking an eye to Satan. If the ladder is in the middle of the street and can’t be averted, a good anti-jinx gesture is crossing your arms and fingers of both hands.
To Reverse the Spell
In all cases the best remedies Italians use to ward off evil include, other than scratching genitalia, doing funny horn signs with one or both hands. The middle and ring finger are clenched while the thumb, index, and little fingers are extended to mimic the devil’s horns, believed to break curses (again, evil crushes evil). Horn-shaped amulets and pendants are also kept in purses, worn around necks, or hung on doorknobs while bouquets of red chili peppers are kept at doorsteps. Spitting on the ground, knocking on wood, or touching metal always helps.