Sunday, March 4

Sunday scribblings - the evil eye


“What is it with these eyes staring at me everywhere I go?”
, we were climbing the stairs to visit my man’s aunt, and here on the third floor (I don’t like lifts) I finally had to ask. The eyes were gazing up at me from door mats, from stickers stuck to door frames and from the delicate amulets that hung on some of the doors.

Of course I had already encountered the flat blue disk at the back of my darling’s front door when we first met, but I had never paid much attention to it. But here in Istanbul they were impossible to ignore, they were everywhere. Giant versions hung from the ceiling in bookshops, you could see them in public toilets, in cafés, dangling from the rear-view mirror in cars; basically any object that the owner believes is at risk of being envied is adorned with a representation of the evil eye.

The belief in the evil eye goes back a long way and is wide-spread: it occurred in ancient Greece and Rome and is found in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions. The basis behind it is that those who are fortunate in some way, be it through a successful business, a healthy child, or a beautiful wife, are at risk of having their “possession” gazed upon with envy (the evil eye) by those who are less fortunate. And it is believed that this envy can bring serious misfortune and bad luck, even if it’s done unintentionally.

At first I was curious as to why so much power is attributed to envy. After all much worse fates can happen to human beings other than simply being envied. But once I looked at it more closely I realised that much of the bad people do to each other actually stems from envy; from simple everyday things like the back stabbing that goes on in most offices up and down the country, to the more extreme things like theft and even murder. It's often comes down to wanting what somebody else has. And according to the late Alan Dundes, professor of folklore at the University of California (Berkeley), envy was believed to have a drying and withering effect on the victim, thus sucking the life out of it. I was starting to see why so many cultures have felt the need to protect themselves against it.

When my man was a little boy his mother made sure an evil eye was always pinned to his undershirt. Babies and children are supposedly particularly vulnerable to the envious gazes of others, especially those who are childless, or whose children are not healthy. There are countless tales of how the mother notices in the evening that the evil eye attached to her child’s clothes has cracked during the day. It is believed that the amulet used to protect against the evil eye either absorbs the envious glances of others or reflects them back. In some cases the envy is so strong that the amulet splits in two. But at least the wearer is safe.

We have an evil eye hanging in our kitchen, perhaps it is a subconscious decision on our part to protect ourselves against any envy experienced by friends who taste the culinary marvels that are created there – but I seriously doubt it. Perhaps it is simply a pretty object to rest our eyes upon every so often.

23 comments:

La Cubana Gringa said...

The Brit went to Turkey and brought back a handfull of evil eye pendants for me. I make jewelry and he thought they'd make great pendants...which they do. Especially given their rich history. I love them.

And don't discount what goes on in your kitchen...those semlas ALONE merit having an evil eye in there! :)

Sacred Suzie said...

I just creating a necklace with one of these but I made it red to match the rest of the necklace. I think anything that helps protect us from negative influences is a good thing. If it makes you feel better, how can that be bad?

Kamsin said...

Interesting post! I had no idea that was the reasoning behind the evil eye. Thanks for sharing!

Jay said...

I can never really wrap my head around the superstitions that some people subscribe to, but you really have to admire a culture that so persistently perseveres with certain stories.

meredith said...

I didn't know about the evil eye pendant. Aren't superstitions funny? :)

sognatrice said...

I was tempted to write about the Evil Eye today too, but I had already done a whole piece on it...and there's the added bonus that southern Italy is superstitious about everything, so I had a lot to choose from :) Nice writing!

Tammy said...

I had never heard of this and your post was very enlightening and well written. I have learned alot this Sunday :)

Regina Clare Jane said...

Very interesting... I had known a little about the evil eye, but now I know more. I didn't really grow up with that notion- maybe it's not so common in German heritage?

KG said...

This is a fascinating post that just flows. You've pulled together so many personal and objective facts into a very compelling piece.

When I moved into a favorite apartment many moons ago, a close friend whose parents hailed from Istanbul gave me an evil eye. I, too, hung it in the kitchen. I left it there when I gave up the apartment to a friend, but your writing now makes me long for that gorgeous blue eye staring down at me as I cooked. :)

Edvard Moonke said...

fascinating!

in brazil we have certain plants that we keep in the house for the purpose of 'absorbing' an envious visitor's negative energy. when the visitor leaves, if they are the envious type, the previously healthy plant looks completely withered.

paris parfait said...

Fascinating post. And you're so right about the "evil eye" being widespread in Turkey. And in Morocco it's the "hand of Fatima." All designed to ward off evil and bad luck.

Herb Urban said...

My Great Grandmother was born in the Ukraine. She always spoke of the evil eye. Not surprisngly, she was envious of everyone. No matter how well off she was, she always wanted what others had. She was also one of the most distrusting people I have ever known.

Very interesting post.

My Marrakech said...

Oh dear. I was feeling envy this weekend. I hope those I was with were wearing an evil eye secretly...

Nicole said...

hmmmm... fascinating. i've given the evil eye, i received the evil eye, but i never knew i should have one near me. enlightening!

Becca said...

This was fascinating and very well written! Thanks for sharing~ and I hope your kitchen ornament works!

omg said...

This was interesting. I had heard about and seen the evil eye plenty, but I didn't know about the link with envy. Thanks for posting!

daisies said...

wow, thanks for sharing all this amazing information, very cool ... and that photo is so beautiful :)

kristen said...

I have a patient whose husband is Turkish and she has evil eyes all over her home. I like all the glass pendants and hanging eyes and find it fascinating to see where they turn up.

Frances said...

My grandmother was always amazed that I was brave enough to go out everyday without a charm or a saint's medal pinned to my slip. These days I carry an evil eye charm a Turkish-Israeli friend gave me a few years back.
Thanks for visiting

Pigeon said...

Wow, that's amazing! I really like this idea of "the evil eye" as a reminder to guard against envy. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing this story!

nikinpos said...

I have one of those hanging on the bookcase. It came from Greece though. Doesn't seem to have worked very well in the last few months, maybe I should get rid of it!

gautami tripathy said...

I got a evil eye bracelet as a gift from my eldest nephew. I like it becos it is so pretty..

GeL(Emerald eyes) said...

Fascinating post. You write so well. I just read that English is your second language. I never would have guessed.

I almost posted about the evil eye, too, from my ethnic background, which is different from yours. I love reading the cultural differences and similarities among blog friends.