Monday, February 14, 2011
There’s an old Italian saying that goes “spit in the sky and it comes back in your eye.”
It’s a warning not to wish ill on other people because those bad intentions may backfire all over you. My mother was a firm believer in this proverb and she made sure to teach it to her children.
If we ever said anything bad about someone, like “I wish so-and-so would drop dead”—she’d freak and literally chase us around the house crying “take it back! take it back!”
When I was a teenager my mom told me that my grandmother had compiled a collection of old Italian spells and charms. My grandmother died when I was in the fifth grade and when I learned of this volume I kept bugging my mom to give it to me so I could have the thing translated into English.
I was reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and this collection reminded me of the Necronomicon, the handbook of black magic that appears in many of Lovecraft’s stories.
My mother wouldn’t let me see this tome, no matter how many times I asked her. Perhaps she was worried I would abuse the spells and turn my math teacher into a wombat. And she was probably right to worry; I really didn’t like my math teacher.
My grandmother was from the old country where people believed in spells and curses and things that go bump in the night. I recall one story where she saw a woman she believed to be a witch in the woods near her village.
The woman was bent over and wearing a monk’s robe. My grandmother saw her walk into a field where she apparently vanished. I know this happened a long time ago in a distance place, but it wasn’t all that long ago. My mother, being first generation American, was really a bridge between these two worlds.
My aunt recently told me about an incident that happened many years ago when one of my grandmother’s relatives became convinced that someone had put the evil eye on him and he went to grandma for help.
My aunt didn’t actually witness the ceremony because my grandmother made her and my mother leave the house before getting started. However, she said that when they were allowed to come home she could smell incense coming up from the basement.
I would have loved to witness this ritual. I’m fascinated by supernatural beliefs and I know so little about my grandmother that I’m desperate for any kind of details about her life. She and I share the same birthday and I feel this need to know as much about her as I possibly can.
I’m sure a lot of people would look at my grandmother’s actions and say, “oh, how primitive,” but those of us who knock on wood, throw salt over our shoulders, or avoid walking under ladders aren’t as far from the old country as we’d like to believe.
And my aunt said that the relative who asked for my grandmother’s help turned out all right, so maybe there’s something to this evil eye stuff after all.
My mother never did give me grandma’s book of spells and I eventually stopped asking her about it. She died nearly nine years ago and I have no idea where those spells may be or if they even exist anymore.
We’ll be selling the house this year and who knows? Maybe we’ll find the book of spells, I’ll get it translated, and wombats will suddenly start popping up all over Brooklyn.
But I don’t think so. I know my mother wouldn’t want me to dabble in the black arts. She wouldn’t want me to spit in the sky.