Italian folk charms

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Ive been asked to write a little on Italian folk magic, so here we go:

I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I thought I start with charms, below are a list of magical charms and  symbols utilised in Italy and the diaspora.
The first thing Id like to cover, just because it is so mysterious and intriguing are the trulli hex signs of puglia.

Hex Signs of Puglia:

In the region of Puglia, there are traditional houses called “trulli”, these houses are conical stone huts and are very common in the region, they are not really found anywhere outside of Puglia, I think I’m right in saying these houses are the result of Arabic influence on southern Italian culture. Most of these houses are centred around the town of Alberobello, which has become a sort of tourist spot due to its unusual architecture.
Granted I’ve only ever been to Puglia once and spent most of my time there at a waterpark eating gelato, but on the way there I still got chance to see plenty of trulli and nearly all them had these strange hex signs painted on their roofs in whitewash.
I was immediately intrigued by these strange magical signs, but whats even weirder and i intriguing is nobody is really sure of their origin, not even the families who paint them on the roofs every year, they simply shrug and say “its what we have always done”. Their primary function is to ward off evil spirits, deflect witchcraft and attract luck.

Trulli decorated with hex signs 

Many of the signs on the roofs are catholic in nature and therefore self explanatory as magical symbols (catholic imagery extends beyond the realm of religion in Italy and crosses over into the realm of superstition and magic, often being used as general symbols for luck, blessing and reversing evil) for example, the pierced heart of Our Lady, the sacred heart of Jesus, the Host, the Cross etc…
However these catholic images are the exception rather than the rule. Planetary symbols from astrology are much more common and even more common are primitive symbols of suns, stickmen, crudely drawn animals and geometric shapes. And even more seen than these are strange primitive abstract symbols to who’s exact origins are any ones guess (including the folk who paint them).

Common trulli hex signs. From left to right; primitive, catholic and astrological
Paint one above your door to keep the malocchio off or just as an interesting conversation piece to friends.

Cimaruta:
This charm is a very old Italian charm and falls under the category of “portafortuna” which translates as a lucky charm but can be used as a catch all term for practically any amulet or talisman. Italians are obsessed with charms that are carried or worn as jewellery. This particular charm is much more popular in the diaspora than in Italy itself, probably due to its heavy associations with witchcraft which carries satanic connotations for many Italians (please don’t send me any messages telling me paganism isn’t satanic, I already know this, but satanic witchcraft is far more common in Italian culture than pagan witchcraft, this isn’t up for debate but a comment made on my own personal experience.)
I personally don’t think the charm is satanic and I would happily wear one, I think the charm is wonderful and very magical.

Cimaruta

It can be worn by women or men, but is generally deemed to be more of a feminine thing.
The charm consists of a piece of silver that has been shaped into a triform bunch of rue, from the tips of the rue branches sprout strange arcane symbols. Symbols vary between individual charms however the following symbols are usually always present: A waxing crescent moon, a key, a vervaine flower, a sacred heart and a fish.
The symbolism contained within the cimaruta are a blend of symbols taken from pagan, catholic and peasant folk magic, which reflects the traditional folk spirituality of Italy perfectly.
The sacred heart, the fish and the triform nature of the branch are all catholic symbols, representing Jesus, Christian faith and the Trinity.
The key and the crescent moon are likely pagan symbols of the pagan Gods Hekate and Diana, both two Goddesses associated with witchcraft and magic, these Gods where very popular symbols of magic in renaissance art and literature in Italy which is probably the period of time where the charm originates.
Rue itself is a powerful protector against evil magic in Italian herbal lore as are vervaine flowers, which also bring luck. Silver is also used in many Italian folk charms to bring money (stare at the moon whilst turning a silver coin in your pocket is one charm that springs to mind.)
Like I said previously, the charm is very popular in the diaspora and in recent years has been adopted by witches and magical practitioners within the Italian diaspora as a sort of unofficial badge of identity.

Cornetto:
This charm shaped as a bulls horn is massively popular in Southern Italy especially around Napoli and in the region of Calabria. It is so typical of the Mezzogiorno region that in the diaspora it is often worn by people of Calabrese and Neopolitan descent as a badge of cultural identity. If you are lucky enough to ever visit Calabria or Naples you will see this charm everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Worn as jewellery, hung on rear view mirrors, dangling in shop windows, carried as key rings, printed on t-shirts. The charm is generally considered something men would ware as among its many blessings it grants virility through its obviously phallic shape, the symbolism of bull like virility is also obvious. However it carries many other blessings too, among them luck, wealth, success and therefore is also sometimes used by women too.

