The Italian Superstition Malocchio


Origins and Amulets: A Remarkable Look on the evil eye

The Italian Superstition Malocchio


Superstitions are deeply embedded in every culture in the world. Italians have their fair share of folkloric stories and traditions. On the matter of luck, perhaps the most well-known is the malocchio or the evil eye. Mal means “bad” and occhio means “eye.” It is the belief that one can harm another person, their family, or their property by looking at them with envy. To put it simply, it’s the look that is given to another person when they feel a pang of jealousy or envy. The person who gives malocchio isn’t necessarily an evil person, but that the act of gazing has remained too long that the other person has been subjected to a curse.




The malocchio superstition can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans. They believed envy can cause an immense amount of bad luck to the person it is directed to. Although envy is an innately human emotion, gods are not exempt from becoming jealous of human affection and contentment. Therefore, mortals were advised not to brag too much because they can be subjected to bad luck brought about by gods and fellow mortals. This is the reason why Italians still don’t want their child to be called beautiful because someone might give them the evil eye.




To ward off the evil eye curse, the corno or cornicello is usually worn, which is an Italian amulet of ancient origin. Corno means “horn,” while cornicello means “little horn.” The amulet resembles a chili pepper because of its red color and twisted horn shape. Contrary to popular belief, the shape is not derived from a sheep’s or a goat’s horn, but from an African eland’s. The cornicello is usually made from red coral or of gold or silver.


Horned animals were considered sacred as part of an old European tradition in praise of the moon goddess. However, with the rise of Christianity, the use of cornicelli was heavily discouraged among Italian Catholics, referring to them as Satan’s horns. This is however ludicrous because they have always been relegated to the moon goddess, or to the Virgin Mary if equated to Catholic symbolism.




The horn is a powerful symbol in Italian folklore to repel not only malocchio but bad luck in general. Apart from using horn-shaped amulets, Italians also make use of various protective gestures. The most common is the facenda corna where the person closes his hand in a fist excluding the forefinger and the little finger to create a pair of horns. People can use this gesture when they see someone who is talking with a lot of pride, or when they feel that a particularly envious person is wishing them bad luck. Another evil eye protection is touching anything made of iron or touching of the genitals which can only be done by men.


What other Italian superstitions are you familiar with? Tell me about it in the comment section below. You may also reach me through Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.





Ciao Pittsburgh. 2012. “Italian Superstitions—The Evil Eye (Malocchio).” Accessed October 2, 2017.

Italian Genealogy. 2016. “Il Malocchio, the Evil Eye.” Accessed October 2, 2017.

Lucky Mojo Curio Co. n.d. “The Evil Eye.” Accessed October 2, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.

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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD