From Dominick A. Faust, 29 Dec 1995 (Reggio di Calabria & Siracusa):
I have a question about superstitions. I've watched the movie the "A Bronx Tale" several times. I have noticed that "C" the young character and "Sonny" the "Don" for lack of another descriptive word, exchanged a sign of friendship with a hand gesture. When I was young, my father had told me the same hand gesture was for wishing evil on someone. Or he called it "horns". !???!
From Margie Vaughan, 29 Dec 1995:
My Nana Pauline Russo use to say that hand sign (the one from Bronx Tale) was a sign to keep the evil eye away. She believed one of her babies died becuase of the evil eye. A women kept saying how beautiful her baby was.
When my Nana told her mother-in-law about the woman, my great grandmother told her not to walk that way any more. The woman still found my Nana & Michael and told her the baby was to beautiful to live. Until the day my Nana passed away she believed this was why her son got sick & died. We were always told never say a baby is beautiful, whenever you felt like saying this you should always say instead, God bless this baby.
From GRACE E DEASY (Sicily):
to all the piesani,best wishes for the new year,my great aunt used the oil and water to cure a headache and maybe a heartache too.i would likk up in that book about superstitions about the horns,we had a cow horn set over back door that were painted blue with rings of green around the ends!!to keep the evil spirit away.?anyone else have this decoration?
From Edna Rober, 31 Dec 1995:
Three years ago in Ferrazano (Campobasso), I was suffering from a migraine while Marie and I were researching old family records at the "city" hall. Needing lunch (or something) we went to the restaurant (the only). The young waiter recognized me as a sick puppy and was very solicitous. After I had ordered plain rice, he returned and asked me my name. Married? Maiden? No. First. I asked why. His grandmother was in the kitchen and wanted to help. She was going to write my name in oil drops in a pan on the stove.
About fifteen minutes later, I told my sister I really was feeling a lot better!!! I don't question anything - as long as it works. I met grandmother in the kitchen, chatted with the family and left feeling my normal self.
Thought your readers would like to hear a first-hand experience.
From EDWARD F MOMORELLA, 1 Jan 1996:
I remember a great aunt who would rush home when anyone would tell her she was pushing around a "beautiful baby" and pour holy water in a dish and put in drops of oil. If the oil spread out over the water, that was a bad sign and she had to say some prayers to rid the evil.
If the drops stayed relatively in the same place, things were ok. She would bless herself and be calm again.
From Albert Pasquino, 5 Jan 1996
How well I remember those festivals in Hammonton, NJ. As a boy growing up inthe 30's in Paulsboro, NJ going to the festival was an annual event. Most of all I remember the fireworks display at the end of the days celebration.
And oh yes, about the oil and water bit. Whenever we got a headache, the"Evil eye" was the cause, of course. Mom would get a soup bowl and oil.
Then she would dip her finger in the oil and make the sign of the cross continually on our forehead all the while saying some prayers in Italian, which I could not understand, even though I understood Italian in my youth. After the prayers she would dip her fingers in the oil and let drops fall into the water. As I remember, the shape the oil took in the surface of the water indicated whether the "Evil eye" had been removed. If it had the headache was gone! If not she would repeat the ritual a second time and it usually did the trick. Never had an aspiren until I enlisted the the Air Force in 1948 and any veteran knows the cure for everything was 2 APCs. Oh yes, in 1954 I was sent to Korea and my wife, who is British, stayed with my parents for that year. Not only did she become an accomplished Italian cook but attests to the fact that Mom's oil and water really worked on her too!
From Bob Collins, 20 Jan 1996:
The following is from HYGEIA, June, 1926, "The Immigrant Mother as Seen by a Social Worker" by Dorothy G. Spicer:
"There was Mrs. Vitelli's baby, who was so plump that a neighbor said, 'Oh, doesn't Tony look just like a cow?' Immediately...the baby grew black and frothed at the mouth. To see if he was 'overlooked,' or afflicted by the dreaded Evil Eye, a drop of oil was put into a glass of water. Instead of spreading over the surface of the water, the oil stayed in one place and looked just like an eye, thus proving the nature of the baby's ailment. A cure was wrought by bringing in a woman whosaid an incantation learned on Christmas eve. Anyone taught the incantation on the eve of Christ's birth haspower to cure 'overlooked; persons; consequently, old wives knowing the charmed words are still much sought after, even in this country." (P. 319).
