sunday scribblings: superstitions

Prompt #49: Superstitions

Superstitions–a topic close to my heart having grown up with an Italian-American grandmother and now living in southern Italy, where Roman Catholicism and mysticism live in surprising perfect harmony.

That phenomenon is worth a whole post, and indeed books have been written on the subject. Perhaps someday I’ll wax theoretical, but for today, let’s stick in the here and now, the daily implications of superstition in my life.

I’ve already written about my experiences with malocchio, The Evil Eye, perhaps the greatest superstition of all, especially since it crosses many cultures and religions. Some of my other favorite superstitions are things you should avoid doing lest you invite bad luck: placing a loaf of bread upside down, spilling wine, olive oil, or salt, dropping scissors.

Another of my favorites is that a pregnant woman’s cravings should always be satisfied or else the baby will be born with a birthmark in the form of the desired food or the child will be generally disfigured. You scoff?

I inherited a birthmark that my father has because my pregnant grandmother expressed her craving for chicken while scratching her legs. Yes, we both have chicken-shaped birthmarks on our calves (although I prefer to think it looks more like a heart). Someday I may show you, but sorry, today’s not the day.

All of my pregnant readers are more than welcome to quote me on this topic, by the way.

But my freakiest experience with southern Italian superstition happened about a year ago when P’s mom rushed into the house with tears in her eyes, begging me to go and retrieve some of her jewelry she had given me a few months before.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I had a dream.” I’m pretty sure she thought that would be enough information, but, you know, I’m American, so I ask questions.

“About the jewelry?” I was still not making a move for the steps to get the jewelry, so she gently guided me with her hands.

“No, about you and my son, and….” She sat down, started rocking back and forth, made repeated, furious signs of the cross, and began mumbling what I assume were prayers.

“What happened in the dream?” I stepped down two steps and stopped.

“I didn’t sleep all night,” she said, and continued saying prayers and crying. I didn’t see the conversation going any further, so I didn’t push it. I assumed that P and I had been dead in the dream–because if we had just broken up in the dream, that wouldn’t have been so upsetting? Right? Hard to tell. I went to get the jewelry.

“This is everything?” she asked as I handed her a few little boxes that contained earrings and a necklace I rather liked–it had a tiny ladybug charm, which, ironically, I always thought meant good luck.

“Yes, that’s everything. Do you want something to…”

“OK, I have to go,” she said abruptly and left, still saying prayers and still crying, but most importantly clutching the jewelry.

So I was left in the wake of this early morning encounter to consider not only my own and P’s mortality, but also what the jewelry had to do with any of it. Through various research including thinking back to my own grandmother but *not* including asking P’s mom, because this is a subject not to be discussed, I think maybe I’ve figured it out.

Among southern Italians, it’s a common practice that when one prays to a particular saint or the Virgin Mary for a request, one often promises something in return–many times it is a piece of jewelry to be pinned to the clothes of a statue.

I’m wondering if perhaps P’s mom had promised my pieces of jewelry somewhere along the way for some request, and then saw something bad happening in her dream because she gave them to me instead. Or perhaps she had simply promised away that jewelry in lieu of P and I staying alive and/or together. Or maybe she had seen something in the dream about the jewelry somehow causing trouble.

Like I said, I haven’t asked, because, truth be told, I don’t actually want to know the whole story. I’m definitely superstitious, and I believe in messages coming through dreams, so this was one time I was more than happy to live in blissful ignorance.

In fact, I didn’t even tell my own mom about this until I figured P and I were in the clear. Like birthmarks, superstitions seem to run in the family.

18 Beans of Wisdom to “sunday scribblings: superstitions”
  1. Judith in Umbria

    You are really funny except when you are tragic. This one is tragic. And funny. Tragicomic?

  2. bella

    My parents are both from Europe and I’m married to a European – and his parents live with me. Superstition is nothing new, it’s always been there. Not very shocking either.
    This story intrigues me because I wonder what it was that had P’s mom so upset? I guess we’ll never know.
    ps.. email me. You want a magazine, and there’s someting I want. We can do a swap!

  3. nova

    WOW! I wonder if one day you will learn what happened in that dream.

    Regarding birthmarks… I never knew that superstition. I have the birthmark on my leg that runs on my Italian side of the family. We are estranged now, but I remember when I was a kid the adults would say I had the “Last Name Here” birthmark. I always thought it was shaped like a UFO, but perhaps it is something edible and I had no idea?

