Traced back to Sumerian clay tablets as early as 3,000BC, the Evil Eye is one of the most longstanding superstitions in the world. With Middle Eastern origins, it was spread globally through colonisation. But what’s so fascinating about it is that it’s prevalent in so many different cultures and religions; from Greek Orthodox to Mexican Catholic, and Israeli Judaism to Turkish Muslim. And it’s unquestionably one of the most widely accepted and believed superstitions in the world.
Many people would recognise the Nazar Boncuk, the special charm which is thought to repel the Evil Eye. If you have ever visited countries such as Turkey, Greece or Mexico you have probably seen it in its various forms in the markets. It is most commonly found above doorways or worn as jewellery.
What is the Evil Eye?
The legend of the Evil Eye is centred round envious gazes and praise. It advises that if you look too enviously or praise too highly – you will bring bad luck to the object of your attention. Without realising it, you have cursed them with evil spirits, who piggyback on your words or look and bring them bad luck.
The effects of the Evil Eye are genuinely believed to be real, and are feared by many people across the world. However, Italy is the only country where it is widely believed that you can intentionally put the Evil Eye on others.
What does it do?
The Evil Eye has strong connotations with water. Water is often associated with nourishment, prosperity and life, and the curse of the eye is believed to dehydrate the victim.
It’s believed that it can only affect certain people within society; nursing infants and mothers, young children, adult men, milking cattle and fruit trees.
The effect of the curse most commonly seen is severe vomiting or diarrhoea. But they can also include a mother who is unable to nurse her child, cattle that no longer produce milk, an impotent male, or the withering of a fruit tree.
Fish and other marine life are believed to be immune to the Evil Eye as they are always surrounded by water.
It is thought that the form the curse takes is determined by the envious eye. It always results in the dehydration of the victim, and death can be the ultimate consequence. However there are ways to defend against it, and repel the curse once it is in place.
How do you protect against it?
Many people who believe in the Evil Eye wear or carry the Nazar Boncuk charm, which stares back at the world to ward off evil spirits, and keep you safe.
However sometimes this is not enough to protect you, so you must be aware of any potential perpetrators. These can be envious people, those who give out praise too easily, or the greatest perpetrator of all is people with blue eyes.
Blue eyed people are believed to have a predisposition to cursing people with the Evil Eye, unintentionally. This is most commonly believed in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions of Europe where there a few blue-eyed locals, but lots of blue-eyed tourists. If you travel to these areas and you have blue eyes, you may find that you are treated with suspicion by the locals, who may fear that you will inadvertently curse them.
What do you do if you think you’re cursed?
When an illness is brought on very suddenly and doesn’t seem able to be remedied by a doctor, many believers of the Evil Eye will call in a healer. The healing process consists of a complex set of rituals which vary by culture and country.
If you witness the inception of the curse, you can act to repel it immediately. This can be done by touching the subject of the curse to ‘take off the eye’, by spitting on them (believed to act as a rejection of the eyes dehydration of them) or by rubbing dirt on their face and speaking ill of them to counteract the damage caused by the praise or envy.
If you think you may be victim to the Evil Eye there are many different ways that you can test it.
In many parts of Eastern Europe they drop a piece of coal into water, and if it floats you’re under the Evil Eye.
In Ukraine, wax is dripped into a bowl of holy water, and if it sticks to the side of the bowl you’re under the curse. To treat, secret prayers are given by the women of the family and the holy water is used to bathe the victim.
In both Greece and Mexico the same ritual is undertaken, and the victim must just drink holy water. However, the ceremony is more effective if the perpetrator spits into the water before it is drunk. And to save shame by revealing their identity, it is common for everyone attending the ritual to spit into the holy water before the victim has to drink it.
Finally in Italy, they drip oil into a basin of water, drop by drop. If the beads of oil form an eye shape, they’re under the curse of the Evil Eye. The female members of the family recite secret prayers and continue to drip oil into the water drop by drop until the eye image has gone – a process which can sometimes take hours.
Are you a believer?
The legend of the Evil Eye is not only fascinating because it has managed to survive for thousands and thousands of years, but because it is so deeply engrained into such a diverse set of cultures and religions.
The great irony of the eye is that you’re subjected to bad luck because of your own beauty and other’s admiration of you. Many believers have attributed the misfortunes of many famous celebrities to the Evil Eye, as they are looked at, spoken of and admired on a much larger scale than most people. And it is not uncommon to see a celebrity suffering bad luck.
So are you a believer? The thing about superstition is that you may not believe…but you’ll probably avoid envious gazing and praises just in the off chance that you’re wrong.
Steph McLean writes for Lenstore.co.uk, a retailer from where you can buy contact lenses online. She is greatly interested in social history and the ways that folklore and superstition have impacted different cultures today.