italian belief - part 1: Mal occhio (the evil eye)

there are headaches - and then there are HEADACHES...the ones that just don't seem to go away regardless of what you do or what otc med you take. whenever we have one of those that don't go away - we ask mom mom to do "the mal occhio".

for as long as i can remember - i have believed in the mal occhio. i knew it was a really strong headache that you would get because someone was envious of you or admired you or just thought you looked so darn pretty that day. my mother would do her thing and poof it was gone. it wasn't strange at all - it was what it was. in fact - if you happened to think someone looked really pretty you would often say "i don't want to give you the mal occhio - but you look soo beautiful today!".

as i grew up and friends came over - i would get a kick out of them witnessing this ritual. it wasn't scary - maybe because we were so non chalant about it - but it was weird. i remember how surprised i was when one of my boyfriends not only believed it (he wasn't 1st generation american like i was) but practiced it in his family - and in english! i wanted to learn how to remove the mal occhio but he told me you could only learn on christmas eve at midnight......you know i have no idea whether that is true or not and come to think of it - i actually never even asked my mother if that was right! i guess b/c she is still around to do it i didn't feel the urgency to learn. we haven't done it a lot recently because there has been no need (maybe we get uglier as we age LOL) and if i do have it i just tell my mom - matter of factly - to remove it and its gone.

anyway - the other day my son was complaining about his headache - one that didn't seem to go away. because he has been sick i just assumed it was that or possibly dehydration...but then it occured to me maybe it was the mal occhio. we happened to be at mom mom's so i figured it would be great for the kids (my niece and nephew were there too) to finally witness this huge part of our italian culture.

first pull out the biggest knife in the house. i wish i had my camera to capture the look of shock on his face when mom mom first went towards him with it! she says her little mantra - makes the sign of the cross 3x and repeats that - i think 7 x. if she yawns while she says her mantra - that is a sure sign of the mal occhio. i used to love to wait for the yawn!

next she pulls out a plate of water and repeats the process over it.

now she grabs some olive oil and drops 3 drops over the water. the first one just explodes and vanishes. the other 2 stay put and form the "eyes" that have supposedly given you the headache.

finally she takes the water - rubs some across your lips then yanks your bangs. i'm not sure if that is a necessary part of the ritual but it was funny to hear the person yelp from the yanking! as a child i'd squeeze my lips shut so i couldn't taste the olive oil and brace myself for the bang pull - such a fun memory!
this morning i decided to do a little research on this custom so see what it was about. it was interesting to see the slight difference between what my mother does and what the universal belief is. i assume each region of italy had its variations. the part about the amulet stood out the most for me because i remember once - at around 9 years old - i was helping my mom make the bed and we had to flip the mattress. when we flipped mine there was little red pouch pinned underneath mine. when i asked her about it she said that when i was a little baby i cried constantly...so much so that my mother asked her mother what to do. my grandmother had her send my onesie to italy where my grandmother brought it too the local "witch" who made this amulet for me. my mom swears that once she pinned it to my bed i stopped crying............
so - do i believe in the mal occhio?
as an educated adult i can see the science/psychology behind why it would work. if you believe your headache will go away - it will. the first drop of olive oil that hits the water spreads and forms a skin over the water that prevents the other drops from spreading too - causing them to stay put and form eyes.............
yet - when i have a headache that just won't go away - or just feels different - i go right to my mom to remove it. so do my non-italian family members.
but mainly i don't want to give this up. like i mentioned in this post i love being part of a family the is still so deeply immersed in its traditions and beliefs. as each generation passes the richness of the culture will become watered down versions of what they once were. i feel a strong responsibility to keep some of these traditions alive for my boys and their future families....and it is easy for me to keep the traditions alive because i am still deeply surrounded by it myself! but what happens once i am gone?
who knows that will happen then - but i know that until that time comes i am going to make sure i do whatever i can to make sure the boys are fully immersed in those beliefs and traditions. as for me? like the secret language i cherish - i am going to remain fully present and appreciative of the gift i've been given - the gift of a rich culture and a family still deeply rooted in its beauty.

No comments:

Post a Comment