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The evil eye.

In most cultures there is an extreme fear of the 'Evil Eye.' People will recite incantations, give signs, and will do everything possible in order to avoid its fateful curse.

It has been said of those possessed with this malevolent gift, that "their breath caused wind; their length is a thousand miles; their aura if of evil and ill wind. As living beings they have human faces, a scaled snake-like body, and livid in color. They guard treasure, lust after young women, extol the muscular prowess of the male; by blowing they turn the air in the cold of winter; and by exhaling their foul breath they cause the withering of the land and of peoples."

Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, Sadaam Hussein, and the Biblical Og of Balshaam are among those believed to have possessed the 'Evil Eye.' A story from the 'Thousand Nights and One Night' tells of the misery caused by the curse of a sorcerer with the 'Evil Eye:

"It is related, O auspicious one, that there lived in the city of Bagdad, after the reign of many Khalifahs and before the reign of many others, a wicked and vile sorcerer with an 'Evil Eye.'"

The devilish man would only look at his victim with a baleful eye, mutter incantations and then cast a spell over him: "By the powers of darkness, demons, devouring beasts ..."

Indeed, among certain peoples, the conception of the 'Evil Eye' is so strong to the point of paranoia. Even an innocent look is suspected of wishing harm; the more so if it is accompanied by a compliment or two. The offender, the 'Jettitore' (endowed people) on the threat of bodily harm, is then asked to spit on the ground to annul the threat of the "Evil Eye'; while the offended will make one of those gestures against it--the 'mano' or the 'figa'. The gestures, with two extended fingers (index and little finger) rudely signify sexual intercourse, and according to well-known authorities, "will divert the object of the 'Evil Eye' by tempting it with sexual desire."

Evil burns all it beholds

The 'Evil Eye' is an idea accepted by many cultures throughout the world, though it originated around the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Belief in it has spread wherever superstitious belief is in force. (1) Envy, jealousy, hatred, malice, contempt, hostility, astonishment and exaggerated admiration can all be transmitted through the eye, and Russian scientists have even recently claimed to have shown that the human gaze has immense physical energy and that the eye emits high frequency rays of wavelength--80 micrometers.

The 'Evil Eye' is often depicted as a 'Single Eye' (2), the one that sees for its own benefit. But is also known as the 'Double Eye' to account for the fact it hides evil under the mask of friendship. In later folk-lore this myth was linked to witches who, according to their victims, could be recognized by their having two pupils in each eye; who glared with both evil eyes on those who pried into her secrets. This fear is with us today as many men continue to avoid the stare of a strange woman.

Envy was believed to be one of the causes of the 'evil eye', it was considered unlucky to have one's belongings praised: The use of some qualifying phrase such as, "As God wills" or "God bless it" to annul its envious threat is still in use in some European countries. The 'Mishnah' (collection of Jewish oral laws) confirms that the 'Evil Eye' is brought upon by jealousy, which turns to hate.

The evil that it causes can affect both the offended and the offender; and one should avoid the 'Evil Eye' of jealousy. Thus, a religious Jew, when asked on his health or welfare will answer "Blee Ayin Rah" ("Without an evil eye"); namely he is satisfied with his condition and will not look with envy on a person in a better situation. In Spanish tradition, one should accept the fate of the 'Evil Eye' with the hope that its curse will be limited and that it will pass quickly.

The fear of the 'Evil Eye' is so great among various cultures that persons, that seem to be inflicted with its curse, will go to extremes to be protected. There is an injunction in Slovakia, "never give a child the breast after it is weaned," for fear that its desires will become implacable and look with an evil eye on other things that is forbidden to enjoy. In many countries children will baptized in secret, given sacred or holy names, or their body will be disguised in varied ways in order to protect them from the 'Evil Eye' with its curse of disease, disability or death.

Peoples from the Balkan States to the Middle East are convinced that garlic pods worn around the neck or hung on windows will protect them from the 'Evil Eye'; and in the Transylvania region of Romania, garlic offers extra protection from werewolves and vampires. An Italian, on the other hand, when threatened with the 'Evil Eye' will give the 'Salutis' gesture with the middle finger extended horizontally (3); this is the intention to impale the eye of the ill-wisher. An Arab will be protected from the 'Evil Eye' by displaying a 'Hamsah,' a small open hand symbol at the entrance of his home: The hand is a perennial symbol of the five basic precepts of Islam--profession of faith, prayer, pilgrimage, fasting and charity.

Now, if one has the curse of the "Evil Eye' cast upon him (or her) one should take the necessary precautions or a spell will be woven and ill wind will follow the recipient. Only confrontation and war measures are taken based on counter magic to deceive or defeat the evil eye and to save the endangered person. The use of a mirror or a reflecting ornament or a specific color, preferably red or blue, may blight the source by reflecting the evil glance. An outstretched hand may stop its rays.

According to the Talmud (fundamental code of Jewish and civil laws), whoever is afraid of the 'evil eye' should stick his right thumb in his left hand and his left thumb in his right hand proclaiming: "I, so and so, son of so and so, am the son of Joseph, who the evil eye may not affect." This is to avert the evil eye by putting it to shame.

There are other means of combating the 'evil eye' through attempts to absorb the devastating glance and neutralize it by diverting its stare from the intended with interesting objects hung between the eyes of the endangered person, e.g. precious stones, or tails of small animals.

Survival of this widespread fear of the 'evil eye' has even entered into our society with many true stories of people being bewitched (4). Who knows, maybe you will be the next person to feel the curse and its consequences of misery and destruction. "The 'Evil Eye', the eye of fire, is the eye of higher perception; it burns all that appears before it ..."

... Beware, you have been warned ...

   "When I look lower I espy;
   Hadst thou the wicked skill
   By pictures made and marr'd, to kill.
   How many ways mights thou perform they will?"

--(Witchcraft in a Picture--poet Donne)

Notes and References:

1) "The world of spirits and demons has been a companion of all civilizations up to the present day. Among the civilizations of the Ancient Near East the distress and fear of the sick man caused him to create amulets and incantations to suppress the forces of evil or the spell of 'Evil Eye' that caused the illness. Occasionally the incantation is directed against a specific illness by name. For example on an amulet found in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee reads, "An amulet proper to heal Ya'itha the daughter of Marian from fever and shiver and other evil wishes." The Eye--The Seer and the Seen, Francis Huxley

2) "The single eye is either symbolic of evil or of ill-wind or envy." Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper

3)"The chief talisman against the 'Evil Eye' has long been the phallus symbol, which is inscribed the name of the owner, that which weaves a spell over an ill-wish and leaves it bound to the author of all satisfaction." "Illness and Healing in Ancient Times," Exhibition catalogue, Reuven and Edith Hecht Museum, University of Haifa, Israel, Ofra Rimon, curator.

4) "At Jewish weddings a precious glass is broken at the end of the ceremony as a preventive measure against the 'evil eye' and evil spirits from entering into the union of the couple." Encyclopedia Judaica, Ketter Publishing Co., Jerusalem

Norman A. Rubin is a former correspondent for the Continental News Service, USA, now retired. He has been a free-lance writer for the past twenty years, writing on Near East culture and crafts, archaeology, fantasy; religious history and rites, travel (mainly historically-related), coinage, and politics. He has been featured in publications world wide and on the Net.
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Title Annotation:CULTURE
Author:Rubin, Norman A.
Publication:World and I
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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