Evil eye

From Academic Kids

Missing image
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

The evil eye is a widely distributed element of folklore or superstition: a belief that some people, often women seen as witches, can bestow a curse on victims by the malevolent gaze of their magical eye. The effects on victims vary; some have them afflicted with bad luck of various sorts. Others believe the evil eye has even more baleful powers, that it can cause disease, wasting away, and even death.

Some cultures hold that the evil eye is an involuntary jinx that is cast unintentionally by people unlucky to be cursed with the power to bestow it by their gaze. Others hold that while it is not strictly voluntary, the power is called forth by the sin of envy.

Belief in the evil eye is strongest in the Middle East and Europe, especially the Mediterranean region; it has also spread to other areas like the Americas. In some more southern areas where light-colored eyes are relatively rare, people with blue eyes are feared to possess the power to bestow the curse, intentionally or unintentionally.

Belief in the evil eye features in Islamic mythology; it is not a part of Islamic doctrine, however, and is more a feature of Islamic folk religion. The evil eye is also significant in Jewish folklore; it is called the "ayin harah" in Hebrew. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally exclaim "Keyn aynhoreh!" meaning "No evil eye!" in Yiddish to ward off a jinx after something or someone has been rashly praised or good news spoken aloud. Some Jews also spit in order to ward off the effects of an evil gaze. In Latin, the evil eye was fascinum, the origin of the English word "to fascinate". In Italian the evil is called jettatura or mal' occhio, in Greek baskania or matiasma. The evil eye belief also spread to northern Europe, especially the Celtic regions.

Talismans offering protection

Missing image
This Hand of Fatima contains the eye motif that wards off the Evil Eye.

Attempts to ward off the curse of the evil eye resulted in a number of talismans being resorted to. Painted balls (or disks) painted with blue circle with a concentric black circle inside representing an evil eye are common talismans in the Middle East. A blue eye can also be found on some forms of the Hand of Fatima (or Hamsa), an amulet against the evil eye in the Middle East.

The large eyes often seen painted at the prows of Mediterranean boats are there, traditionally, to ward off the evil eye; the staring eyes return the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer. In ancient Rome, people believed that phallic charms and ornaments offered proof against the evil eye; the idea here was that the ribald suggestions made by sexual symbols would distract the witch from the mental effort needed to successfully bestow the curse. Those who were not fortified with phallic charms had to make use of sexual gestures to avoid it. This is one of the uses of the mano cornuto (a fist with the index and little finger extended, the heavy metal or "Hook 'em Horns" gesture) and the mano fico (a fist with the thumb pressed between the index and middle fingers). 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 Brazil, carvings of the mano fico continue to be carried as good luck charms.

In 1946, the American magician Henri Gamache published a text called Protection against Evil, also called Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed! which offers directions to defend oneself against the evil eye. Gamache's work brought evil eye beliefs to the attention of hoodoo practitioners in the southern United States.

See also

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