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  • Superstitions of Sicily

    The Sicilian peasants believe that every material object has its impalpable image, or double, which can be detached and penetrate other bodies, and in this way the people explain the phenomena of dreams. Certain popular meanings are attached to many objects. Thus a butterfly, seen in a dream, means good luck, and so does a black beetle. A black hen foretells a marriage, a carnation means successful love, a balloon indicates a lie, an egg bad news—if anybody ever dreams of an egg. White grapes are the sign of tears; a lost tooth of the death of some one dear to the dreamer; all kinds of sweetmeats indicate bitter woe. And all these objects have each its special number, which must be played in the lottery. Poor women pray to their dead relations before going to bed. Mommino, the writer of the articles from which these facts are drawn, knew a woman who, only a year ago, refused to take flowers to the family tomb on All Souls' Day, because none of her dead relations had ever revealed winning numbers to her in a dream. "They forget me," she said, "so I will forget them." During his examination into the superstitions of Sicily, Mommino met with such a mass of material and evidence that he felt transported back, he says, into the Middle Ages. Charms are used and amulets worn; professed witches or wizards, who have undergone a novitiate before practising, are the persons who perform the charms.

    When anyone believes himself to be bewitched, he begs the assistance of one of these wizards, who thereupon sprinkles his door at twilight with sea water, pronouncing an incantation over it. This is done for three consecutive evenings, after which the bewitched person will see his tormentor in a dream. Not long ago there was a noted witch in Sicily who was called Signora Richard, being supposed to be possessed by a spirit of that name. Being summoned to the house of a sick girl she drove thither, and, on entering the chamber, called out, "Richard, come and see what is the matter with this girl." After a short pause, a sepulchral voice, produced by ventriloquism, answered, "I am here." Signora Richard, pretending to receive instructions from this spirit, then told the relations to go on such a day and hour to a certain mountain and cave, where they would find the charm which was working all the mischief. Naturally the poor ignorant peasants found the charm, either in the shape of an egg-shell containing a lock of hair the colour of that of the patient and mixed with a quantity of nails and pins, or a small orange stuck full of needles. With this they returned home and sent for the witcb, who, removing the pins, suggested to the patient that as she did so her, pains would leave her. Then the Signora was overwhelmed with tokens of gratitude. There still lives at Bagheria, near Palermo (or did when Mommino collected his facts), a witch known as the Countess, who is in great repute among the peasants. Her advice is always implicitly obeyed by her clients, whose sickness, like Simaetha's, is generally of the heart, caused by jealousy or unrequited love.

    The love-charms of Sicily are many and curious. One, very popular and considered very powerful, is to put into an egg-shell a few drops of the blood of the longing lover. The shell is exposed to the sun for three days and to the dew for three nights. It is then placed on hot ashes until calcined, when the whole is reduced to a fine powder, and administered secretly in a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to the object of affection. Another charm is for the witch to undress at midnight and tie her clothes up in a bundle, which she places on her head; then, kneeling in the centre of her room, she pronounces an incantation, at the end of which she shakes her head. If the bundle falls in front of her it is a good sign; should it fall behind her the charm will not avail. Yet another is worked in the following manner. Pieces of green, red, and white ribbon are purchased in three different shops, the name of the person to be charmed being repeated mentally each time. The shopkeeper must be paid with the left hand, the ribbon being received in the right. When all the pieces are bought they are taken to a witch, who sets out to find the person to ba charmed. On finding him, or her, the witch mutters to herself, "With these ribbons I bind you to such a one." Then she returns the ribbon to the purchaser, who ties them beneath his or her left knee, and wears them at church.

    Near Trapani there is a church dedicated to Saint Vito (Vitus), to which repair those affected by nervous diseases. A strange scene once took place there. A young girl, a monomaniac, was taken to the churoh by her parents, who tried to make her kneel and pray, but she opposed a mute and obstinate resistance. A young peasant then, with an iron spoon, forced open her mouth. The poor girl, resisting until the blood started from her lips, fell into strong convulsions. The peasant put his mouth close to hers, and called loudly to the demon, by whom she was supposed to be possessed, to cease tormenting her. Meanwhile another girl, the betrothed of the young peasant, seized him by the waist and tried to drag him away, fearing that the evil spirit, on leaving tha monomaniac, would take possession of her lover. One of the priests attached to the church would have interfered to put an end to the disgraceful scene, but did not dare to do so for fear of ths populace.—From "The Sicilian Peasant " in Macmillan's Magazine.

    Related Resources

    Italian Folktales, Legends, Myths, Lores and Fairytales
    Sicily Region Guide
    Spells, Saints, and Streghe

    Superstitions of Sicily was published in the Otago Witness on May 20, 1897. Special thanks to the National Library of New Zealand's Papers Past database for digitizing this newspaper.


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