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“So … he’s a wizard?”

Malocchio_PRPic_Amulet200dpi“So … he’s a wizard?”

As soon as the words leave my mouth, I regret them. Not only because I realize how naïve I sound, but because a part of me is afraid of the answer. Uncle Rocco has always been like a grandfather to me, but perhaps I don’t know him as well as I thought.

As Toto Cutugno sings to me from the car radio, my mother keeps her eyes on the road and answers, “Nooo, Uncle Rocco isn’t a wizard. Don’t be silly, Daniela! He’s just going to help with your migraines.”

I am still suspicious. At 13, I am suspicious of most things my mother tells me.

“Like a doctor?” I wipe away the sweat forming on my upper lip.

“No, not like a doctor. He doesn’t have any medicine. He is just going to pray and try to see the cause of your headaches. It may be the malocchio … the evil eye.”

At the words pray and evil, my head spins; I should never have let Julie convince me to watch “The Exorcist.” I try to keep my voice steady, “So, it’s a religious thing?”

“You’ll see.”

Her answer is not at all reassuring, and my brain chants, “the power of Christ compels you” for the rest of the short ride through Stoneham.

Within a few minutes, we arrive at Uncle Rocco’s house and walk in without ringing or knocking; we are family. As always, he is waiting for us in the kitchen. I greet him with a kiss on the cheek and can’t help but think that he looks like an old Rhett Butler; if Clark Gable had lived to the age of 75, he and Uncle Rocco could be twins. Or at least distant cousins. I look around and notice that everything looks … normal. But then, what was I expecting? Ancient religious scrolls? Black candles? I push these thoughts aside and look at my uncle. Skepticism is oozing off of me and I still don’t know what to expect, so I ask, “Where did you learn how to do this?”

“My mother taught me on Christmas Eve a long time ago. And years before that, she learned in Anzano — also on Christmas Eve.” I nod, accepting his mysterious qualifications, and take a seat.

foto1121vThe kitchen table is bare, save for a white bowl filled with water, and a small glass holding what looks like olive oil. Uncle Rocco holds the bowl of water over my head and starts whispering in dialect. I don’t know where to look, so I shut my eyes. And since I cannot understand a single word he is saying, I let my mind drift.

I think about the rules of my Italian household. What some may refer to as superstitions are ancient guidelines in my family. I never place a box of new shoes on the kitchen table for fear I may inadvertently invite death into our house. I toss salt over my shoulder like it’s my job. Unfortunately, I can never remember if it’s the right or left shoulder, so I usually throw over both for good measure, hoping they don’t cancel each other out. Of course, this is all unmatched by the panic I experience if my umbrella accidentally opens indoors.

As I am pondering the mysterious ties to our Pugliese past, Uncle Rocco places the bowl on the table, and dips his pinky into the oil, letting the golden liquid drip off his finger into the bowl of water. He watches as the oil slowly spreads, making its way throughout the bowl, and frowns.

“What?!? Is it bad?!?” I am sweating again. I lean close and look into the bowl, squinting my eyes and turning my head. I blink a few times, but I don’t see anything. Sensing my confusion, my uncle explains.

“Look at the oil … it isn’t separating from the water quite like it should. The lines of each drop are blurred. You are off balance, and it is causing your headaches. See?”

His explanation makes sense and I look again. And this time I do see. Whether it is love for my Uncle, my faith in God, or my Italian inclination to adhere to superstition, I don’t know. But the oil doesn’t look right anymore.

Uncle Rocco grabs a small butter knife from the counter, mutters in dialect again, and runs the knife through the mixture — effectively cutting my curse. When he’s done, he opens the front door and throws the mixture outside. Before we leave, I hug my Uncle and promise him that I will wear my corno charm to school everyday in order to ward off future attacks of the malocchio.

As we get into the car, I feel unusually relaxed and balanced. I smile at my mother and ask, “so, that was a religious thing … right?”

“Well,” she pauses, “I’d say it was more of an Italian thing.”

About Danielle Festino

Danielle was born and raised in Stoneham, now resides in Medford, and has roots in Puglia. In 2004, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in International Relations and Italian Studies. She is passionate about telling stories and hopes to provide a glimpse into what it means to grow up Italian-American.


  1. Great story Danielle,

    You captured the essence of the experience and had me leaning forward as i read it. And at the same time knowing the people and place you described as if i had been there…the kitchen wallpaper, the smells…everything.

    Great job. thanks for sharing.

    buon natale


  2. Thanks Danielle:

    I remember my Grandmother doing this for family and neighbors. Whenever anyone had a headache they would visit Angelina. She would take them into the pantry and perform her magic. I remember that she would light a few stick matches and throw them into the oil and water after cutting them with the knife. This would kill the evil spirits. She would always confirm the headache and it was wonderful how most people began to feel better while sitting at the kitchen table afterwards and having coffee and biscotti.

    Thank you for bringing back such a wonderful memory

    Joe Moscaritolo
    Braintree, MA

  3. Congratulations on the “Bostonian”. Thoroughly enjoyable reading and remembering my young years dancing
    every Sat. nite on Marshall St!

  4. The women of my family always conduced this ritual. We still call Mom, if one of us has a headache. She performs the ritual, even without us.

  5. Danielle,
    That was wonderful! I really enjoyed reading this. I’ll happily pass it on to folks who will appreciate what you’ve written.

  6. My mother tells of my aunt doing this for her when she was younger. It always made her migraine go away. I wish I knew someone who did the ritual.

  7. I’m 30 and grew up with my father’s side of the family, and above (Grandma who I called “Nina” since I was 1 1/2 ’cause I just couldn’t say Nonna right!) and this just brought back so many memories. As did everyone here, I agree with its powers of removing the terrible migraines that come from people giving you malocchio–even from a distance I’ve learned. I’m in PA, born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, & this was a commonly practice ritual at home since my one Uncle Angelo continues still getting these bad very bad migraines. Many people in his past life and family continue to wish bad upon him. Why does it always have to be family, too?! I remember one night, as a mid-teen, joking with my younger brother, scaring him when my Mom wasn’t home and I slammed his thigh with the horns and made a noise, like, Boom! And I was just kidding around and didn’t hit him hard at all with the horns and my god, he jumped and said it felt like I sent electrical currents through his leg in a split second! Haha, I laughed so hard but since then, I don’t mess with that anymore. I lost my horns and pepper, of course, someone needs to buy them for you and I’m so superstitious that I believe if you ask someone if they could buy them, even if my girl bought it for Christmas months in advance – I don’t think it’d be the same, it wouldn’t work! Great post! Love it and saved it for memories to tell my girl who has no idea. But I’ve been suffering horrible migraines, I also noticed black masses (spherically shaped) in my peripheral and we both here a calm, conversation volume voice calling our names when we’re in separate rooms and floors. Can’t wait to read some more! Ciao! Tommy