The Cornicello and the Evil Eye (Malocchio)

If you walking along the narrow street of the Naples’ historical center, you found many shops that sell this little amulets.. .discover where they came from!

I’m talking about southern Italy’s not-so-well-kept-secret, malocchio, derived from the Italian words for bad (male) and eye (occhio), known colloquially as “The Evil Eye.” Anyone who is of Italian heritage, or who has ever known someone who is, probably knows about it, although the general beliefs behind this tradition run through various cultures and religions.

The Evil Eye is one of the most ancient superstitions in Italy. Every region seems to have their own version of the Evil Eye, but some take it more seriously than others. The cornicello is also used to ward off the malocchio.

The corno or cornicello is an amulet of ancient origin used in South Italy. Corno means “horn” and cornicello means “little horn” — these names refer to a long, gently twisted horn-shaped amulet worn in Italy to protect against the evil eye. Cornicelli are usually carved out of red coral or made of gold or silver. The type of horn they are intended to copy is not a curled-over sheep horn or goat horn but rather like the twisted horn of an African eland or something similar. Over the years they have become rather stylized and now look less like a natural animal horn than they once did.

These little horns (like the horns of all horned animals) are presumed to have once been sacred to the Old European moon goddess, before the rise of Christianity. The horned god Faunus was known for his wild nature and interest in fertility. The ancient Romans knew well Cernunnos, the horned Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. The horns of an African eland most resemble the original amulets.

Related to the Corno is the hand gesture (extending only the pinkie and index finger like a pair of horns) known as the mano cornuta, which can be used (pointing upwards or directly at the victim (cornuto)) to curse another or not so subtly send the message that a man’s wife or girlfriend is straying. This gesture can also be used to ward off the Evil Eye (pointing fingers down).