Source: Melita Historica : A Scientific Review of Maltese History. 5(1968)1(68-69)

G. ZAMMIT-MAEMPEL, The evil eye and protective cattle horns in Malta offprint from Folklore, v. 79, spring 1968, 16 p.

G. Zammit-Maempel, briefly but clearly, gives a very interesting account about the evil eye and protective cattle horns in Malta. It is rather a description of the actual state of the Maltese Islands because everything appears based on personal interviews and observations.

[p.69] The author states that, though Christianity assumed an outstanding influence on the local population’s daily habits, some pagan customs substantially unchanged were adapted to the new faith (p. 2). For instance, cattle horns are still used in Malta as a protection against the evil eye (pp. 3-4). Some Maltese, however, who are tenaciously attached to their cattle horns admit that these instruments have no relation to the evil eye (p. 4); they are just dearly preserving what had been set up by their ancestors (p.8). Others acknowledge that they mean to attract the attention about the horns especially to a person who happens to be an “eye-undesirable” (pp. 5-6); in fact, they believe that the chief function of the horns is to neutralize the evil powers (p. 6).

The evil eye is considered to have a most devastating effect on piglets and young rabbits (p. 6). It is also commonly believed that malevolent persons can be detected from the movement of their pupils (p. 8). The gesture most commonly used at the present day is the horned hand directed towards the speaker’s eye quite often accompanied also with an appropriate expression whenever the latter has praised the beauty of some person, animal, or object (p. 10).

The origin of the custom of fixing horns for a magical protection is hidden in an unknown past. If this superstition was known to the Maltese of centuries ago, it must have been practised secretly on account of the restrictions imposed by the Malta Inquisition. Undoubtedly, the Maltese, in most of their customs, have intimate connections to all the nations of the Mediterranean area (pp. 11-14).

Our judgement about the booklet cannot be other than positive. It is an important contribution to the ever-interesting topic of superstitions. Many facts gathered from personal contacts would have gone lost. Notwithstanding this, we would like to put an observation about the introduction of this study. It is true that some Maltese magic customs go back even to the pre-christian era; but many of our superstitions are the result of the frequent relations that the Maltese kept with those that belonged to other religious confessions. A harmful influence on our faith was essentially produced by the Moslems who dwelled as slaves in Malta during the period of the Knights of St. John (1530-1798). At that time, Malta overflowed with magic scripts, mixtures, and filters of eastern origin. The Maltese themselves used to seek the slaves to know whether a spell had been cast on them on account of an evil eye. Very often, “experienced” slaves were recompensated for having given counsels or procured remedies of no rational basis.’

Alexander Bonnici O.F.M. Conv.