Superstitions: The Evil Eye
Superstitions: The Evil Eye
Many people all over the planet have superstitions, especially witches and wizards, but not everyone knows where they come from. One of the most ancient and widespread superstitions is the belief in the evil eye; the strange power some people possess that is the ability to curse someone through a glance. There have been many amulets and symbols developed from various religions and cultures to protect themselves against the terrible curse of fascination. But before we look at the defences used against this terrible affliction there are some interesting facts about the evil eye that need explanation.
The evil eye is among one of the most common superstitions feared in every country around the world. The belief is that the eye can cast a malignant spell sometimes even without the person knowing they are doing it. The evil eye has been feared from perhaps before the time of ancient Egypt to this day. It was believed in Britten that certain people possessed the power of the evil eye, most of who were witches. The early authorities of the Christian Church adopted and sanctioned this belief as did many medieval physicians and writers on occult sciences. There have been many protective symbols and gestures developed to protect people from the curse of the evil eye throughout many cultures, many of these symbols use an image of an eye, a hand or both to reflect the negative energy.
The term used for casting the evil eye is to fascinate someone; this word has obviously changed into a benevolent word where as in the sixteenth century it was only a malignant one. It was only in the Elizabethan age that the term ‘to fascinate” or “bewitch” had in literature come to a double position, it could ether mean to give someone the evil eye or to fascinate or bewitch in a social context. It is interesting to note that even though these two words fascinate and bewitch have changed from their evil associations to what they are today witch and witching still bear an evil sense only in western culture.
The great philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) once wrote:
“There be none of the affections which have been noted to fascinate or to bewitch, but love and envy; they both have vehement wishes, they frame themselves readily into imaginations and suggestions, and they come easily into the eye, especially upon the presence of the objects which are the points that conduce to fascination, if any such there be. We see likewise the scripture calleth envy an evil eye.”
At this point the word was well on it’s way to becoming what it is today and Bacon is one of the best examples of how it was used in it’s transition period.
The evil eye did not only happen through envy but also love, as Bacon puts it, it is ether of those two things. It was believed that those who were under the influence of anger or envy were the most dangerous with this terrible faculty, while those who were with great fortune and exuberant happiness were more likely to get injured or have bad luck because they were exciting the greater invidia (envy) of the fascinator. It is bad luck to flaunt your success just in case someone else is envious of it and fascinates you with the evil eye. It is not just through envy you can be blasted with it, both the Greeks and the Romans believed (and still do) that most people who have the faculty of the evil eye were unaware that they possessed it. If the person possessing the power of the evil eye looked too attentively or were too fond of what they saw, it would bring bad luck on whomever or whatever it was they were looking at. It is thought that Narcissus fascinated himself and that is what led to his untimely fate, for it has always been believed that too much praise or admiration to anyone from anyone even oneself would bring upon the cures of fascination.
Another word associated with the evil eye that has changed its meaning was to be overlooked. If someone or something was said to have been overlooked it meant that someone had cast the evil eye on the object or person. This term used to be used mostly in the cases of people or farm animals getting sick or dying without any explanation. Cows are thought to be particularly susceptible to fascination in Scotland and Pigs in England. In these cases witches were often hunted down and burnt for the supposed overlooking and put through ridiculous tests to discover if they really were a witch or not and die ether way. Pliny stated that “the Thibii in Pontus, and many other persons as well, have a double pupil in one eye and a figure of a horse in the other, and that these people will not sink in water even when weighed down by clothes.” This idea led people in the Middle Ages, and even later, to put reputed witches to the water ordeal. If they sank they were innocent, and drowned anyway, but spite was appeased, and if they floated their fate was burning.
