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The Evil Eye Facts And History
What's the significance of the Nazar, or Evil Eye in
Turkey and surrounding areas?
The evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. The term also refers to the power attributed to certain persons of inflicting injury or bad luck by such an envious or ill-wishing look.
The "evil eye" is also known as Hayn al-hasūd (عين الحسود)" and "mal de ojo."
The idea expressed by the term causes many cultures to pursue protective measures against it. The concept and its significance vary widely among different cultures, primarily the
The history of the evil eye goes back before the Muslim religion's emergence in the
Some framed inscriptions hanging in houses and painted on large trucks and other vehicles are used to avert evil eyes from the houses and vehicles, or to bring the protection of God. Of those inscriptions "Masallah" means "what (wonders) God has willed," "Allah Korusun" means "may God protect you from all evil."
Forms of Belief
In some forms, it is the belief that some people can bestow a curse on victims by the malevolent gaze of their magical eye. The most common form, however, attributes the cause to envy, with the envious person casting the evil eye doing so unintentionally. Also the effects on victims vary. Some cultures report afflictions with bad luck; others believe the evil eye may cause disease, wasting, or even death. In most cultures, the primary victims are thought to be babies and young children, because they are so often praised and commented upon by strangers or by childless women. The late UC Berkeley professor of folklore Alan Dundes has explored the beliefs of many cultures and found a commonality—that the evil caused by the gaze is specifically connected to symptoms of drying, desiccation, withering, and dehydration, that its cure is related to moistness, and that the immunity from the evil eye that fish have in some cultures is related to the fact that they are always wet. His essay "Wet and Dry: The Evil Eye" is a standard text on the subject.
In many beliefs, a person—otherwise not malefic in any way—can harm adults, children, livestock or possessions, simply by looking at them with envy. The word "evil" is somewhat misleading in this context, because it suggests an intentional "curse" on the victim. A better understanding of the term "evil eye" can be gained from the old English word for casting the evil eye, namely "overlooking", implying that the gaze has remained focused on the coveted object, person, or animal for too long.
The amount of literary and archeological evidence attests to the belief in the evil eye in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia starting with Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. In Peter Walcot's Envy and the Greeks (1978) he referenced more than one hundred of these authors' works related to the evil eye. Studying these written sources in order to write on the evil eye only gives a fragmented view of the subject whether it presents a folkloric, theological, classical, or anthropological approach to the evil eye. While these different approaches tend to reference similar sources each presents a different yet similar usage of the evil eye, that the fear of the evil eye is based on the belief that certain people have eyes whose glance has the power to injure or even kill and that it can be intentional or unintentional.
The classical evil eye
Belief in the evil eye during antiquity is based on the evidence in ancient sources like Aristophanes, Athenaeus, Plutarch, and Heliodorus. There are also speculations that claim Socrates possessed the evil eye and that his disciples and admirers were fascinated by Socrates' insistently glaring eyes. His followers were called Blepedaimones, which translates into "demon look," not because they were possessors and transmitters of the evil eye, but because they were suspected of being under the hypnotic and dangerous spell of Socrates.
In the Greco-Roman period a scientific explanation of the evil eye was common. Plutarch's scientific explanation stated that the eyes were the chief, if not sole, source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye (Quaest.Conv. 5.7.2-3=Mor.80F-81f). Plutarch treated the phenomenon of the evil eye as something seemingly inexplicable that is a source of wonder and cause of incredulity.
The belief in the evil eye during antiquity varied from different regions and periods. The evil eye was not feared with equal intensity in every corner of the
Distribution of the belief
Belief in the evil eye is strongest in the Middle East, East and West Africa, Central America, South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe, especially the Mediterranean region; it has also spread to other areas, including northern Europe, particularly in the Celtic regions, and the
Belief in the evil eye is found in Islamic doctrine, based upon the statement of Prophet Muhammad, "The influence of an evil eye is a fact..." [Sahih Muslim, Book 26, Number 5427]. Authentic practices of warding off the evil eye are also commonly practiced by Muslims: rather than directly expressing appreciation of, for example, a child's beauty, it is customary to say Masha'Allah, that is, "God has willed it," or invoking God's blessings upon the object or person that is being admired. Aside from beliefs based upon authentic Islamic texts, a number of unsubstantiated beliefs about the evil eye are found in folk religion, typically revolving around the use of amulets or talismans as a means of protection.
