How Italians play the Lotto with outright bizarre superstition!

  width =Much has been written about the superstition of Italians. In most cases it is about the differences with our superstitions. In the superstition of Italians, the number 17 is 13 for us. Friday the 17th is a bad day for the Italians. The number 13 is precisely a lucky number for them. An exception to this is a dinner with 13 people. Because she reminds us of the Last Supper with a traitor sitting at the table.

Faith and superstition

Faith and superstition have an equal origin. In ancient times, one people left a dead person, while another people buried it, leaving food and weapons behind at the cemetery. Gradually the differences became larger and an action was seen by one person as religious and by another as superstition.

Emperor Constantine, for example, found 300 AD. paganism a superstition. At about the same time, Tacitus, a pagan statesman, found Christianity a dangerous and irrational belief. Protestants later found the worship of saints and relics of the Catholics a sign of superstition. And Catholics again thought of the rites of Hindus. And so on.

Superstition in Italy

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Horseshoe above the door keeps accidents out…

An explanation for the superstition of Italians and others is indeed in the faith. In general, all superstitions stem from ignorance and fears. It originated long ago at a time when there was fear of the unknown.

Rituals arose from fears. Don't walk under a ladder, take a rabbit's leg, make a wish with a four-leaf clover. There are hundreds of luck and accident rituals. Formerly intended to favorably influence evil spirits. Nowadays to have a hold in a complex world.

Even those who say they are not superstitious usually have rituals that resemble these old habits. Even though they are often no longer recognized as such, and in the most extreme cases we dismiss them as compulsive behavior.

We know Italy as the land of faith. Superstition may well be precisely because of that. At Google Italia, keywords about superstition seem to score high. Horoscope is in third place and Tarot is in fifth place of the most searched words.

However, if you ask a Milanese about his superstition, he will laugh it away. Superstition of Italians is something from the south, he will say. Whether that was always the case is not clear. In recent centuries there have been more references to Sicily and especially Naples, when it comes to superstition.

Neapolitan Smorfia

superstition of Italians - cover Smorfia

Cover of Smorfia dreambook from Naples from 1866.

The superstition of the Italians nowadays quickly refers to the Neapolitan Smorfia. Especially when the superstition concerning the lotto is concerned. The book La Smorfia is a dream book, even described by some Italians as the sacred dream book. You might also regard it as inverse numerology.

In the book you can look up your lucky number for the lottery after a dream. On numerous sites, the explanation of the Smorfia is based on an image of only 90 people, animals and things that can occur in a dream. However, that is the simplified, modern promotion of a lottery organization. And 90 is the number of numbers you can choose from in the Italian lottery.

In reality, however, the Smorfia contains hundreds of examples of situations, often with details. For example, if you dream of drowning, a distinction is made between drowning in a well, the sea or the wild water of a river. It also matters whether it was a woman, young man or child who drowned.

The origin of the Smorfia

The origin of the Smorfia is in the distant past, when the lottery did not yet exist. The word is probably derived from the Greek Morpheus. That was the god of sleep in ancient Greece. Smorfia dream books have been found in various places in Italy, which makes it difficult for historians to determine a precise origin.

The most common explanation is sought in Jewish Kabbalah. According to that mysticism there is no sign, word or letter without any meaning, hidden or not. Italians themselves also point to the famous Greek philosopher Pythagoras. He emigrated more than 500 before Chr. to the Italian Croton and he specialized in numbers and meaning.

With the number found in the Smarofia you could then continue in a calendar with references. You then saw what the day was going to bring you. Or the number was used by superstitious Italians to say something about their future.


People communicated the dreams and numbers orally to each other in the beginning. Later they were recorded on paper. Because there were many illiterates, images were added. However, the dream interpretation went further and became more precise. At a certain point the images were stopped.

The coding, as the dream interpretation was also called, became more accurate. As we saw in the example with the drowning. For other situations in dreams, the details became much more extensive. For example, if you dreamed of a game, then each game turned out to have its own number. In modern times, a horse game no. 81, a soccer game 50, a card game 17 and a chess game 22.

Smorfia and the lottery

Superstition of Italians - modern Smorfia

An image from a modern version of the Smorfia.

The old-fashioned smorfia gradually fell into disuse for the most part. However, in Naples dream interpretation never went away. But the popularity of the Smorfia only started there again in the 18th century. That happened around the legalization of the lottery, the Italian lottery. Then it gradually penetrated throughout Italy and became part of the superstition of Italians.

Occasionally a publisher modernized the book and worked out the dream interpretation further. For example, at least 100 details can already be found around the verb eating. From eating vegetables, fruit and fish to eating with your hands, eating live animals and sweetening dishes (40, 56, 63, 72, 27 and 19 respectively).

The current situation

As said, the superstition of the Italians still exists. The Smorfia is less popular with young people. But they always have a grandmother or old aunt who has the book or knows the numerology of dreams from experience. And as said, superstition is human heritage. Young people may now look up the smorfia numbers in an application on their smartphone.

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