Superstitions in Italy
Here I am again with my partners in expat blogger debauchery, tackling the tricky topic of superstitions in Italy. This isn’t a new topic for me—I’ve been fascinated with Italian superstitions ever since my first random encounter with them several years ago. At one point, I was even Google’s golden boy on the subject, ranking #1, and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that their algorithms have about as much credible science as, well, superstitions.
But this will make for a fun group discussion, especially since: 1) today is Friday the 13th, and; 2) the Mondiale (World Cup) started this week, so fans all over Italy will be rubbing their cornicelli and grabbing their family jewels (or is it the other way around?) in order to ward off the dreaded malocchio.
Without further ado, let’s talk about a few superstitions in Italy. And as we’ll see once again, the line between superstition and religion is often a blurry one in the Bel Paese.
Superstitions in Italy regarding numbers
It may surprise you to know that 13 is actually a LUCKY number in Italy, while 17 is considered unlucky. Indeed, Friday the 17th is considered an unlucky day because it was on that day Philip the Fair gave the order to kill the Templars.
The number 17 is even considered unlucky for the way it’s written. When 17 is written using the Roman numerals XVII, it can be rearranged to spell the Latin word VIXI meaning “I have lived,” presumably implying “I am now dead,” since it was found on many Roman tombstones.
However, even in Italy 13 people at the dinner table doesn’t bode well. (Remember what happened to the “13th guest” at the Last Supper?)
Speaking of lucky numbers, too bad we don’t have an expat in Naples among our brood. I’d love to hear a full explanation of the book of smorfia napoletana, used for both dream interpretation and playing the lottery. But at least I DO know that if you dream of the number 29, you MUST go buy a ticket right away. O cazz’! (Or should I say, “O’ padre ‘e criature”?)
Let’s look at a few other numbers of interest, translated first into Italian, and then English:
6: Chella ca guarda n’terra; Quella che guarda per terra; She who looks down (in other words, the vagina)
13: Sant’ Antonio; Sant’ Antonio; Saint Anthony (whose birthday we celebrate today!)
14: O’mbriaco; L’ubriaco; The drunk
16: O’ culo; Il culo; The butt
17: A’ disgrazzie; La sfortuna; Bad luck
21: A’ femmena annura; La femmina nuda; The naked woman
28: E’ zizze; Le tette; The boobs
29: O’ padre ‘e criature; Il padre delle creature/bambini; The father of the creatures/children (in other words, the penis)
Have we noticed a disproportionate preference to sexual body parts?
48: O’ muorto che parla; Il morto che parla; The talking dead
71: L’ommo ‘e merda; L’uomo di merda; The shitty man (the man barely worth being called “a man;” in other words, someone who has squealed to the police.)
So if you dream of any of these things tonight, refer to the book and play the corresponding lottery numbers as soon as possible. Or not.
Sports (meaning ONLY soccer) Superstitions in Italy
Athletes in every sport and from every country enthusiastically embrace superstition, and Italian soccer players are certainly no exception. No saint or supernatural force is too strange or embarrassing to invoke in the name of victory. In Italy, perhaps the country most steeped in Catholicism, players and fans alike seem to believe that God wants them to win.
I’m not a religious person, but if I were, I think I would assume that God has bigger issues on his mind than the outcome of a silly game. Grown men being paid ridiculous sums of money to dress up in their underwear and chase a ball around a field doesn’t strike me as a high priority for any deity. Then again, I wasn’t indoctrinated into the Church of Calcio as a child growing up in the U.S., so it’s hard for me to fully grasp.
Perhaps the most famous of these believers is Giovanni Trapattoni, the former coach of the national team during the 2002 World Cup. His sister was a nun, and before every match she would provide him with an ample supply of Holy Water, which he’d sprinkle on all of his players as they walked out onto the field. He then used the remainder of the sacred liquid to wash his own hands. Ridiculous and laughable? Yes. However, he’s considered the most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, so who are we to judge?
But he’s not the only Italian coach to perform such strange rituals during an international competition. During the 2012 European Championships in Poland, Cesare Prandelli and his coaching staff trekked eleven kilometers from their hotel to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy near Krakow before every match. This is the holy site which was twice visited by Pope John Paul II in 1997 and 2002. In fact, as luck (or God) would have it, the Italians were victorious in both the quarter-final against England, and the semi-final against Germany. However they lost badly to the Spanish team in the final, so maybe “somebody upstairs” was getting a little tired of being called upon for every frivolous favor.
The club team from Napoli had its own problems with religion/bad luck. Someone had committed the sin of removing the photos of various saints (including their beloved San Gennaro) from the tunnel where the players entered the stadium. Many giocatori would kiss the photos for good luck before running onto the field. When the holy photos were removed, naturally, misfortune followed in the form of an extended losing streak. The players quickly demanded that the pictures be replaced. Which they were. Regrettably, the bad luck persisted for an uncomfortably long period of time. Those saints can be a huffy little bunch of rascals when scorned, it seems.
Let’s go back to the number 13 and see if we can pull all of this together. This last episode actually comes from a Brazilian player/coach, but since the World Cup is in Brazil this time, I think it fits nicely with our theme. And besides, he has an Italian-sounding name.
Mario Zagallo is known throughout the soccer world for his stanch faith in the number 13. He was a great admirer of Saint Anthony, and since Saint Anthony’s Day is celebrated on the 13th of June (today!), any connection to the number 13 was sacred to Signore Zagallo. He married on June 13th, lived on the 13th floor of his apartment building, guided Brazil through 13 World Cup victories, and apparently was aided in his post-op recovery from stomach cancer by visiting Saint Anthony’s shrine 13 times. And yes, at 82 years-old, he’s still alive—although his “kicking” days are clearly over.
So now let’s all sit back and get ready for some great World Cup action. The games have already started, but Italy hasn’t taken the field yet for its first match. There’s still time for me to look for my lucky socks, which I’ve been careful NOT to wash since Gli Azzurri won the title in 2006 (not that I’m superstitious or anything). Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri!!
And of course, let me once again introduce you to our merry band of misfit expats. Click on over to their blogs and see what they have to say about Superstitions in Italy. Ciao!
Maria is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos. (Read her article here, “Becoming Bold and Italic.”)
M. Elizabeth Evans of “Surviving Italy” is an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?
Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe (and the world). Check out her blog, Girl in Florence
Gina is 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy. She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola. When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy.
Rochelle is a writer, translator, blogger and journalist from Perth, Western Australia. She has a complex relationship with her adopted island home of Sicily, and still has much love for her native antipodean land, even if it is too far away from everywhere. She blogs about all things ‘expat’ at Unwilling Expat and contributes regularly to the Times of Sicily which brings Sicily to the world.