Top 10 Italian superstitions

Superstitions in Italy are largely themed around death

1. Looking to brush up on your Italian superstitions? Here’s one to get you started: Singles, don’t let a broom touch your feet when someone is cleaning the floors. If you do, you will never be swept off your feet and get married.

2. Speaking of married, this particular wives’ tale translates across cultures: the black cat. Most Italians would give pause, and the truly superstitious might throw a hissy fit, before they would cross paths with one. On the other hand, it’s considered a good bit of feline fortune if you happen to hear a cat sneeze.

3. Hold on to your hats for this next one…or at least don’t set them on the bed! Traditionally, when the sick were on their deathbeds a priest would come to receive their final confessions. The priest would remove his hat and set it on the bed so that he could put on the vestments. Thus, a hat’s temporary resting place is associated with eternal rest, a thought that keeps Italians from sleeping peacefully.

4. The number 13 is considered lucky in Italy. Associated with the Great Goddess, fertility and the lunar cycles, the number is thought to bring prosperity and life — quite the opposite view than that of the western world.

5. However, your number might be up if you keep encountering 17. Italians dislike the number so much that some hotels don’t have a 17th level. But after hearing its associations this might not floor you. When written, the 1 mimics a hanged man and the 7 a gallows. Furthermore, 17’s rearranged Latin numerals spell “VIXI.” Often engraved on headstones, the word means “he lived” and thus tempts death to make that statement true of you.

6. That’s even more reason to grab life (or hold on to it) by the horns. Another way to protect yourself against ill fate is to make the sign of the horns. To form “le corna,” first make a fist and then unfurl only your index and little fingers to point them at the ground. (If you point them at the sky, you may unintentionally be calling someone a fool, an action that could bring you more bad luck.)

7. If you violate this next rule, you’ll be in trouble. Never raise a toast with a glass full of water as it is bad luck. Also, be sure look fellow toasters in the eye when clinking glasses and don’t slip up by forgetting to take a sip before setting your drink down.

8. Take this next superstition with a grain of salt. The well-seasoned superstitious know not to spill salt or olive oil for fear of bad luck. This conception may have begun as a trick to motivate people to handle the previously expensive goods with care.

9. Now for the dish on a different superstition. Although 13 is considered lucky, sitting down to a table with 12 others is an ill omen. At the Last Supper Jesus ate with his 12 isciples before one of them, Judas Iscariot betrayed him. With this rule, Italians aim to avoid a similar turning of the tables.

10. This piece of hearsay drives people crazy. In Italy, if you follow a hearse that isn’t carrying a coffin, you are in death’s wake and soon people might be attending yours! However, if the hearse bears a body, it isn’t in pursuit of another passenger, so you are safe, just like if you pass a hearse driving in the opposite direction.

And an extra superstition, just for good luck!

11. Even those with nerves of steel are susceptible to superstitions. In Italy, to prevent a lousy turn of fortune people practice “tocca ferro” and touch iron if they think something bad is going to occur. The good news is that if you can keep all these superstitious rules in Italy, you’ll be golden!

Sarah Barchus

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Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome is a monthly magazine in English for expatriates in Rome established in 1985. The magazine covers Rome news stories that may be of interest to English and Italian speaking residents, and tourists as well. The publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
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