In ancient Egypt dread of the evil eye was ever present, their efforts to avert or baffle it were among the most elaborate. The symbol they used was the eye of Horus, the Wadjit eye or the healed eye. It was called this because in Egyptian mythology Seth put out Horus’s left eye and his mother replaced it with the healed eye or Wadjet eye. This was thought of as a powerful symbol that would ward off any evil. They believed after death the body could be inhabited by evil spirits so they placed an amulet with the Wadjet eye on it over the embalming incision of the dead to ensure that the evil spirits could not enter it. The Wadjet eye has been linked by some to with the “eye in the sky,” seen at the eclipse of the Sun. The eye is a powerful symbol of protection especially in protecting against the evil eye. This is why the Egyptians use the eye of Osiris and the eye of Horus to protect themselves. Sigils displaying an eye have often been mistaken for curses when in fact they are a means of protection. This is also referred to as the “all seeing eye”. It is interesting to note that some animals also use the deceptive form of an eye on their bodies to scare away predators, for example peacock feathers and some moths like the Eyed Hawk Moth from the UK and the Peacock Butterfly.
The Greeks and Romans wore protective amulets such as a horses shoe to protect them from being fascinated. Any amulet with this power is known as apotropaic. But another powerful symbol used as an amulet to protect against the evil eye is the hand, in ether an open position or in the position of the sacerdotal benediction (having the first two finger and thumb extended). Placing the thumb between the forefinger and the middle finger while making a fist will also protect against the evil eye. Hand gestures are thought to be powerful symbols and the hand itself is thought to be a powerful symbol because the human hand gives us the power to be able to create.
The open hand which is used in many Christian artworks showing Christian saints holding up their right hand palm facing out means that they are extending the love of God toward you. It is also the way Jewish people make a judicial oath by holding the right palm up instead of putting their hand on the bible. The sacerdotal benediction gesture is supposed to be only used by priests because it is thought to be more powerful but was also an amulet used against the evil eye long before the Christian era. Romans still make these hands out of gold and silver and wear them as protective amulets, they are known as Mano Pantea. In antiquity it was common to have life-size bronze hands as amulets of protection in your house, it was also traditional for them to have an eye on the palm of the hand so it was more affective at reflecting evil. Much like Hamsa hand in the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
The hamsa hand has different names depending on the country of origin. Hamsa is Arabic, hamesh hand (Hebrew), Mano Ponderosa (Catholic) and Helping Hand (hoodoo). The hand itself can be solid or done in filigree resembling a feather. This symbol is an ancient symbol used as a powerful amulet against the evil eye and is still widely used today, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. It is also known as khamsa meaning five in Arabic referring to the five fingers. Khamsa has long represented blessings, power and strength and is thus seen as potent in deflecting the evil eye. It is a downwards pointing hand that sometimes bares the “all seeing eye” on the palm. These hands are sometimes depicted having two thumbs instead of a thumb and a pinkie finger and are sometimes coloured blue. It is mostly used in jewellery as amulets and has become a popular design for tattoos. Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God. An Islamic alternative name for this charm is the “Eye of Fatima or the hand of Fatima”, this referrers to Fatima Zahra, Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. The other meaning in Jewish is Miriam’s hand, as regards Miriam, the sister of Aaron and Moses. The amulet is most often worn around the neck with the fingers facing down.
A more powerful amulet can be found in the form of a preserved hand. Australian Aboriginals from Victoria and New South Wales were known to carry around dried hands and bits of fingers and toes to protect themselves from their enemies and wizards from other tribes. The hands are said to have warned them from which direction their enemy was going to attack by causing a scratch on the wearer or some sort of skin irritation from the side that the enemy approached.
The eye in hand symbol seems to be the most diversely used apotropaic in the world, perhaps it is because the eye and the hand are crucial for the creative power of human beings, therefore able to create the most protection. Without these faculties we would not be able to put our ideas into motion, hand eye coordination is truly a gift from god. I am not saying that other amulets will not do the job as well but the hand and the eye are common symbols of protection also used individually like the Wadjit eye and the sacerdotal benediction gesture. So if you are worried about being fascinated unbeknownst to you, then purchase one of these amulets I have discussed, perhaps not the preserved hand, you probably won’t need one of those unless you are a serious Hoodoo practitioner, in which case good luck finding one. The other apotropaics are readily available at new age stores online.
This article is from the Magus Opus Autumn edition 2011
Brad & Saskia