Malocchio (The Evil Eye)

Well, I’m temporarily back!

I am very busy preparing a photo exhibit and uninterrupted time is essential (details will follow at some point); but, I’ve had this “thing” floating in my head, so I must share.

A while back, Francesco Pitaro published a book about the history, folklore, tradition and culture of Gagliato. It’s written in Italian; and, because of that, I have to be honest – I’ve only skimmed the book and I have not yet completed the full reading. Unfortunately, I packed away the book over a year ago (when I moved my studio) and I have yet to unpack it. However, I recall one section – where he writes about the malocchio, or, for those of you who do not read/understand Italian – the evil eye. When I find the book, I will actually translate the section and post it here.

In the meantime, I think this particular aspect of Gagliato culture and tradition is extremely interesting. So, I’d like to share what’s in my head about the subject.

Except for two women whom I know still practice the ritual of exorcising the malocchio (and who shall remain nameless), I remember of several individuals (may they rest in peace) who very effectively helped me in my hour of need. Yes, I admit it, I have been afflicted with the evil eye!

My paternal grandmother was one. She was a very tiny woman – born in 1903 and fully illiterate until the day she died. When she joined the family here in Canada, I was about 10 years old. She was very protective of me and would accompany me everywhere, including helping me with my paper route and walking me to school; and she was very content to accompany me to church so that I could serve Mass – every day at 7:00am sharp at St. John Bosco church (Dufferin St. & Rogers Rd. in Toronto). I remember that she always sat at the first pew on the east side of the church. In those days, Mass was celebrated predominantly in Latin. Well, my grandmother would stand through the entire process and would recite every word of the Mass, be it in Italian or Latin, concurrently with Father Pileggi! It irritated him to no end, but he was always amazed at how she could do that, given her lack of literacy. Well, given her deep religious beliefs, the other thing she did well was to exorcise/remove the malocchio. I recall that she was proficient in the two main methods still used today – straight prayer and prayer combined with the use of oil and water.

The straight prayer method involves citing a combination of prayers and phrases in quiet solitude with a mental focus on the afflicted individual. If the individual is present, the sign of the cross would be thumbed onto the person’s forehead and on each shoulder (representing the Holy Trinity). If the person is truly afflicted by the malocchio, the exorcist would yawn and shed tears while transference would take place. At a certain point, the person afflicted is asked to freely make the sign of the cross three times with his/her left hand and each time utter the words (translation) “evil eye be removed!”

The other method involves the same set of prayers but at several specific points in the process, the exorcist would dab a finger in oil and allow the oil to drip from the finger onto a dish or bowl full of water. Well, scientifically, what should happen to that drop of oil if released onto water? Try it and see – generally, that drop should expand slightly but remain distinctly and circularly contained and float around, amoeba-like. However, in the exorcism ritual, two possibilities exist – either the drops would remain distinct and float (representing NO evil eye present) OR it would visually dissipate and rush to the perimeter of the dish (signifying that the person is afflicted). If afflicted, and to complete the process of the removal of the “spell”, the oil and water would be discarded. I recall that Francesco Pitaro wrote that in days of old, the oil and water would be discarded onto a public space (such as a road) so that the spell would be transferred in reduced strength to the first person to walk onto or through the discarded water and oil! Not very nice, but effective, I guess.

Depending on the severity of the affliction, the process would have to be repeated and or other exorcists solicited to reinforce and accelerate the healing (by repeating the steps).

Some say that the evil eye spelled by a woman is stronger and worse than that of a man. But, I have been assured by exorcists that the gender of the person imposing the spell cannot be determined by the process. Also, the evil eye does not have to be necessarily malicious – it could be rooted in simple envy.

I also have been told that the “license” (for lack of a better word) to perform the exorcism ritual may be passed on to new recruits; but, such can only occur on Holy days, and specifically on Holy Thursday (the day commemorating the Last Supper).

So, the above is what I know or have been told. I am certain that there may be variations on the theme, but the existence of the ritual is definitely real. And, it’s not just a Gagliato-thing. I have had occasion to discuss such with individuals from other towns throughout the “boot” and they have confirmed its practice.

And, by the way, the telling signs of an affliction – generally headache, nausea, and lethargy.

Any thoughts or contributions?