One of the most wonderful books about Italian-American (more specifically, Sicilian-American) life I’ve ever read is Mount Allegro: A Memoir of Italian American Life by Jerre Mangione. The work is an autobiographical account of the author’s younger years growing up in a Sicilian family within the Italian community here in Rochester, NY.
As it's a memoir, it's extremely readable and not an academic or difficult read. Even if you aren't Italian, you'll probably still find most of the stories extremely relatable, and usually pretty funny. For those interested in Italian-American folk magic, the book also contains several fascinating passages about Italian-American folk beliefs and practices, recorded by the author that were practiced here in Rochester by members of the Italian-American community during the author's childhood.
To tempt you into reading it, and to share some interesting tidbits, here are a few short passages from the book:
“A pair of locked horns to drive away the evil spirits hung over the doorway of Uncle Nino’s home, as well as our own. And when my mother or aunt dropped anything, she chanted:
If it was a fork, she was positive someone was gossiping about her or some other member of her family, and if it was a knife that fell, it was a sign that someone was about to call.
Whoever the caller was, he could not enter the house without passing underneath the locked horns over the doorway, thereby losing whatever evil he might be trying to smuggle in.”
"Sarina told Saint Joseph about Pietro, what a good man he was and that he was dying, and how four doctors had been able to do nothing for him except make him poorer. Then she promised the saint that if he brough about Pietro's cure, she would go begging alms from house to house, and that on Saint Joseph's Day she would give a banquet in his honor with the money she collected.
Saint Joseph did not fail her. Despite the dire predictions of the three licensed physicians, Pietro survived his illness without an operation. Within a few weeks he was as good as new. Sarina, true to her word, tied a black shawl around her head and, looking very pious indeed, went begging for alms. It was considered lucky to give money to a cause like hers and, long before she called on all her relatives, she obtained the funds she needed for the banquet."
“When my cousin Rosina went crazy, there was so much grief among my relatives that some of them forgot their disdain for superstitions and began to say that Rosina’s madness was undoubtedly caused by a fattatura….A fattatura was far more deliberate and insidious than the evil eye, for it presupposed the services of a witch with a professional knowledge of black magic”
These are only a few of many fascinating spiritual practices mentioned through out the book, there's actually at least two whole chapters of the book that discuss those matters almost entirely. You can find the book for sale online (used or new) on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Books on authentic Italian folk magical practices are very difficult to find, and are often more academic than they are practical. So I wanted to share this wonderful little treasure of a book with those who are not familiar with it, as it’s very easy to miss. The book is How to Dream Your Lucky Lotto Numbers, written by Raoul Maltagliati, an occultist from Florence, Italy. The book was printed in 1994, and was printed again in 2000. It’s unfortunately out of print, but is thankfully fairly easy to find used online.
The book contains Maltagliati’s teachings (in English) regarding dreams and numerology as it was taught to him by his teacher, Gennaro Esposito, a traditional Dream Interpreter from Naples, Italy. It’s a pretty simple book: the dreams are organized by subject, you look up the dream you wish to interpret, and there will be both an interpretation as well as a lucky number that you can bet in a lottery. This is an extremely traditional and old way of working with dreams in Italian folk magic, while it may not be as whimsical as some people would hope; small dream books such as this one were (and still are) very commonly used among Italians and Italian-Americans.
Maltagliati also discusses the importance of having a portafortuna, or good luck charm such as il cornu (the horn), mano cornu (the horned hands), or il gobo (the hunchback) which will give the wearer a better edge in games of chance, and life in general (a subject I plan to write about soon!).
Part of the reason I absolutely love this little book is that dream interpretation is the only full system of divination that my family brought to America from Italy that survived near intact and is still believed by virtually everyone in my family. This little book allows anyone that’s Italian-American or interested in Italian American folk magic, to have a wonderful connection to an authentic practice that is simple and available in English.