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  • Fear the Evil Eye
    Malocchio ushers in problems only if you believe in it - and some Italians still do
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Italians are a complicated people. On the one hand, many of them, especially the older ones, are ardent believers in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, a large chunk of the population, especially in the south, believes in the malocchio or evil eye. As I understand it, the malocchio happens when someone wishes bad on you and gives you an evil look that has the power of an evil spell. I thought these beliefs were dead in modern Italy, but some people are hanging onto them.

    Even my mother, who has a college degree, bought into this idea and would have us wear red underwear whenever we would be surrounded by lots of relatives and friends - at weddings, family gatherings, picnics, etc. The red was supposed to ward off the evil doers. If bad things started happening to you - a bad grade in school, an injury, a sickness - you probably already had the malocchio cast upon you. Then, one of your aunts or a nonna would put drops of oil in water, chant something, and look at the design of the oil and water mixture and tell you if you had the malocchio. You always have the malocchio - or at least I always have it. The relative who did this had special powers and would take away the malocchio and warn you to watch out for yourself.

    One Italian friend of mine never tells people the real date of her exams for fear they'll give her the malocchio. Most believers in the malocchio refrain from sharing good news for fear that others will be jealous and train the malocchio on them, which will undo their happiness. But I feel like living in fear of something for which we have no proof might undo the joy all by itself. Life is short and the good times should be celebrated for as long as possible. No one can do you harm just by wishing bad things to happen to you - at least I hope not. I believe in God, and He's the only one who can control good and bad in the world.

    I know some people who don't want to receive or give compliments because they think it's a way to cast malocchio onto a person. If someone tells you that you have pretty eyes, you might fall and break your leg the next day. It will be the fault of the malocchio. As a believer in God, I tend to think that people are good at heart. I'd rather not believe that someone who is praising me is so underhanded as to be using those applause as a way to curse me. I'd rather just say thank you and feel the boost of self confidence.

    Alas, however, I was always told about this malocchio and for a while I too wondered if it was possibly true. I had hurt my leg and was in bed for months, almost lost my job as a result, and was out-and-out depressed. My aunt tested the malocchio and said I had it and I had it bad. I wore my gold horn from Italy and piled on the red clothes to save myself. But it seemed too late. Had the curse already destroyed me? Not exactly.

    Around the same time as I got injured, I met my boyfriend Antonio. He is the love of my life. He brings me joy. If I truly had this crazy malocchio, then our love story would have never happened. Our relationship cured me of my belief in malocchio. I still wear my horn sometimes - along with a medallion that has New York skyscrapers inside an apple - but now it's only to remind me of my two distinct cultures, my two distinct homes.

    Malocchio is something man created because he needed a scapegoat for hardship. That's okay. I needed to believe the malocchio is what caused my injury and difficulty. Malocchio I could undo. That meant I could have hope. In the end, malocchio is not what caused those challenges. It was circumstance. It was my destiny. It was what God wanted.

    No evil eye or evil person can take away joy and happiness and spirit - unless you allow them to do so. Modern Italians know this - at least some of them do. Shout your good news from the rooftops. Compliment your neighbor. Wear red because it's a pretty color and you like it. The malocchio can't take you down - or may I be struck by lightening tonight!

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