Although the concept of cursing by staring or gazing is largely absent in East Asian and Southeast Asian societies, the Usog curse of the
Ashkenazi Jews in Europe and the
In the Aegean Region and other areas where light-colored eyes are relatively rare, people with green eyes are thought to bestow the curse, intentionally or unintentionally.This belief may have arisen because people from cultures not used to the evil eye, such as
Among those who do not take the evil eye literally, either by reason of the culture in which they were raised or because they simply do not believe in such things, the phrase, "to give someone the evil eye" usually means simply to glare at the person in anger or disgust.
Protective talismans and cures
John Phillip, "The Evil Eye" (1859), a self-portrait depicting the artist sketching a Spanish gypsy who thinks she is being given the evil eye. Attempts to ward off the curse of the evil eye has resulted in a number of talismans in many cultures. As a class, they are called "apotropaic" (Greek for "prophylactic" or "protective," literally: "turns away") talismans, meaning that they turn away or turn back harm.
Disks or balls, consisting of concentric blue and white circles (usually, from inside to outside, dark blue, light blue, white, dark blue) representing an evil eye are common apotropaic talismans in the Middle East, found on the prows of Mediterranean boats and elsewhere; in some forms of the folklore, the staring eyes are supposed to bend the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer.
Known as nazar (Turkish: nazar boncuğu or nazarlık), this talisman is most frequently seen in
A blue eye can also be found on some forms of the hamsa hand, an apotropaic hand-shaped talisman against the evil eye found in the
The Eye of Horus
Horus was an ancient Egyptian sky god in the form of a falcon. The right eye represents a peregrine falcon's eye and the markings around it, that includes the "teardrop" marking sometimes found below the eye. The right eye of Horus is said to ward off the evil eye in the ancient Egyptian culture. In modern
The evil eye, known as μάτι (mati), "eye," as an apotropaic visual device, is known to have been a fixture in Greece dating back to at least the 6th century BC, when it commonly appeared on drinking vessels. In Greece, the evil eye is cast away through the process of xematiasma (ξεμάτιασμα), whereby the "healer" silently recites a secret prayer passed over from an older relative of the opposite sex, usually a grandparent. Such prayers are revealed only under specific circumstances, for according to superstition those who reveal them indiscriminately lose their ability to cast off the evil eye. There are several regional versions of the prayer in question, a common one being: "Holy Virgin, Our Lady, if so and so is suffering of the evil eye release him/her of it" repeated three times. According to custom, if one is indeed afflicted with the evil eye, both victim and "healer" then start yawning profusely. The "healer" then performs the sign of the cross three times, and spits in the air three times.
Another "test" used to check if the evil eye was cast is that of the oil: under normal conditions, olive oil floats in water, as it is less dense than water. The test of the oil is performed by placing one drop of olive oil in a glass of water, typically holy water. If the drop floats, the test concludes there is no evil eye involved.
If the drop sinks, then it is asserted that the evil eye is cast indeed. An alternate form of the test is to place two drops of olive oil into a glass of water. If the drops remain separated, the test concludes there is no evil eye, but if they merge, there is. This is usually performed by an old lady, who is known for her healing, or a grandparent.
The Greek Fathers accepted the traditional belief in the evil eye but attributed it to the Devil and envy. In Greek theology the evil eye or vaskania (βασκανία) is considered harmful for the one whose envy inflicts it on others as well as for the sufferer. The Greek Church has an ancient prayer against vaskania from the Megan Hieron Synekdemon book of prayers (Μέγαν Ιερόν Συνέκδημον).
