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La Scaramanzia Posted by on Feb 20, 2012 in Culture

Scaramanzia, nella superstizione popolare, significa: parola, formula, gesto, o azione di scongiuro contro il malocchio o la sfortuna (Scaramanzia, in popular superstition, means: word, formula, gesture, or action to ward against the evil eye or misfortune). Hence: dire qualcosa per scaramanzia; toccare ferro per scaramanzia (to say something for good luck; to touch iron – touch wood in English – for good luck). See also this blog from last October: Fare Le Corna

La superstizione and scaramanzia are very powerful and widespread elements within Italian culture, particularly in Napoli. A few days ago I received the following interesting comment from one of my readers:

Ciao, Serena, I really enjoy this blog, esp. when you discuss Neapolitan superstitions. One thing I’m curious about — practiced by my father (from Capua) but unheard of by my mother (from Caserta) — is the making of an effigy, or “Marcofio” as Dad called it, to ward off evil during the month of March. We all know, of course, “Marzo è pazzo.” Dutifully at the end of February each year, all of us (except Mom) would draw up a caricature of ourselves and hang these pictures by the door. If any sickness was in the air and came looking for a victim, it would be fooled and attach itself to our Marcofio instead of to us. On the last day of March we would rip up our Marcofio and toss it (and any evils it harboured) into the trash. I did this for fun with my own young children (to their delight and to my wife’s bemusement), and to this day I still get a laugh when I remind my brother and sister to make their Marcofio. Have you heard of this superstition? All best wishes,
Vito P. (Seattle, USA)

I decided to do a bit of internet research on the subject of Marcofio, but sfortunatamente (unfortunately) I came up empty handed. So I turned to my Neapolitan friend Cecilia for a bit of help. Cecilia had never heard of Marcofio, but in compensation she was able to provide me with a few great examples of common superstitious rituals practiced in Napoli (and perhaps also elsewhere in Italy?). 

As I explained in my recent blog, Venerdì 17 (Friday the 17th) is an unlucky day here in Italy. This is particularly true in Napoli where people tend to take these things very seriously. Cecilia, who now lives here in Pontremoli, told me how she remembers that on Friday the 17th a man would go from house to house carrying, suspended from a wire handle, an empty tomato tin with holes punched in it containing burning incense. People would pay this man to come into their house and prevent il malocchio from entering. During the rest of the year, i.e. the non Friday the 17th days, the man would be paid to visit houses where il malocchio was present and to exorcise it.

Another memory that Cecilia has from her youth in Napoli is that i gobbi portano fortuna (male hunchbacks bring good luck). It was common for i gobbi to make a living by hiring their scaramantic ‘services’ to people who were in need of good luck. Therefore they were commonly found outside law courts and banks, where they would be paid by people to accompany them to their meeting with the bank manager, or court their hearing and hopefully bring buona fortuna to their affari (affairs). Amongst the services provided by i gobbi was the bringing of good fortune to an engaged couple. Getting engaged in Napoli was a serious business which entailed the parents of the prospective fidanzato (fiancé) visiting the home of the prospective fidanzata (fiancée), to make the proposal of marriage. The fiancé’s parents would take with them the engagement ring, gifts and, for good luck, un gobbo! (a hunchback).

If any of you have any information about the mysterious Marcofio, or interesting stories about superstizione and scaramazia, please share them with us in the comments section.

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Comments:

  1. Allan Mahnke:

    Many thanks! Very interesting. This is often referred to as an apotropaic –Greek for “turning away.”

    Allan


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