Superstition – along with pizza, garbage and the outgoing character – is one of the most known features of the Neapolitan people.
Usually, in dictionaries ‘superstition’ is defined as an irrational belief that there is an obscure power influencing future events. However, there are words, in the same semantic field of superstition, which have a more complex meaning.
In Naples, and generally in all southern Italy, the so called malocchio is expecially important in local people’s lives. Malocchio – “evil-eye” or “jinx” in English – is defined as a negative influence a person can have on another person just by giving him or her an ugly look: that is why the Italian word iettatura comes from the verb jettare, which means ‘to throw’ in the Neapolitan dialect.
Every country in the world has its own superstitions as well as its own devices to avoid negative influences. In Naples – the capital city of Italian superstition – there are a few specifical traits that cannot be found in other places. These features have significantly contributed to shape the city’s identity from the very beginning of its history. The first typical figure of the complex set of superstition elements in the Neapolitan tradition is the socalled iettatore, a tall, thin, bulging-eyed, gruesome looking man who is able to bring bad luck to people next to him with his mere presence. How do people protect themselves from the influence of such people? Neapolitan people use mainly two amulets: a little horn and a hunchback.
As fort he first object, to people in Naples the little horn is surely the dearest and most used amulet. Its origin can be traced back to the Neolithic, when people began to put horns on the roofs of their huts because they believed they could have a positive influence and bring fertility. However, in order to play its protective role, the little horn must have an essential set of characteristics: it must be red, hand-made, given as a present, hard, empty, curved and sharp-pointed.
The hunchback – o’ scartellat in Neapolitan dialect – is also used a lot as an amulet, but not as much as the little horn. The hunchback could be intended as an object to carry in a pocket or as a real person. It is not unusual for real superstitious people to think up complex strategies just to touch those people’s back, even if he or she is a complete stranger.
It is in the writer’s opinion that ignorance is the one and only source of superstion. However, I must also admit that I do have a little horn. Not that I am a superstitious person, but as a Neapolitan comedy’s title reads: “It is not true, but I believe it”.
For a broader overview on superstion in Naples, you may also have a look at this page in the city’s official website: http://www.comune.napoli.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/EN/IDPagina/5655