An Indian charm to ward off evil eye. It is usually hung or fixed in front of shops, houses and other buildingsIn India the evil eye, called drishtidosham (literally "sight curse") or nazar, is removed through Aarti. The actual removal involves different means as per the subject involved. In case of removing human evil eye, a traditional Hindu ritual of holy flame (on a plate) is carried out in which the plate is moved in a circular motion around the person's face so as to absorb the evil effects. Sometimes people will also be asked to spit into a handful of chilies kept in that plate, which are then thrown into fire. If there is a lot of smoke, you were being ridiculous and no one evil-eyed you. If there is no smoke (the burning throat, burning eyes kind of smoke), you were evil-eyed and now it's all clear. For vehicles too, this process is followed with limes or lemons being used instead of chilies. These lemons are crushed by the vehicle and a new lemon is hung with chilies in a bead to ward off any future evil eyes. These can also be seen at shops and private homes, usually hanging at the doorways. Many Indian shop keepers also burn a piece of newspaper and then wielding it in a circular motion before the already locked shutter or gate, before they finally leave for home. The use of kumkum on cheeks of newly-weds or babies is also a method of thwarting the "evil eye." Toddlers and young children are traditionally regarded as perfect and are likely to attract the evil eye. Often mothers apply a spot of kohl on their children's cheeks or on the forehead to make the child imperfect and ward off evil eyes. A black cord is sometimes tied around the hip of young children for the same purpose. Sometimes shells or other amulets are attached to the cord.
Iran and neighboring regions
Evil eye, Isabat al-’ayn, is a common belief that certain individuals have the power to look at people, animals or objects to cause them harm. Talismans and images with an eye can be used to ward off the evil eye. According to a tradition, Muhammad permitted the use of talismans as protection against the evil eye. It is tradition among many Muslims, that if a compliment is to be made, you are always supposed to say "Masha'Allah" (ما شاء الله) ("What God wills") and also "Barak'Allah" (بارك الله) ("Blessings of God") to ward off the evil eye. The reference of the Evil eye is mentioned in the Sunnah. Also (لا قوة إلا بالله) ("There is no power other than with God"). It is a testimony from someone that he/she believes that either good or bad will only happen if God wants it to. Persian speakers in
Some people also believe that the eyes of people in photographs and pictures scare away the angels and attracts Satan.
The evil eye is mentioned several times in the classic Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers. In Chapter II, five disciples of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai give advice on how to follow the good path in life and avoid the bad. Rabbi Eliezer says an evil eye is worse than a bad friend, a bad neighbor, or an evil heart. Judaism believes that a "good eye" designates an attitude of good will and kindness towards others. Someone who has this attitude in life will rejoice when his fellow man prospers; he will wish everyone well. An "evil eye" denotes the opposite attitude. A man with "an evil eye" will not only feel no joy but experience actual distress when others prosper, and will rejoice when others suffer. A person of this character represents a great danger to our moral purity. Many Jews avoid talking about valuable items they own, good luck that has come to them and, in particular, their children. If any of these are mentioned, the speaker and/or listener will say, "b'li ayin hara", meaning "without an evil eye", or "kein eina hara" (often shortened to "kennahara"), "no evil eye".
One traditional cure in rural
In some parts of
Mal ojo often occurs without the dimension of envy, but insofar as envy is a part of ono, it is a variant of this underlying sense of insecurity and relative vulnerability to powerful, hostile forces in the environment. In her study of medical attitudes in the Santa Clara Valley of California, Margaret Clark arrives at essentially the same conclusion: "Among the Spanish-speaking folk of Sal si Puedes, the patient is regarded as a passive and innocent victim of malevolent forces in his environment. These farces may be witches, evil spirits, the consequences of poverty, or virulent bacteria which invade his body. The scapegoat may be a visiting social worker who unwittingly 'cast the evil eye' ... Mexican folk concepts of disease are based in part on the notion that people can be victimized by the careless or malicious behavior of others".
Another aspect of the mal ojo syndrom in Ixtepeji is a disturbance of the hot-cold equilibrium in the victim. According to folk belief, the bad effects of an attack result from the "hot" force of the aggressor entering the child's body and throwing it out of balance. Currier has shown how the Mexican hot-cold system is an unconscious folk model of social relations upon which social anxieties are projected. According to Currier, "the nature of Mexian peasant society is such that each individual must continuously attempt to achieve a balance between two opposing social forces: the tendency toward intimacy and that toward withdrawal. [It is therefore proposed] that the individual's continuous preoccupation with achieving a balance between "heat" and "cold" is a way of reenacting, in symbolic terms, a fundamental activity in social relations."
Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya
Amongst the Papua people of
The Hamsa, a charm made to ward off the evil eye.In ancient
One such charm is the cornicello, which literally translates to "little horn." In modern Italian language, they are called Cornetti, with the same meaning. Sometimes referred to as the cornuto (horned) or the corno (horn), it is a long, gently twisted horn-shaped amulet. Cornicelli are usually carved out of red coral or made from gold or silver. The type of horn they are intended to copy is not a curled-over sheep horn or goat horn but rather like the twisted horn of an African eland or something similar.
Some theorists endorse the idea that the ribald suggestions made by sexual symbols would distract the witch from the mental effort needed to successfully bestow the curse. Others hold that since the effect of the eye was to dry up liquids, the drying of the phallus (resulting in male impotence) would be averted by seeking refuge in the moist female genitals. Among the Romans and their cultural descendants in the Mediterranean nations, those who were not fortified with phallic charms had to make use of sexual gestures to avoid the eye. Such gestures include the fig sign; a fist with the index and little finger extended and a fist with the thumb pressed between the index and middle fingers, representing the phallus within the vagina. In addition to the phallic talismans, statues of hands in these gestures, or covered with magical symbols, were carried by the Romans as talismans. In
The wielder of the evil eye, the jettatore, is described as having a striking facial appearance, high arching brows with a stark stare that leaps from his black eyes. He often has a reputation for clandestine involvement with dark powers and is the object of gossip about dealings in magic and other forbidden practices. Successful men having tremendous personal magnetism quickly gain notoriety as jettatori. Pope Pius the fourth was dreaded for his evil eye, and a whole cycle of stories about the disasters that happened in his wake were current in
Oral tradition in ancient
According to Eugene Bahn and Margaret L. Bahn in their book A History of Oral Interpretation, "A very important function of spoken verse in ancient times was protection against the evil eye, and even in the present age there are countless jingles recited to prevent bad luck under certain circumstances". This originated as "devices for appeasing the jealousy of the spirits which hold sway over the destinies of mortals..."
The idea of using the "nazar bead" is that it will attract the evil eye (nazar) before it can damage the thing or the person that it is directed to, absorbing the damaging power of voluntary/involuntary "evil look". Therefore the nazar bead is always out in the open, not a secret talisman.
In 1946, the American magician Henri Gamache published a text called Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed! (later reprinted as Protection against Evil), which offers directions to defend oneself against the evil eye. Gamache's work brought evil eye beliefs to the attention of African American voodoo practitioners in the
Names in various languages
In most languages the name translates literally into English as "bad eye," "evil eye," "evil look," or just "the eye". Some variants on this general pattern from around the world are:
In Albanian it is known as "syni keq" (Gheg), or "syri i keq" (Tosk), meaning "bad eye."
In Arabicو ʿayn al-ḥasūd (عين الحسود) "the eye of envy." ʿAyn ḥārrah (عين حارّة) is also used, literally translating to "hot eye."
In Greek, to matiasma (μάτιασμα) or mati (μάτι) someone refers to the act of casting the evil eye (mati being the Greek word for eye); also: vaskania (βασκανία, the Greek word for jinx)
In Hebrew, ayin hara (עין הרע) "evil eye"
In Hindi-Urdu and other languages of North India and
In Italian, the word malocchio refers to the evil eye.
In Macedonian it is known as урокливо око.
In Persian it is known as "چشم زخم" (injurious look/eyes causing injury) or "چشم شور" (Salty eye)
In Portuguese, it is called "olho gordo" (literally "fat eye"). The expression is quite common in
In Russian "дурной глаз" (durnoy glaz) means "bad/evil eye"; сглаз (sglaz) literally means "from eye".
In Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, it is called "drishti dosha" meaning malice caused by Evil eye.
In Serbian it's called Urokljivo oko (Cyr. Урокљиво око). First word is adjective of the word urok/урок which means spell or curse, and the second one means eye.
In Spanish mal de ojo literally means "evil from the eye" as the name does not refer to the actual eye but to the evil that supposedly comes from it. Casting the evil eye is then echar mal de ojo, i.e. "to cast evil from the eye".
In Turkish nazar looking with kem göz meaning looking with evil eye.