From Arthur Urbano, 26 Apr 1996:
Whenever my grandfather tells his stories about his grandparents when they came over from Italy, we all sigh and say "Not that one again!" It's funny.
I am so thankful now that my grandfather repeated his stories over and over again, because I've committed tham to memory and they've helped me with my research. It's been fun trying to prove and disprove these legends. I'm surprised, most of the legends my grandfather tells are 90% true! My grandfather, Tony CUCCA, was born in Providence, RI. In fact so was his father! But both of his grandfathers, Stazio CUCCA from Ciorlano and Luigi PEZZA from Prata Sannita (both in Caserta), came to America in the 1890s.
There was one legend in particular which I love to hear, but my grandmother cringes whenever my grandfather is about to tell it. She always tries to change the subject.
My grandfather tells us that his grandmother Filomena SQUEZIA from Capriati a Volturno was a really mean lady. She never got along with my grandfather's mother Filomena PEZZA (her daughter-in-law). They used to argue all the time. FInally, when Filomena Pezza was pregnant with my grandfather, her mother-in-law told her that she hoped they would take the baby out with a pitchfork! In response my grandfather's mother said "I hope you never see him!" At this point my grandfather will pause, look at all of us with his finger pointed straight up and conclude, "She died a month before I was born! It's the truth!"
Well, I wasn't sure if it was the truth, so I went to the Rhode Island State Archives and looked up Filomena Squezia's death record. You know, she died Jan 15, 1911 and my grandfather was born Feb 8, 1911! It was true. A real live family curse and a legend proved to be true.
Now I'm trying to figure out how she died. The death record says she died of "Acute Cholecystitis" or something like that. Maybe some of you doctors out there can help me out.
From Tony La Bella:
My father has told me of many occasions that my nonna performed the ritual for a variety of reasons. That included curing a sickness, answering a particular question, or to remove a curse that someone might have placed on an individual in the family. While he doesn't remember the exact incantations, my grandmothe would place water in a bowl, and while making the sign of the cornu, drop oil into the water. If the oil combined it was a favorable sign, if they separated, it was not. She would repeat this a number of times until, I believe, until she was pleased with the outcome.
My father seemed to indicate that this skill was passed down from generation to generation. As a matter of fact, he said that my grandmother once told him that her "mentor" (her aunt) would not teach her certain spells and incantations because they were too terrible and dangerous.
From Jo Tedesco - 8 May 1996 (Reggio Calabria):
The other thing to add was that the 'power' had to be renewed yearly at Christmas time I think! Grandfather had mother taught as an insurance to make sure the oxen didn't get sick!
From Vincent Paratore - 8 May 1996 (Sicily):
My father was one of these that could perform the removal of curses or "evil eye". But as I recall, he would not pass on this ritual to me,when he the ritual was completed he would cut thru the water oil mixture with a knife making the sign of the cross. He was always reluctant to perform this ritual. It always took something out of him.
From Maria Seminara Commodore, 8 May 1996:
Tony and PIEsani, Many times this procedure was done on me when I lived in Sicily and even after we came to the USA. Mostly to get rid of a terrible headache (possibly caused by Malocchio?).
There was always a lot of jealousy among relatives anÝbody stared at you too long, it was taken as Malocchio and for whatever reason you ended up with a splitting head-ache!
Personally I believe the cooleness of the ceramic with cold water on your head always brought relief and of course a little of mind over matter might have helped.
From Arthur Urbano, 08 May 1996:
Tonight I asked my grandmother about the malocchio. She's 80 and was born in the USA, her mother, from Teano, used to perform it. Apparently my g-grandmother would perform this ritual to get rid of headaches. She would get a bowl of water and pour some oil into it. If the oil formed a large circle in the middle of the bowl, the ritual worked and the headache would go away; if not, well, it didn't work.
This seems similar to other rituals that people have been describing. It seems that paganism persisted in the old world.
From Tom Lazzara, 9 May 1996:
Subject: Sole a Testa/headache
Pie-sanos, Not sure if this comes under superstitions or home remedies bt it works. On hot summer days after playing outside all day I would sometimes have a headache in the evening. My mother would place a hankerchief over a glass of water and with my head in her lap would turn the glass over on my forehead. Done rapidly none of the water would spill. After about 30 seconds bubbles would start to rise up in the inverted glass. When there were no more bubbles she would remove the glass and the headache would soon be gone.
