Beware The Evil Eye — Across cultures and ages, an enduring symbol of luck

Some say that eyes are the windows of the soul and, indeed, eyes can say powerful things. Lovers eye each other tenderly, pretty things catch the eye, and surprises are often eye-openers. To some, however, eyes can also play a sinister role, even evil.

Evil Eyes are envious stares believed powerful enough to transform the good fortune of others – be it health, wealth or happiness – into misfortune. Envy, a human quality as old as humankind itself, has indeed led many into evil. Chillingly, though, some people believe that even the most innocent of glances and compliments can entice the Evil Eye as well. While this may all seem long ago and far away, many people, either out of tradition or religious belief, continue to fear the Evil Eye today.

After all, anyone or anything can fall beneath its spell. When a child suddenly falls ill, a thriving business loses customers, a tumbling brook runs dry, or a bountiful orchard withers, people naturally seek explanations. In trying to puzzle out the situation, they may recall a neighbor’s envious comments, a competitor’s slighting ones, or an aunt’s doting smile, then put one and one together. eye kinehurra 2 AW.jpgSo rather than tempt fate, many people – both those who bless good fortune and those blessed by it – rely on Evil Eye charms and spells for protection.

The wary, whether bestowing or receiving a compliment, may spit thrice in the air, toss grains of salt over their shoulders, or knock on wood. Some, to be on the safe side, deflect malevolent forces by adorning their entranceways with miniscule mirrors or wreathing their doorposts with protective bundles of anise seed, rue, basil, and sage.

Words can also do the job. To this day, Jewish mothers pepper complimentary conversations with cries in Yiddish of "Begone Evil Eye!" even if those are the only Yiddish words they know. Some, if strangers prove too curious about the size of their families, respond evasively, rather than enumerating their little ones by name. Or to mislead the Powers That Be, they counter well-meaning observations about their offspring with intentionally deprecating remarks.

Strands of red woolen thread, supposedly charged with special energy from Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, reputedly avert misfortune as well. Jerusalem’s beggars there do a brisk business guaranteeing good luck for a mere handful of coins. Mothers loop them to their babies’ carriages, cribs, or around their left wrists.

With the singer Madonna’s recent foray into Kaballah, the compilation of mystical teachings based on Hebrew Scriptures, knowledge of these humble red strings has reached new heights – and America’s shores. EBay now features simple red strings wound on leather bracelets for as little as one cent. Even the more elaborate versions, those adorned with varying combinations of multiple red strands, metal beads, and good luck charms, are not expensive. In either case, a small outlay reaps lots of luck.

The color blue also seems to repel the Evil Eye. Some Middle Easterners, to give malevolent forces the heave-ho, ceremoniously burn special cobalt blue crystals (available at ethnic spice stores) while muttering appropriate incantations. Others, perhaps harking back to a time when few people boasted eyes that unearthly shade of the sea and the sky, edge their doors and windows with pale blue whitewash.

7540-2.jpgMany people believe that amulets and charms must feature eyes to successfully counter the Evil Eye, evidently by staring it down. Ancient Greeks painted Evil Eyes on the prows of their ship, to insure safe passage. Archeologists have uncovered Roman charms, thought to protect against evil, that feature tiny concentric circles resembling bulls eyes.

To this day, bazaars from Ankara to Tunis offer a variety of Evil Eye amulets that resemble our own orbs. Armenian artisans hand paint ceramic plaques with surprisingly attractive looking eyes. Glass workers create Evil Eye beads, bits of glossy blue glass topped by concentric circles, in a variety of sizes. 8650-1.jpgThe tiniest ones, if tucked into a purse or a suitcase, protect its owners wherever fate may lead them. Larger ones, arrayed artistically across a coffee room table or part of a wall hanging, can afford protection to an entire household.

Peasants across Egypt and India sometimes dangle life sized Evil Eye glass beads around the necks of their draft donkeys, horse, and cattle, or from their collars. People blessed with wheels dangle theirs from wagons, bicycles, motorcycle handles, or car rear view mirrors. These oversized Evil Eyes have also made their way to this side of the ocean. Walnut-sized Evil Eye beads, which unnervingly mimic our own, are creatively marketed as "exotic wall hangings." Anyone hankering for an eyeful can own one, believe it or not, for as little as one penny.

1930 Brass Hamsa.jpgBecause malevolent forces are everywhere, Evil Eye motifs also appear on a variety of everyday items. In Turkey and Greece, for example, Evil Eyed keychains and mobile cell phones are very popular because they’re, well, mobile. To take it even further, Turkish airplanes sometimes feature nazars, their Evil Eye motifs, alongside their logos.

Hand shaped amulets called Hamsas, from the Arabic word for hand, are another type of wall hanging that guards against the Evil Eye. With palms up like traffic cops, they supposedly stop bad luck in its tracks. Although hamsas alone are very strong medicine indeed, when adorned with Evil Eye motifs, they pack a double whammy. Because they are created in a variety of styles, and often include blessings for wealth and health to boot, hamsas, understandably, are popular house warming gifts. Many people, in fact, own several, scattering them strategically throughout their abodes.

3 hamzas AW.jpgMiniature hamsas, wrought of gold, silver, or bright blue enamel, are also very popular as earrings and charms. Necklaces and bracelets are therefore fashioned from blue glass Evil Eye beads. All Evil Eye jewelry, in fact, is potent because it is actually worn on the body. Happily, simple amulets can be fairly inexpensive. At craft or ethnic stores do-it-yourselfers can purchase a handful of tiny Turkish or Peruvian Evil Eye beads for about $10. Thirty dollars will buy the same number of famed Murano Evil Eye beauties. Ready-made jewelry pieces, pre-assembled necklaces, anklets, and bracelets, which offer anything from a single blue bead to multiple strands of staring Eyes, are inexpensive, too. So are Evil Eye earrings, rings, and charms. People with an eye for glamour may prefer a modernized version of the traditional design. For a modest sum, they can sport bracelets featuring rows of Eyes interspersed with Swarovski crystal beads in all the colors of the rainbow.

Finally, strands of Evil Eye worry beads might interest those with time on their hands and an abundance of cares. For a few dollars, this popular Greek and Turkish "fidget toy" not only relieves everyday stress and agreeably passes the hours, but also averts misfortune. How lucky can you get?

© 2007.