A friend of mine recently came over to Malta from Australia to visit family and friends. Being so far away from Malta he tends to get a bit home sick, so when he’s over he eagerly tries to catch up on his Maltese and other local happenings. One day our conversation took a twist when we started reminiscing about old Maltese customs and folklore. Here’s a snippet of the stories that tend to be handed down to us by our parents and grandparents.
As weird as it may seem the evil eye (L-Ghajn) is commonly accepted as ‘a fact’ – even by the Church (according to my mum). The common belief is that a person can place a curse on you just by looking your way. In Malta (and in Italy) it is believed that making the sign of the Qrun (direct translation is a bull’s horn) will deflect such evil. The Qrun is done when you point your index finger and your little finger, and it is considered permissible to do such a sign behind your back to ward off any evil.
Putting a line of salt on the floor behind your front door will prevent the evil eye from entering your house. If you feel your house does have negative energies, you can cleanse it by burning olive tree leaves at midnight on Easter while saying prayers.
To prevent others from cursing you there are other precautionary measures such as spitting on your hair before throwing it away (particularly impractical at the hairdresser’s, I would assume).
When someone dies, the relatives will cover all the mirrors in their house with a black cloth as a sign of respect: looking in the mirror is considered a sign of vanity and disrespectful of the deceased. A tradition I don’t know much about and would really like any insight into is removing handles from the front door when someone passes away. It’s a tradition that I cannot find any literature on and everyone I ask knows about but doesn’t quite understand what it’s for.
On a happier note, whenever there is a marriage in the family or a new baby is born, it is custom to hang a coloured ribbon on the front door’s handle. White is for marriage, pink is for a baby girl and blue for a baby boy. This is a very sweet tradition but unfortunately it’s slowly disappearing from custom.
The Quccija is also related to kids. On a child’s first birthday several objects are placed in front of the child on the floor and the object the child picks up first is said to represent his or her future. Objects include rosary beeds (a religious person), a pen (a writer), a book (a teacher), a thermometer (a doctor), money (business person), a hard-boiled egg (a house full of things) and other items. In case you’re wondering, I chose the egg and I do have photographic proof somewhere!
These traditions should be remembered as they are part of who the Maltese are. While some seem foolish or plain silly, they should be cherished and not swept under the carpet as though we are ashamed of them. I believe these little traditions and customs carry with them a certain sense of magic and romance. They’re legacy, the kind of stories you tell your kids on a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining outside.
In the next next article I’ll write about the Belliegha, the Babaw and the story of the little Turkish kid. In the meantime, if you can remember other myths, do insert these as comments to this article!
Photo: Melanie Hart