She said the headache was caused from "sole a testa" (sun in the head). I don't remember how old I was when I questioned the Authenticity, but being a dubting Thomas I did. I had her do it a second time and a 3rd time to see if it would produce bubbles again. It didn't. I figured it was just air bubbles from water that may have leaked out, so I had her do it when I didn't have a headache, No bubbles. But the next time I had a headache, guess what, there were bubbles. Try this on a hot day sometime, I think it works better then a cold wash cloth. It draws the heat out of your head. Maybe thats why I have never been known as a Hot Headed Italian, Hard Yes, Hot No. Given some the messages that have been burning up the keyboards
Maybe now would be a good time for all of us to try it.(myself included) Water use to be cheaper
"VIVA L'ULIVO" Gianfranco
From Nick.DiValerio, 9 May 1996:
My mother, born in Italy, always had this ritual performed on her when her headaches became unbearable. She explained that the headaches were so bad because someone had evil thoughts about you. Call it supersition, but it seemed to work more than it doesn't. However, the ritual can only be performed by certain people. It has to be taught by someone who practices.
From Nick - 25 Aug 1996:
My GM was born on Christmas day in 1882, and as such, was reputed to be able to cure the unfotunates who'd been given the Evil Eye by a "Jettatori". I recall adults & children coming to her home, where she would place cold water in a dish, then say something in Italian, which ended with the afflicted 's name. Next, she would let a few drops of olive oil run down her little finger, into the water. At this point, all gathered around the dish to se if the oil would disperse or conglutinate. She would then make the sign of the cross above the water with scissors, screwrdiver, & knife.
From Joe Tambe - 26 Aug 1996:
Mal Occhio is a subject I have some knowledge about from my Sicilian heritage. Mal Occhio literally means the "evil eye". Many people believe that with a strong, severe look, someone could put a curse on you. In this case, the curse caused sickness, (fever, headache, stomach ache, etc.).
When there was the belief that perhaps the illness was caused by "mal occhio", an aged woman (preferably a relative), was called in. The afflicted person was made to lie down or sit in a chair.
A large, shallow bowl was filled with water and held over the head of the afflicted. With the index finger, three drops of olive oil were dropped into the bowl of water. At the same time, she said and made the sign of the cross to bless the afflicted. If the olive oil drops remained in normal single drops, it was concluded that the sickness was not caused by "mal occhio". However, if the olive oil spread out over the water, sometimes even sputtering, then that was "proof" that mal occhio was the culprit. At that point, the woman shifted into a curative prayer: "Let the mal occhio get behind you and God bring you ahead". After several repetitions, the water was changed and the olive oil applied again. If the drops were normal, the curse was lifted and the person would get well in a short time. If the drops continued to diffuse, the prayers were repeated and the process repeated over and over sometimes with success, sometimes not.
From Maryann Ruperto - 27 Aug 1996 (Abruzzi):
Hi Nick, Last night when I read your posting about the evil eye to my mother, I asked her if she had ever heard of this. She looked at me very seriously and said not only had she heard of it, she had seen it done many times! Her sister, my aunt, used to do this. Not everyone can do this, only people with some "special" abilty. Anyway, my aunt used to pour the oil (as you indicated) into a dish, if the oil disappeared, it meant that someone had put the evil eye on you. She would then pray over this dish. This little ritual was also able to "break the spell". My mother said that she had seen it where the oil disappeared and there was no sign of it anywhere. You could put the dish away, it was clean. My mother did not know anything about scissors, screwdrivers, or knives.
This ritual is only supposed to be passed on to the persons godchild. I hope this sheds some light on the subject.
From Arleen Gould - 27 Aug 1996 (Calabria):
Just got off the phone with the mother-in-law and read her the letter about the 'Mal Occhio'. Her mother would use this on them as children when they had headaches, etc. but she asked if any one remembers the prayer that went along with it. She said that you could only pass it on to someone on Christmas Eve. (So let's a pretend it is Christmas Eve, I won't tell if you don't.) Also she said that a 'Red Ribbon' would protect you from the Mal Occhio. So make sure you have it on before you type the prayer.
