Advertisement

Culture For Members

Unlucky Friday 17th - and 12 other Italian superstitions to beware of

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
Unlucky Friday 17th - and 12 other Italian superstitions to beware of
Black cats are a good omen for some - but they're often viewed as unlucky in Italy. Photo by Nathan Riley on Unsplash

Friday 17th is considered an unlucky date in Italy. But that's not the only surprising Italian superstition you'll need to know about.

Advertisement

Particularly among the older generation, you'll discover that Italians tend to take superstitions seriously, often doing things 'per scaramanzia' - to ward off bad luck.

So if you want to ensure good fortune comes your way, there are some the things to watch out for according to customs in many parts of Italy.

READ ALSO: Why are Italians both so religious and so superstitious?

Friday the 17th

First, the good news. Friday the 13th isn't a bad omen as it is in Western countries - but Italy has its own date that you should be wary of: Friday the 17th.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted in Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors and so on, so even if you're not the superstitious type, it's handy to be aware of.

This is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning "I have lived" - the use of the past tense suggests death, and therefore bad luck.

So don't be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some shops and offices closed 'per scaramanzia'.

Spilling olive oil

Thought there was no point crying over spilled olive oil? Think again. For the superstitious in Italy, this is very bad luck indeed.

And it's not just because Italians don't want to see their top quality oil wasted (though the tradition likely has its roots in a time when olive oil was a luxury), or because oil stains are tough to get out of clothes. The act of spilling the liquid is considered to bring ill fortune.

READ ALSO: Italy's fascinating All Souls' Day traditions

Toasting

Some Italians will tell you that you should never toast with a glass of water; the thinking behind that is that it brings bad luck because water is less expensive and flavourful than wine.

In fact, the whole tradition of toasting is a minefield. Depending on where you are in the country, you could be told it's also bad luck to cross arms with anyone as you clink glasses, to avoid eye contact while toasting or to set down your glass before having a first sip.

Advertisement

The Evil Eye

The malocchio is the Italian belief that a look of jealousy can bring harm to those it is aimed at -- usually in the form of physical pain, such as a headache.

Having birds or birds' feathers in your house is also a big no-no because their patterns are supposedly similar to the evil eye.

To ward off the evil eye you should make a gesture similar to horns and point it downwards behind your back. Some Italians take things a step further and wear a lucky amulet shaped like a horn, known as a cornicello or corno portafortuna.

Touching iron

If you're from the UK or US, you might be used to saying 'touch wood' or 'knock on wood' after saying something that might tempt misfortune. In Italy, look for some iron instead. 

'Toccare ferro' (touch iron) is an abbreviated form of 'toccare ferro di cavallo' (touch horseshoe) which dates back to when horseshoes were thought to ward off devils, witches and evil spirits.

These days, superstitious Italians might still carry a horseshoe charm or a simple piece of iron around with them, just in case.

Horseshoes are a symbol of good luck in many countries, and this is why Italians 'touch iron' instead of wood. Photo by Victória Kubiaki on Unsplash

Advertisement

Lampposts

When walking arm in arm with a friend, make sure to pass on the same side of a lamppost rather than splitting to go around it. Italian folklore warns that straying from this rule could spell the end of the friendship.

Black cats

In some cultures, black cats are thought to bring good luck, but it's quite the opposite in Italy, where they are considered unlucky due to associations with witchcraft.

In fact, thousands of black felines are abandoned or even killed every year by superstitious Italians, leading animal rights' groups to declare November 17th Black Cats' Day, in order to raise awareness of their plight and combat superstition.

Hearing a cat sneeze, on the other hand, brings good luck.

Advertisement

Sharp objects

If you receive something sharp such as a penknife as a gift, tradition says you should prick the person who gave it to you, or give them a coin in return. If you fail to do this, you risk ruining the friendship forever.

Beds

It is believed that if you put a photo of a loved one on a bed - for example while tidying, packing or doing housework - this will bring them bad luck. Placing a hat on a bed is also unlucky.

These beliefs date back to a time when beds were associated with illness and death, and priests would remove their hats when arriving to visit someone in their sickbed.

The leaning tower of Pisa

Local students avoid the monument -- and not just because it's overrun with tourists. Tradition states that if you go to the top of the famous leaning tower whilst you are at university, then you will never be able to graduate.

Several cities and towns around the country have their own version of this superstition: in Bologna for example, climbing the local tower before graduating is thought to mean you will never do so.

Jinx

This is one that you might be familiar with from your home country, too: saying the same word at the same time as somebody else is thought to be bad luck.

Specifically, Italians might tell you it's an omen that you will never get married - but there's a way to reverse your fortune. Simply touch your nose immediately afterwards, and the curse will be undone.

Seeing an empty hearse

Spotting a hearse with no coffin inside is thought to be an omen that your own death is approaching. To ward off this ill fate, men must touch their groin and women their breast as a gesture of good luck and fertility.

Thirteen’s a crowd

Although in general the number 13 isn't as spooky as in other countries, at a dinner table it is meant to be very bad luck indeed. ù

The superstition stems from the Last Supper and the fact that Jesus’ traitor, Judas Iscariot, was the 13th and final person to be seated, so if you find yourself at a table of 13, watch your back.

More

Comments

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also