  4. Laini Taylor

    How strange! Did P have any insight — I’d be so curious to know what was going on. I heard of a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria (friend of a friend) who fell in love with a Bulgarian and was told by the town fortune teller that she needed to do certain things to remove a curse the man’s mother had placed on her. She never knew if the mother really did pay for a curse, or if the fortune teller made it up to get money from a supposed counter-curse. You can’t exactly ask your boyfriend’s mother if she put a curse on you! (not that yours did!)

  5. redmaryjanes

    Hi there! Italy?? Very cool.. You have a great looking blog. Thanks for dropping a comment at my place. I’m having a lot of fun on this blog party!

  6. Becslifeonline

    Very interesting! I don’t really believe in superstitions as such, but I do think that sometimes we are shown things in dreams, perhaps for our own safety or whatever. I’ve just grown up to believe it’s God speaking to us through dreams.

  7. sognatrice

    Judith, thanks. I think?

    Bella, an email should be waiting for you!

    Nova, your birthmark surely must look like some food…corn on the cob? Or, you know, you’re descended from someone who wanted to meet an alien. Tough call.

    Laini, P’s response when I told him was “Why would she tell you that?!” so no, he had no clue on the whole thing.

    Maybe I’ll work up my nerve and ask the MIL again (after I pump her with vino). I’ll be sure to let you all know if I find out anything ๐Ÿ™‚

    Ah, and Redmaryjanes, thanks fo stopping by; this party is so much fun!

    Thanks to all for your comments!

  8. Karen

    I’m totally not superstitious but I love hearing about other people’s superstitions… in any case, Emily does have a birth mark on her wee bum but I’ve never thought to see if it resembles food – I guess that is something to do during the bath tonight!

  9. Giulia

    I remember gaining like 45 pounds during my first pregnancy because of the whole “don’t touch yourself unless you eat it” superstition! I walked around eating everything in sight fearing that my child would be born all disfigured or with the worst of birthmarks in the worst of places. I wasn’t so weirded out by it the second time around and was much more cautious about what I ate. I only gained 16 pounds. I had craved artichokes and mozzarella di bufala my entire pregnancy. Neither of those two foods ever crossed my lips and thankfully, my daughter has nothing resembling artichokes or mozzarella on her body!
    But yeah, superstitions are a big deal here. I too wonder what had P’s Mother so upset? Maybe one day you’ll actually find out.

  10. The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick

    I am also very superstitious, so I totally understand. And, I have a large birthmark on the front of my upper thigh. It’s always be called either a strawberry or a wine splotch. Being the wine lover I am, I prefer to call it the wine splotch. Hmm, my mom eats strawberries, but doesn’t prefer wine (she’s the non Italian, remember). Could be something to the superstition. The only other person in my family that has a birthmark (that I’m aware of) is my Italian grandma. She has about the same shaped birthmark, but hers is on her cheek (FACE, not other end). ๐Ÿ˜‰


  11. Heidi

    Funny, my Aunt who’s part Mexican says the same thing about pregnancy cravings because that’s what her Mom always told her…so I always try to fulfill mine ๐Ÿ™‚ !!!!

    I love reading your blog…I think I’m now addicted!

  12. sarala

    I definitely think that is a question you don’t want answered. About the jewelry, I mean.
    My mother in law couldn’t say anything too good about her grandkids (my kids) without warding off the evil eye, a last vestige of growing up in eastern Europe.

  13. Frances

    Ohmigosh isn’t it wondeful to be Italian-American? Everyday is a an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond.
    Thanks for visiting.

  14. gautami tripathy

    I enjoyed reading this post. One gets to learn so much about other places.

  15. Mommy2Angels

    It is the italian grandmother! My family decended from Genoa.

  16. 04.23.2008

    I am not superstitious but based on the wacky comments I get on my blog I think a lot of people are and also believe in fortune telling. Frankly I don’t get it, and just look at it as having some fun. It’s when people take it too serious that there is a problem.

    Fortune Teller’s last blog post..Asian Fortune Telling

    Yes anything taken to an extreme isn’t a good thing. Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. [...] history of southern Italy goes back as far as civilization itself, and so do many of her superstitions (...
  2. [...] be born with a birthmark in the image of the food that was craved. As shown in this little blog, http://...
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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