By C. C. Cieri, FPA Storyteller.
Who doesn’t love traditions? Those fragments of a simpler time, those practices passed from family to family, those things we pretend we don’t believe in but practice in the security of our homes so divine spirits won’t ruin our lives. If you’re interested in a particularly far-reaching tradition, then let me introduce you to the malocchio; more commonly known in South Philly as the maloik.
A maloik is formed by making devil horns with your finger, folding your thumb over your middle and ring fingers, and flicking those fingers in the direction of your intended target. Folklore says if you shoot this at a person, they will be condemned to bad luck, misfortune, and possible severe injury. The maloik’s at its worst when the person shooting it is particularly greedy or jealous.
I grew up with the maloik all around me. Everyone was talking about the evil eye, mom wore jewelry with eye shaped beads, and all the Italian delis I went to had anti-maloik charms for sale: both the devil horns and weird pepper-looking things. One night over dinner I found out that my grandma Gigi taught my dad how to ward off the maloiks. I knew I had to learn it then. I mean, what if I happened to be in Italy one day and some sleazy guy was making devil horns? It was like learning CPR!
Bad news was, it could only be taught by Italian family members, you couldn’t write it down, and it could only be taught midnight of Christmas Eve. If you wanted to start at 12:01 you were SOL. Despite my best efforts, I’d either completely forget about the maloiks or fall asleep each December 25th at 12 A.M. The few times I did stay up until then, I had to wait until the rest of the guests cleared out before I learned how to spot and cure the evil eye, because mom and dad didn’t want them to think we were Old World bumpkins, or because it was rude to duck out while company was over, or even because the guests weren’t Italian. Christmas senior year of high school, my father finally decided I needed to know how to cure the maloiks, reputation or hospitality be damned. We went upstairs, and he taught me the sacred words that will cure any evil-eye victim…which I’m not going to repeat here. I mean, you can’t all be both Italian and related to me.
But at least teach you how to detect a maloik, since I worked this up so much. It’s only the words you can’t teach, anyway. What you do is take a bowl full of water and place it in the corner of a room. Drop some olive oil into it, then make the sign of the cross in the oil-water three times. If the globules of oil come back together and make an eyeball, the house is cursed. At that point, you should call a professional. An Italian professional.
Caitlin Cieri is 23 years old and has been in the StorySlam circuit for a full year. She loves writing,theatre, travel, people watching and weight-lifting.