Cornetto

The charm should be red in colour, this symbolises the defeat of your enemies (imagine a bulls horn covered in blood after it has gored a rival.). The horn should also should be empty so it can fill itself with blessings ready to be poured out into your life. The top is usually crowned with a gold crown to represent success, mastery and wealth. The blessings of this charm are manifold; luck, protection, virility, strength, success, abundance, wealth to name a few…small wonder it is so popular!

The origins of the cornetto are a bit of a mystery, its very old and probably Roman in origin, taken from the myth of the cornucopia or magical horn of plenty that was carried by the Roman Goddess Abundantia (which is where the word “abundance” comes from), though the traditional cornucopia is generally seen as a goats rather than bulls horn.
Abundantias cornucopia produced never ending supplies of delicious food and gold coins which she poured out generously on those who pleased her.
There is some evidence that the cornetto may be even older, perhaps even Etruscan as Etruscan houses would often hang a bulls horn above the front door for prosperity. Others have suggested a neolithic origin to the magic horn.

Ideally the cornetto should be given to you as gift for maximum luck bringing effectiveness, but if you want to buy one as a gift for yourself, that’s fine too.

Mano corno. Careful who you flash it too.

As with all magical charms be a little careful, some conservative folk believe the charm to be satanic, a charm that is said to invoke the devil for financial aid.

Mano Corno:
An alternative to the cornetto, this lucky charm is credited with the power of warding off the dreaded “malocchio” or evil eye, it is also a general charm of luck. it is basically a hand giving a 2 fingered horned salute.

This charm is a little controversial as it is considered offensive, I would personally not recommend wearing it on show when in the company of Italians. The gesture the hand is making is that of the “cornuto” or cuckold man. The idea is that if a mans wife cheats on him, he will grow horns as a mark of shame, making this sign to someone is a sign you think they are a weak, pathetic and foolish. The gesture is immensely insulting and is the equivalent of sticking your middle finger up at someone.
The origin of the charm is strange and I have little idea where it comes from, it is possible that due to the belief that the evil eye being cast is usually through jealousy (especially sexual jealousy), then slamming someone down and taking the wind out of their sails by accusing them of sexual jealousy because their wife is too busy cavorting with other men may be one possible explanation. Another explanation is that the sign is intentionally insulting, meaning it is worn as an insult to the devil and his minions, sort of like throwing salt in the devils eye to bring luck.
Other explanations include it is simply a variation on the cornetto charm, other explanations point to occult gestures used in satanic Italian witchcraft. Truth is I don’t know.

if your anyone asks just say its lucky and leave it at that

Mano Figa:
Again another controversial charm that shouldn’t be on show in polite company! The Mano Figa literally translates as “c*nt hand” (the word “figa” is a very vulgar term for vagina). It is a gesture made with a fist to resemble a vulva. The slit produced by the middle and index fingers represent the vagina, whilst the protruding thumb a clitoris. The charm is one of protection and prosperity. As a charm of protection, it is likely that the vulgarity of the charm is supposed to be an insult to demons and the devil. The luck bringing side of the charm is probably an allusion to fertility, the vagina, being the exit of the womb, is a source of life and therefore abundance. But again I don’t really know.

Coccinella:
Slightly twee but worth a mention is the coccinella, the ladybird charm, a simple harbinger of luck especially in love. Its common so its worth a mention. Probably considered lucky because of its colour (red is very auspicious in Italian culture as it symbolises victory over enemies and averts the evil eye) and because of its beauty.

Coccinella charm

Kitchen Gods:

If you have ever spent time in Italian households you will have seen a mask of the roman god Bacchus on the wall in the kitchen. They are usually clay or pottery of some kind depicted with smiling mouth open and wearing a crown of grapes and vine leaves. You may also see the Goddess Abundtia holding a cornucopia, or a cornucopia by itself or renaissace images of the Goddess Ceres baring her breasts. These are generally kept for their beauty, however they are also symbols of abundance, kept in the kitchen to ensure food is never in short supply. It is important to remember that families who keep these pagan images arent pagans themselves, they simply see these old Gods of Roma as symbols of prosperity and abundance, lucky to have around.

Gobbo:

A strange fetish that comes in the form of a hunchback man depicted as a tramp clutching a horseshoe in one hand and making a horned salute with the other. He is also sometime depicted wearing a battered top hat with a ladybird sat on top of it and a 4 leaf clover through his buttonhole. Other times he is portrayed wearing a white clown outfit and a black venetian mask. He is also sometimes portrayed surmounting a cornetto, this variation of the charm is called a corno gobbo.

Gobbo charms

This is a powerful luck charm especially when it comes to money and gambling, when you need extra luck you should rub the hump on his back.

Well that’s all i can think of for now! Of course there are many, many more charms and the like but I hope this covered some interesting basics and cleared up a few of the misconceptions floating around.

Ciao for now.

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