From Bob Fanelli:
My father, whose grandparents were from Riccia, Campobasso, said that his grandmother used to cure the Malocchio for children in their family. She would take a saucer or bowl, put a little water in it, pour in some oil, then take sewing threads and lay them in the shape of a cross in the floating oil. Afterwards, she would take the thread cross and lay it on the stomach of the sick child.
He also remembers that it was the practice among the neighborhood boys, in Edge Hill, PA, if they wanted to give someone the Malocchio, to make the sign of the horns and jab it towards the person. At the same time they would make a mean face at the victim. But, he said, it was just kid's stuff and not taken seriously.
From Bob Fanelli:
Philadelphian Charles Godfrey Leland collected folk beliefs in Tuscany in the late 19th century. Here's what he had to say about the "oil on water" custom we've been discussing, as he learned it from a woman (a strega) in Florence.
"I am making an incantesimo with oil....
Take the flask with oil - a small one- make with it thrice the sign of the cross on the head and face, saying:
'In nome del cielo,
Delle stelle e della luna,
Mi levo questo malocchio (o altra cosa),
Per mia maggior fortuna!'
Then with the same bottle or vial, make three crosses with the right hand over the glass of water, exactly from side to side, also making the corna or jettatura with the forefinger and little finger of the left hand extended, and the middle and ring finger closed, or held by the thumb. And these extended fingers rest on the edge of the tumbler.
While doing this the strega repeats:
'Befania! Befania! Befania!
Chi mi ha dato il malocchio,
Me lo porte via!'
Then pour in, or let fall, very carefully , three drops of oil. If they combine at once, it is a good sign, or an affirmative to any question. If you wish to know whether you are to find what you seek, or meet a friend, or anything of the kind, all will go as you desire. But if the three drops remain apart it is a bad or negative sign.
Then to thoroughly explore all the chances, this ceremony is renewed three times. And every time throw the water and oil into the street, or a court. Should a man be the first to pass, all will yet go well. If a woman, the omens are still unfavorable. And then once more make the castagna or chestnut, the sign of the thumb between the fore and middle fingers, which is far more potent than the corna (even the Roman writers call it terrible); note that this also is on the edge of the glass, with the left hand, while with the right, the oil is dropped skillfully so as to make a cross of oil, repeating the Befania invocation three times as before.
And if, after all, the oracle is unpropitious, drop into the glass about a teaspoonful of salt, and repeat the formula of 'Befania'. Should the oil turn a whitish color, this is a sign that the Befania relents and that all may yet go well.
But if she be deaf to every spell... Then drop into the glass a hot coal....This mixes the oil and water despite of all the devils. And this done you go forth with the fierce, proud feeling that, though every omen is against you, you are to prevail by a strong will."
-from Charles Godfrey Leland, "Etruscan Magic & Occult Remedies", University Books, 1963, pp.311-312.
The author makes the point that, if at first you don't get the answer you want (or the result you want, in the case of the headache cures mentioned on PIE earlier), then you must persevere and bend the problem to your will. Catholic priests handled the important stuff - baptisms, communion, marriages, deaths - but the common people handled the simple, immediate problems you couldn't call a priest for. I mean, what do you think your parish priest would say if you asked him to come over and get rid of your kid's headache?
From Nick - 27 Aug 1996:
Certain individuals, usually having a physical mark-such as thick eyebrows or a scar, or belonging to an uncommon cultural or physical type, were regarded as Jettatore: that is, they are capable of giving the evil eye or another magic spell, both willingly and unwillingly. A person born on Christmas eve or day was thought to have the power to overcome that of the Jettatore (as was my grandmother, born Dec 25, 1882.)
Some of this info comes from "The Two Rosetos," (Roseto Valfortore in Foggia) by Carla Bianco U. of Indiana Press, 1971.
From Joe Tambe (my parents were born in Sicilia) - 28 Aug 1996:
Jettare is Sicilian for "Buttare" (Italian) which means to throw(out), or fling or cast(out). Jettatore (Buttatore) is one who throws(out) or casts(out). Throw out the dirty water, throw out the discards, etc. In this case , a person who casts out the evil spell. (As an aside, there is no "J" in Italian. In Sicilian, "J" is used in conjunction with a vowel-i or e to create a sound like "ye" as in "yet". So, "jettatore" in pronounced "yettatore" in Sicilian.)