7 Surprising Italian Superstitions You Need to Know

Posted July 13, 2017

italian superstitions

Superstitions come in all shapes and sizes. Almost every nation and religion across the globe has their own unique superstitions that dictate the way of life and help ward off bad luck, and Italy is no exception. In honor of Mici’s 13th anniversary, we’re diving into seven surprising Italian superstitions.

1. Don’t Fear The Number 13 

In many cultures, the number 13 is feared and seen as a symbol of bad luck. In Italy, however, 13 is seen as an extremely lucky number, especially when it comes to gambling. The number 13 is also associated with the Goddess of Fertility, who controls the lunar cycles. This created the belief that anything related to the number 13 brings prosperity and abundant life. That’s why we’re hoping for great things in Mici’s lucky 13th year!

2. Avoid The Number 17 at All Costs

While 13 is considered lucky in Italian superstitions, the number 17 is considered extremely unlucky. The number is avoided in Italian culture because of how it is written. In Roman numerals, the number 17 is written as XVII. This can be rearranged to spell the Latin word “vixi,” which translates to “I have lived.” Using this word or referencing to it is considered to be a temptation of death. In fact, the number is considered so unlucky that many hotels do not have a 17th floor!

3. Watch Out for the Evil Eye

As one of the most well-known Italian superstitions, the Malocchio is a curse cast upon a person by someone who is jealous or envious of them with an envious look. The words “malo,” and “occhio” translate to “bad” and “eye,” or Evil Eye.

The malocchio curse can cause sufferers pain and/or misfortune, but praying and making the sign of the cross can help eliminate it. Many Italians also wear a corno, or horn-shaped necklace, resembling a chili pepper, to ward off the curse.

4. Knock on Iron

Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase “knock on wood” and found a piece of wood to ward off bad luck or avoid jinxing something. In Italy, there is a similar phrase used to ward off misfortune. Italians often say “tocca ferro,” or “touch iron” and then find a piece of iron to touch to ward off bad luck. Some believe in the superstition so much that they even carry a nail in their pocket so they always have iron within reach!

5. Be Wary of Spilled Salt or Olive Oil

At any Italian meal, there will most likely be olive oil and salt. Superstition says that spilling salt or olive oil will bring bad luck and misfortune. Luckily, tossing a pinch of the spilled salt over your left shoulder or dabbing a bit of spilled oil behind each ear is believed to counteract the bad luck.

It’s believed that spilling salt and olive oil wasn’t originally supposed to cause bad luck, but rather, in ancient times, it was merely considered foolish to spill such an expensive commodity. Others believe the superstition derives from Christian beliefs that the devil tends to linger on the left side of the body, and spilling salt would invite him to do his evil work. Tossing salt over your left shoulder would hit the devil directly in the face, stopping him in his tracks.

6. Don’t Wish of Good Luck

In American culture, you’ll often hear performers say “break a leg” rather than wishing another good luck. Italian superstitions also believe that wishing good luck will do the opposite and bring misfortune. Instead of telling others good luck, Italians say “bocca al lupo,” which translates to “in the mouth of the wolf.” The other person should avoid saying “prego,” or thank you, so they can keep the right to receive good wishes. Rather, they should respond “crepi,” or “may it die.”

7. Treat Bread With Respect

If there’s one thing to know about Italians, it’s that they love their wine, cheese and bread. Many Italians are Catholic, which gives them another reason to value bread aside from its delicious flavor. In Catholicism, bread is believed to transform into the body of Christ when blessed by a priest during mass.

Because of this belief, turning a loaf of bread upside down or cutting it with a knife is considered disrespectful and worthy of the wrath of God. It is also believed that when baking bread, the sign of the cross should be made over the dough to bless it before putting it in the oven.

Want to learn more about Italian superstitions and culture? Try whipping up some fried zucchini flowers or bring the family by Mici for an authentic taste of Italy. It may not be a superstition, but it’ll taste like good luck!