Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

F is for Fortuna: Why Italy Loves Superstitions

From June the 17th to rituals that ward off bad luck, we look at Italy's love affair with superstitions
issimo via della fortuna Pienza Val d' Orcia Tuscany Italy, coltissimo

Some might deny it (Superstitious? Me? Never!), but superstitions are an intrinsic aspect of Italy’s social and cultural fabric. They date back centuries, come with their own share of rituals, and are passed on from generation to generation – sometimes as mere anecdotes, sometimes as big deals to be taken seriously and acted upon. Mostly, they revolve around chasing bad luck away, across all aspects of life: money, relationships, work, house-keeping, personal choices, family, death. Name a situation you might find yourself in, and chances are there’s an Italian superstition around it. 

Indeed, an inventory of them could fill up the pages of a book. There’s the one about making eye contact with your guests when clinking glasses at the dinner table – lest risking seven years of bad sex thereafter. The belief that a black cat crossing your path is a symbol of ominous things to come. The old saying that if someone sweeps over your feet while cleaning the floor you will never get married. 

And then, of course, the strong conviction that Friday the 17th is an unlucky date – the unluckiest of them all, in fact (very much like Friday the 13th is in America and the UK) –  because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning “I have lived,” a past tense that suggest death; and Friday was the day Jesus was crucified.

As it happens, June is the only month of 2022 to have a Friday the 17th. Which is why we’ve decided to spotlight the only thing that can fight off malasorte (ill-fated destiny): Fortuna, fortune, good luck. 

The concept might seem simple, but it isn’t. Fortuna requires some work when the odds are against it, and demands precise gestures and behaviours. 

issimo bad luck black cat, coltissimo
issimo eduardo scena del caffe questi fantasmi 1962, coltissimo

Below, we’re sharing a few winning tips to bring un pizzico di Fortuna (a pinch of good luck) into your everyday life and tackle la iella (a Roman expression for misfortune). Take note, try them out, and browse our Fortuna-inspired items to help you out – we have lots. 

Whether you’re into them or not, superstitions simply offer a little wishful thinking and some good old wisdom that are bound to make you smile. 

And that’s exactly why we love them so much. Scepticism aside, they’re proof there can always be a touch of otherworldly charm to anything we do. 

To quote famed Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo: “Essere superstiziosi è da ignoranti, ma non esserlo porta male” / “Being superstitious is a sign of ignorance, but not being superstitious brings bad luck.” 

Here’s how to keep your Fortuna alive and thriving. And remember, on Friday the 17th, it would be absolutely appropriate to do nothing and just sit by the pool. Fortune favours those who know when to lie-low.

issimo pulcinella cornetti good luck, coltissimo
Pulcinella, a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry
wears cornetti against bad luck

Corna and Cornetti

In Italy, ‘fare le corna’ (a hand sign that involves extending out your index and little finger, possibly towards the ground) is the universal gesture to ward off ill fortune. It’s supposed to evoke bull-like strength, and can be mimed whenever you’re in need of a little luck. In object form, le corna can take the shape of cornetti (hornets), best if red, and be used as a talisman associated with strength and fertility (they’re supposed to represent a phallus). Word to the wise: Don’t confuse ‘fare le corna’ with ‘fare le corna a qualcuno’ (‘put horns on someone’): the latter means ‘to be unfaithful’, and there’s no worse luck than that.

Le Carte

Neapolitan-style cards or Carte Napoletane, are an iconic playing card deck in Italy.

Superstitions are especially strong in the south, where there are myriad ways to act against malocchio (‘evil eye’). One of them, of course, is learning to read Neapolitan-style playing cards. According to common beliefs, studying the deck and its various characters – the King, the Fante, the Ace – can in fact ‘guide’ you in matters of love and work, and help you avoid ill fortune. We can’t guarantee any effective results, but the concept sure makes for a great party-trick, don’t you think?

issimo good luck, coltissimo
ISSIMO X Schostal Handkerchief

Toccare Ferro

Familiar with the expression ‘touch wood’? In Italy, we prefer iron. ‘Toccare Ferro’ literally translates as ‘touching iron’, and it’s a classic of the Fortuna repertoire. We touch iron after saying something that might attract misfortune, or when hoping for a wish to come true. The original phrase used to be ‘toccare ferro di cavallo’ (touch horseshoe), as back in the days, horseshoes were thought to ward off devils, witches and evil spirits.

issimo x schostal handkerchief with ferro di cavallo embroidery, accessories

Never Without Salt

Salt plays a big role in Italy’s superstitious world. You’re not supposed to spill it – that’s a bad omen – but you should never, ever be without it, in case something unlucky happens around you. In fact, as tradition dictates, whenever there’s a mishap, you should throw a pinch of salt behind your left shoulder. That’s because that’s the side the devil sits behind. By throwing salt in its eyes, you can ward off its influence, and counteract any misfortune.

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