Implementation of ‘ Black Cats, Broken Mirrors and Others – Let’s Talk About Superstitions’ (SOI-IT-163)

The learning scenario of Rafal Mazur entitled “Black cats, broken mirrors and others” – let’s talk about superstitions – is associated with superstitions, amulets, talismans and other beliefs.


My name is Maria Marrone and I decided to implement this scenario because this topic has a strong attractive power in cultural heritage contexts and also in our culture where superstition is a fascinating world, full of millenary beliefs, amulets and remedies details! I am an Italian teacher from Neaples (Campania, south Italy) and superstition is present in the Neapolitan culture. In our city, there are several Cribs with scenographic figures and details that have a precise symbolic meaning, from ancient superstitions and legends. This “magical” universe fascinates students a lot, in class everyone has an amulet and someone is equipped with a lucky charm that we called “corno”.

This learning scenario help students to analyze and understand the reason for some human behaviours that arise from superstition for the desire to control life events. We started to work on this topic in the classroom and continued in remote learning, due to the COVID emergencies.

The implementation context

During the implementation, there were some changes in the LS due to the fact that the students already knew different authors and works on the LS topic. The idea and some of the activities by Rafal Mazur were respected, however, I had to change some of the authors cited into the scenario because the students already knew their works. I worked with students from lower secondary school? aged 13-14 years that already have experience in using Europeana and digital cultural heritage.

The narrative

We started with brainstorming on black cats, broken mirrors, amulets and talismans. The students had to answer these questions:

What topic do they introduce?

Do you have an amulet and/or a talisman with you today?

The class was divided into 5 groups of 4 students and they were encouraged to search for images of amulets and talismans on Europeana and to gather all the information about them. One of the students found on Europeana a rich collection of news and photos of a famous Neapolitan author, Peppino De Filippo. In his works, De Filippo describes the attitude of those that demonstrate a high cultural level but they believe in superstitions.

The second phase of the LS was dedicated to superstitions in literature. The students analyzed Luigi Pirandello’s comedy “La Patente”. This opera focused the protagonist “jinx” choices and the behaviours of those who defend themselves from the bad luck that he brings. Students recalled the Peppino De Filippo comedy “It is not true, but I believe it” in which the protagonist is always tormented by superstition.

Moreover, meanwhile analyzing Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” the students had to talk about singular hidden superstitions, very common among boys and slaves in the historical period in which the novel is set. Finally, the class analyzed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is very famous among teenagers. They were encouraged to focus on superstitions and analyze talismans and amulets presented in the series. We organized a final debate were students discussed superstitions, why they are so common in all cultures, why people believe in them and why amulets are so reassuring.

Learning outcomes

The Europeana materials about amulets, talismans and about Peppino de Filippo, which is the author of one of the most famous superstitious “formulas”, aware of the fact that curiosity and motivation to know more, encouraged students to work collaboratively. The opportunity to share information acquired during the activity and the possibility to compare ideas helped them to understand the reason behind the superstitions.

Teaching outcomes

This activity encouraged students to learn and understand that superstitions, popular beliefs and behaviours dictated by superstition are common to all cultures, and these have roots in ancient times. Through research and collaborative learning, they have learned that human tried to control life events by believing in rituals, amulets and superstitions.

Finally, the students were happy to discover that “black cats and broken mirrors” are common to different cultural contexts. Moreover, they were proud to find Peppino De Filippo, one of the most famous Neapolitan actors and Comedian, on Europeana represented by several documents and photo. They understood that our local Neapolitan culture is also part of the European culture.

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario?

Black Cats, Broken Mirrors and Others – Let’s Talk About Superstitions created by Rafal Mazur

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CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Wellcome Collection.

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