Italians are very superstitious people. They believe in the"Mal Occhio" or evil eye: "The evil eye belief is that a person -- otherwise not malific in any way -- can harm you, your children, your livestock, or your fruit trees, by *looking at them* with envy and praising them. The word "evil" is unfortunate in this context because it implies that someone has "cursed" the victim, but such is not the case. A better understanding of the term "evil eye" is gained if you know that the old British and Scottish word for it is "overlooking," which implies merely that the gaze has remained too long upon the coveted object, person, or animal. In other words, the effect of the evil eye is misfortunate, but the person who harbours jealousy and gives the evil eye is not necessarily an evil person per se. To ward off the "evil eye" the Italian typically involves: "... making the gestures called the mano fico ("fig hand") and the mano cornuto ("horned hand").
Mano cornuto is a gesture in which the middle and ring fingers are held down by the thumb and the index and little fingers are extended outward like horns. Among some people this is the sign of a cuckholded man, but it is also widely used as a protective gesture against impotency. The mano cornuto is familiar to Americans who read comic books as the gesture Dr. Strange makes when he casts a spell and the gesture Spider-Man makes when he "thwips" web fluid from his wrists. (The popular artist Steve Ditko was responsible for the design of both of these characters, and some comic fans refer to the mano cornuto as "the Steve Ditko hand gesture.") Mano fico is a hand gesture in which the thumb is inserted between the index and middle finger. It means literally means "fig hand" in Italian, but "fica" or fig is a common slang term for the female genitals, so the mano fico is a representation of the sex act (with the thumb as phallus)."
Another common response to "ward off" the "evil eye" is for the male Italian to touch his testicles; I suppose for the reassurance that they're still there. When I was a kid I thought that all baseball players must be Italian.
For a futher discussion on "superstition" check out Justin Evans blog: http://utahpoet.blogspot.com/