The Malocchio – What it meant to an Italian-American Kid | Page 2
When we arrived back in Palermo to meet the members of our tour group, we had an additional free day to enjoy the city on our own before a planned dinner. As we walked through the city, I saw them! Those red pepper good luck charms were in every shop window! I hadn’t seen them in years! The shops sold them in 18k gold, they had them in red, white, large, and small. I had to have one but it was getting late and the shops were about to close. Looking in the shop window, I also noticed charms of a hand. The hands had their pinky and index finger extended while the rest of the hand was in a fist. What was that? Another symbol of “goooda luck”?
Touring the island for 12 days was an incredible experience. One of the highlights of our tour included an overnight stay in the beautiful town of Taormina. Walking through the picturesque streets, we happened to stumble upon a shop. I found a gold mine! A shop full of pepper charms and fisted hands! Some were sold together as a charm. They were in every colour and size imaginable, some of them made of blood coral. Others were studded in diamonds! There were necklaces, bracelets, charms, earrings, you name it. Some of the red peppers were topped with gold crowns and others had the upper body of some character on top of the pepper. There were also items that had a face in the middle of three legs. What was that? Every item you can imagine had one of these three-legged symbols on it. I had to buy one! I saw a Sicilian flag. I had to buy that too! What I would do with these items once we got back home, I had no idea. I hit the jackpot!
The next day we left for a tour of Catania. On the walking tour, our guide just happened to pass another shop that sold guess what? YES!!! There they were again! Only this time, our tour guide gave the group a full explanation and history of what these supposed good luck charms were all about. Here is what I learned:
The symbol of Sicily. As the official flag of Sicily, it is designed with a background diagonally divided of red, representing the colour of Palermo and yellow, the colour of Corleone. These are the two cities that represent the Revolution of the Sicilian Vesper. The flag was developed in 1848.
The symbol consists of the winged head of Medusa with the hair of serpents and ears of corn, the ears of wheat and three legs. This symbol was originally used in the 4th Century BC on a coin.
The ears of wheat represent the fertility of the Sicilian land and the three legs represent the three corners or promontories of the island; Cape Pelorus, Cape Passero and Cape Lilibeo.
You can read more about the Trinacria and the Sicilian Flag here.
Mano Cornuta – The Horned Hand
The reference of this hand symbol is to that of a horned animal. It is used for protection against the “evil eye” (malocchio) or generally, to ward off evil. The “evil eye” is believed to harm or put the hex on things such as women of childbearing age, children, fertile crops and trees and even the sperm of animals and men. The origin of this symbol was and still is, used as a hand gesture that began in the Naples area. It is used mainly in southern Italy and Sicily and by those Italian immigrants who came to America. There are other protections this charm offers that are mainly sexual in nature.
Corno or Cornetto – The Horn or Little Horn –
The “Cornetto” is mainly worn as a necklace, used as a charm or can be seen hanging in a car in order to ward off evil and offer protection. It has been worn since ancient times with the belief that the wearer would be protected against all evil. It is also believed by married couples that the evil eye could do damage to a marriage and therefore, each person in a relationship should wear a Cornetto. Our guide explained that the shape of the Cornetto was inspired by the shape of the chili pepper, a spice used in the region, so I was not totally out of my mind when I first saw this charm as a child! Our guide also explained that nowadays, the Cornuto is mainly looked upon as a symbol of good luck.
So, be honest. How many of you out there have or wear one of these charms? Do you wear them to ward off the “malocchio” or as a good luck charm? My Cornuto is hanging from the rear-view mirror of my car suspended on a red ribbon just like Uncle Jimmy did! Most people in small town Virginia have no idea what this strange pepper is hanging from my mirror. I am undoubtedly being asked, “What is that red pepper for?” which is then followed by an explanation.
Please share with the group if you have a “malocchio” and what it means to you. I am sure everyone would love to read your comments.
To me, it is a symbol of many things; my heritage, my culture, my family’s history, the memories of past trips to Italy, the food I make and yes, maybe for protection against the “malocchio”! It is also a symbol of the country of which I am a legal citizen in addition to my American citizenship. I am proud to be Italian and proud to be American. I would fly Old Glory as well as the Trinacria of Sicily if I had the opportunity. Unfortunately, the community in which I live only allows the American and Virginia state flags to be displayed. HOA rules forbid any other flags however they cannot stop me from the cornetto proudly displayed in my car. Uncle Jimmy would be proud.
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Enjoyed your story. I have to Sicily 3 times,and it’s my favourite place in Italy and Italy is my favourite country to visit, so Sicilia is number one!!! I’m an Italian wanna be, at least that’s what my Italian wife tells me, and she’s right. Most beautiful country in the world for a number of reasons. Thanks for the story and stay safe!!! ??
What was the name of the town in Agrigento that you visited on ci your free day?
My ancestors are from Lucca Sicula in Agrigento province.
Mine did as well!! We were Giarratano’s and Salamone’s. Do the names sound familiar?
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Loved reading this. Brought back memories of my Italian heritage.
I read you story very early this morning 3 am. It was funny I could actually smell the garlic and tomatoes cooking early on Sunday morning. Your story could also be the story of my life, I loved it and will repeat many parts of it. I also believe very strongly in mallochio and the red ribbon. I have never had a new car without a red ribbon tied on the steering column. We also attached a ribbon with a small relic or medal to some part of a diaper to ward off the evil eye of babies. There is nothing that makes me prouder than being Italian and reading your story just gave me more affirmation of that fact. So I would like to thank you for that wonderful story of our heritage. I will treasure it.
Thanks so much for the compliments and I’m glad you enjoyed my story. It means a lot to me. Hope you enjoy my other stories as well. Grazie mille!
It’s also be interested to hear which town you visited. We’re from Palma di Montechiaro!
Enjoyed reading ur memories….they are part of my memories of my grandmother & Aunt who I stayed with in Brooklyn every summer….I still have and treasure their good luck charms.
I never laughed so hard reading your story about the strange sandwiches we took to school. Ours was peppers and onions. The other kids didn’t know what they were missing. Also the picture of Jesus!!! I thought my grandmother’s house only had this. I would run down the hall to the tv room and try not to make eye contact with him. To this day it still is a frightening memory.
I was born in Porticello, Palermo, Sicily. Loved your story, for me being an immigrant what stuck out was the pierced earrings. When we came no one had pierced ears only Sicilians. I went to an all Jewish high school. I took off the Italian gold and would put on cheap Woolworth earrings. When piercing became popular my mother’s kitchen would be filled with girls wanting her to pierce their ear lobes with alcohol, needle and thread and advice to keep rubbing the lobe for a few days.