The Evil Eye
The eyes are often thought of as the windows to the soul and since ancient times the notion of the evil eye has been around. Belief in the evil eye can be traced back to Babylonian times. It has been seen all over the world and is still feared to this day. The notion reached its climax during the witchcraft panic of the seventeenth century, when many European witches were accused of the practice by ‘overlooking’ their victims. Since ancient times people with blue or green eyes have been widely supposed to be able to harm their enemies with no more than a severe look. It is often associated with women and therefore with the Crone, or wise woman. Also, anyone with eyes that looked different, like if they were deep-set, uneven, two different colours, or even a squint, were at stake of being accused of possessing the evil eye.
The evil eye is the idea that some people can curse an object or person simply by the act of looking, as though the eye itself can direct a malevolent thought. The supernatural harm can come in many forms, ranging from minor misfortune to illness, injury or death. Some symptoms of illness associated to this include fever, loss of appetite, excessive hiccups or coughing and vomiting. Animals, plants, houses, cars and other objects can also be cursed. Animals may fall ill, plants may wither and die, houses could get leaks, cars can break down, etc. All sorts of small problems could be traced to the evil eye. This can of course lead to paranoia and worry. Due to this many people still believe in the power of the evil eye. And in the past, before scientific explanation, the evil eye was the ‘cause of much destruction’ and people like shamans and witch doctors were called to remedy curses caused by the evil eye. While the owner of the evil eye did not necessarily need to be a witch, the curse would require someone magical to remove it. The word ‘orth’ was used for an ordinary spell but a ceremonial magical spell among the Celts was signified by the word ‘bricht’ which also means ‘bright’ in dialect, and some suspect that this involves a ceremony using a moonlit night.
It is a mark of the profound belief in the concept of the evil eye that there are so many charms and ways to protect against it. Children who are praised in public ‘draw the attention of the evil eye, ‘ so in many cultures the parents will then ask the person who just complimented their child to spit on the child to counteract the compliment and thus take the attention away from the child. People came up with all sorts of methods to protect against the power of the evil-eye. Some of the methods included:
- Hanging glass ‘witch balls’ in their windows
- Using coral, red ribbons, horse-shoes and necklaces of betony leaves.
- Knotted cords with amulets in the shape of an eye or toad with blue beads
- Fishermen would put the fleur-de-lis on their boats
- Spitting in the eye of the person you suspect of having the power of the evil eye
- Burning the body of an animal
- Making the sign of the cross
- For children it was believed they could be protected if you held them upside down for a few moments every morning.
- You could also protect your child by bathing them in the water where a silver coin borrowed from a neighbor would be placed.
- Best known would be the ‘devils horns’, made by holding down the middle two fingers of the hand with the thumb
Many people actually wear jewelry that protects against the evil eye without even knowing the meaning behind it.