Thirteen Superstitions from the Mediterranean
Discover how the Mediterranean countries are bound by common superstitious beliefs.
by Dani Basina
Is something going wrong lately? Have you thought about the possibility of an evil eye? Have you argued with a friend? Perhaps you handed them a sharp object recently. Or maybe it's just because you didn't knock on wood three times while talking about something bad, who knows! If there is one thing we do know, it is that Mediterranean people are very superstitious. The people of this region are passionate, very attached to their traditions and customs, and of course, they have adopted certain beliefs from the past in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. We see that the measures taken by 'Nonna' or a great aunt are passed down from generation to generation and form a large part of the culture of these countries.
Every Mediterranean culture and country has its own superstitions, many of which are similar. Sometimes, these superstitions teach us about good and evil. Some predict our future, while others protect us from misfortune. We have listed the most common superstitions across the Mediterranean, from France to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Algeria, and Egypt. Discover how the Mediterranean countries are once again bound by common traditions and beliefs.
The Evil Eye
Greeks call it ‘to mati;’ Italians ‘Malocchio;’ and Turks ‘nazar boncuğu.’ It is the belief that something bad will happen to you after someone’s look of jealousy, envy, or even a compliment. To prevent this from happening, people wear eye-shaped charms that can be on a bracelet, necklace, keychain, etc. In fact, evil eye beads are found in many places as a decorative element and tradition in homes. Italians also hang garlic, peppers, and horseshoes against it. In Turkey, people knock on wood three times against bad luck and usually pull their earlobes after.
It goes without saying that dealing with sharp objects such as knives and scissors might be dangerous. In some countries of the Mediterranean, this has even more significance. In Greece, and Turkey, for example, they believe that handing someone a knife is a way to destroy your friendship. They would place it down, so the other person could pick it up. France has similar beliefs regarding handing knives as, however, they ask the other person for ten cents in exchange. In North Cyprus, the superstition also includes not leaving scissors open, known as ‘asla makası açık bırakma.’ That, according to them, is bringing you bad luck. In Egypt, on the other hand, they believe that leaving scissors open leads to sorrow, as you did not cut the connection between happiness and sadness.
In Spain, if you are moving into a new home, you should leave your old broom behind. Not doing so will bring all your bad luck from your previous home to the new one. In Cyprus, this superstition includes vacuum cleaners as well.
Bread is an essential food, often associated with religion in cultures. In the Mediterranean, some countries are superstitious regarding throwing the bread away. In Turkey, and Cyprus, for example, if you are to throw or drop bread, you should kiss it. They also believe you shouldn’t leave bread upside down. In France, leaving bread in such a way is thought to curse you with hunger.
Food and drinks
Including food again, in Cyprus, superstition says that leaving food on your plate means forsaking parts of your destiny, and eating with crossed legs is seen as disrespectful to food. In Egypt, a crucial superstition is that one should drink a beverage until the last drop when visiting a different household. That is important, especially if there is an unmarried young girl in the home or else she will have bad luck and never get married.
It is a well-known superstition that horseshoes bring good luck. In Cyprus, for example, people hang it in their bedrooms to prevent nightmares. French people take it to another level, believing that the horseshoe should be upside down for good luck.
Breaking for good luck
In both Cyprus and Greece, it is considered good luck when you break something by dropping it accidentally. In North Cyprus, they say ‘göz gider’ referencing that evil eye will be gone, for the occasion.
Stepping over someone
Algerians believe that stepping over a person lying on the ground will result in their death. It can be undone if you step over them again backward. This superstition in Cyprus is less harsh, as they believe that if it is a child, it will stop growing if you step over them.
Clipping fingers and toenails at night
There are many countries that follow this old superstition in the Mediterranean. Most of them believe one shouldn't clip their fingers or toenails in the evening or at night. It is thought to shorten life in the Cypriot tradition; in Turkey, it is believed to be sinful; and in Egypt, it causes the loss of loved ones or objects. According to superstition in Algeria, one should clean their nails after clipping them, or the Jinns will come for them.
Throwing water after someone
Typically, this is done in Turkey and Cyprus. The custom of throwing water on the ground when someone leaves the house is a traditional way of saying goodbye and wishing them well on their journey. During the gesture, good wishes are conveyed as “go like water, come like water” or “go as clean and clear as water”.
The number 13
In some Mediterranean nations, it can be slightly different from everywhere else. In Italy, for example, 13 is accepted as a lucky number, and 17 brings bad luck. Friday 13th is actually Tuesday 13th in Spain because it is associated with the Roman god of war – Mars. French people are not to have 13 people on the dinner table (associated with the Last Supper). To prevent this, waiters often put an egg as a ‘guest.’
One of the most well-known superstitions states that you are destined for bad luck if a black cat crosses your path. In France, however, you must also cross a stream holding one to bring yourself bad luck. Black cats are considered evil by the Egyptians, and black crows are considered an omen of bad luck.
Telling the Future from Coffee – This art can be found in a few cultures of the Mediterranean – Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Cyprus. In Greek ‘kafetzou,’ this implies that a person’s emotions and hopes are in the coffee, and their future can be told from the leftover coffee grinds. The superstition is similar in Cyprus too. In Turkey, the telling requires drinking from only one part of the cup, placing the saucer on top, and the person having the beverage makes a wish. In Egypt, this is one of the most common ‘qahwa’ superstitions. It is also often believed there that leaving the coffee to boil over will bring bad luck.