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The Maltese Islands

Maltese Superstitions


In the old days, when science and technology where nonexistent, people used to invent explanations and remedies according to their thoughts and beliefs. From such beliefs emerged our superstitions that are kept alive from one generation to another.

 

Gawgaw

According to this superstition, anyone born on Christmas Eve will turn into a gawgaw, a wandering spirit that scares naughty children with its groans. This spirit roams around when everyone is asleep on the night of 24th December. Some say that it will take misbehaving children to a faraway place and leave them there until they die. On Christmas Day, the gawgaw resumes its human form and has no recollection of the transformation. Everything that had just transpired would seem like it was a dream. According to the superstition, a person who wants to counter the curse of transforming into a gawgaw should count the holes of a sieve or strainer from 11pm on Christmas Eve until Christmas morning.

 

Il-─žares

A ghost known as il-─žares appeared before a miner of Fort Ricasoli and told him where to find a treasure. The miner spread the news to his friends and they started digging, but instead of finding coins they found coal. When il-hares reappeared to the miner, it punished him for not keeping the secret to himself. This legend is a source of a popular superstition and thus the Maltese bear in mind that when il-hares chooses them for a secret, they should not tell other people about it as they may not find their own treasure.

 

The Evil Eye

The Evil Eye takes various forms of expression such as a dirty look, a withering glance, a piercing gaze and an envious stare. If someone literally does any of these to a person whom they envy or admire, it may cause bad luck. This also holds true when a person pays a compliment. 
Superstitions to avoid the harmful and sometimes deadly consequences of the evil eye are still being followed. Amongst others one may undergo fumigation using olive leaves and branches blessed on a Palm Sunday or say "God bless you" after a baby has been praised or make a sign of the cross or point out a bull's horn sign with his hand for the negative effect to bounce back to the evil eye bearer.

 

Other Superstitions

Alternative Medicine
•    Menstruating females should avoid going to cellars and bakeries so they wouldn’t affect the taste of freshly made wine and bread
•    An egg laid on the Feast of the Annunciation is a cure-all. This egg is to be kept somewhere dark for a year until the inside turns into a paste, which can be applied on wounds.
•    Priests of the Greek Church in Valletta were asked to read out a few lines of St. John’s Gospel over frightened children to take away their fears.
•    To keep children from being sick or scared say prayers of the Gallican Missal over them.
•    A tortoise’s blood can cure jaundice.
•    If a bedridden elderly person wakes up to the hymn of the Gloria on Easter morning, his or her legs will be healed.
•    When a horse steps on someone and his or her foot swells, rue leaves are applied to prevent blood from clotting.
•    A red cloth or blanket is put on or near a person with measles.
•    An iron key is placed on one’s neck with a bleeding nose.
•    A sty can be cured by children scattering seven barley grains down in a well.

Bad Luck Omens
•    Breaking a mirror.
•    Spilling salt and oil.
•    Wearing new clothes on a Friday.
•    Working on Good Friday.
•    Singing or cooking using the baker’s oven while a family member is abroad.
•    Dropping a knife.
•    Seeing a black moth and killing it.
•    Seeing a black cat crossing the road.
•    Walking under a ladder.

Good Luck Omens
•    Spilling wine.
•    A ring or money soaked in a child’s bath water.
•    Seeing a white moth.

Death and Funerals
•    Bringing an acacia tree inside a house will shorten the life of the head of the family.
•    Avoid leaving the faldetta (another word for Ghonella) on top of a bed, if so the mother in the family will die and her husband will remarry.
•    Dreaming of candles is a death omen.
•    By cutting a dead person’s hair and by covering the open parts of the body like the nostrils and mouth, one will prevent the soul from returning to the body.
•    Corpses should be placed in a room without glass, mirrors, photos and pieces of furniture as much as possible.

Love and Marriage
•    January, April and August are the best months for marriages as these are the times when the ground is fertile and so the women will be fertile as well.
•    A marriage in May will either fail or produce disobedient kids. May newlyweds can prevent these outcomes by praying to the Virgin Mary.
•    When the groom sees the bride looking at her reflection in the mirror before they exchange vows, it is a sign of danger and a difficult married life.
•    It is bad luck for the bride and the groom to make their own wedding outfits.
•    Furniture should only be bought after wedding to avoid marital conflicts.
•    To avoid bad luck in their future married lives, godparents should not get married within 40 days of their godchild’s birth date.

Pregnancy and Children
•   Pregnant women depend on saints for safe and easy childbirth. Some clasp an effigy to St. Calogero in their hands during delivery, some drink a mixture of water and powdered bones of St. Victor who is recognized as the patron saint of pregnant women and some wear the consecrated ring of St. Peter the Martyr.
•    Baby boys born on 15th August (Feast of the Assumption) will make it big in horse racing when they grow up.
•    A pregnant woman can foretell the date when she is due to deliver her child by dipping a dried passion flower in water. When the flower starts to bloom, childbirth is imminent.
•    Eat the neck and head of a hen after giving birth or the child will have hard time keeping the head still.
•    When an expectant mother faces a great fear she should make the sign of the cross on her stomach to save her child from being affected.
•    Failure to grant a pregnant woman’s wishes will lead to either miscarriage or a birthmark on her child.

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