Attempting to try and explain the evil eye in a short blog is an intimidating task. However its prevalence in the culture in this area, the neighboring countries, and indeed the world (and in every souvenir shop) has led to many of our guests asking questions about the “evil eye”. So this is a very simple attempt to try and help us all have a slightly better understanding of this belief and practice.
WHEN DID THIS BELIEF BEGIN?
- It is interesting that the 3 main monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all have some aspect of this in their writings.
- The earliest eye idols were said to have been found in 3300 BC in Syria (Mesopotamia)
* Ancient Egyptians used to paint an eye of the prow of their ships.
- Classical authors (Greek and Roman times) tried to explain it in their writings
- Alexander the Great was a strong believer in the power of the Evil Eye, so as he expanded his territory, so he took the awareness of it and the protection against it with him.
Some people link the evil eye to the Eye of Ra. This refers to the feminine counterparts of the God Ra, the sun-disc (his eye) being the symbol of the mother, sibling, consort or daughter of Ra. This round disc (representing the sun) is seen in the representation of Hathor, Sekhmet, Bastet, Wadjet and Mut. Some others link the Evil eye to the Eye of Horus.
WHERE IS THIS BELIEF HELD STRONGLY TODAY?
It is quite strongly followed in the Mediterranean region, is found in central and west Asia, Latin America, west and east Africa and central America.
WHAT IS THE EVIL EYE?
Well, even at the outset this is quite confusing, because it is the same word used to describe 2 different things:
- The Evil Eye is believed to be a look, cast by a person (either consciously or totally unaware) usually because they are envious of something a person possesses (both animate or inanimate) or has achieved, and results in some misfortune, illness or injury of that which the person was envious of.
- The Evil Eye is also the name of the charm / talisman / symbol /decoration (Nazar) of an actual eye that is said to protect you from the malevolent glare from any person. The eye is usually blue in color (concentric circles of light and dark blue, sometimes with a layer of yellow)
WHO IS IT THAT GIVES THESE LOOKS? (curses)
It can be an individual person, in a family line, or even a tribe (it is said). Other opinions say it is anyone with an “unusual” eye: such as a squint, or 2 different colored eyes, or even eyes of an unusual color (so for example in an area where most of the population have brown eyes, blue or green eyes were thought to be more prone to having the power of the evil eye).
WHEN CAN THIS LOOK BE PASSED?
As mentioned, usually when someone is envious / jealous of the success, beauty, wealth, possessions etc that another has. This envious look contains destructive power and brings about harm. It is also thought that praise or compliments can lead people to give the evil eye. Some people will recite verses from the Koran for protection. Some cultures believe that spitting 3 times is what will chase the evil away. Yet another culture believes that putting a raw egg beneath a bed will indicate something about the curse.
CHARMS / TALISMANS / PROTECTION:
These are in the shape of an eye / ball / tear to represent an eye (usually in shades of blue, in concentric circles).
The evil eye (of protection) is also to be found in a hand (along with a fish). The eye is embedded in the palm of the hand. In Islam, this is referred to as the Hand of Fatima. In Judaism, it is referred to as the hand of Miriam. Also known as the “Hamsa” (5). This hand is also present in Buddhism and Hinduism. All adhere to the belief that this hand will bring about protection.
These talismans are said to turn back the envious looks containing destructive power, thus protecting the person wearing them.The eyes can be worn in a variety of ways: necklaces, rings, ear-rings, bracelets. Nowadays you can get them as cushion covers, shoes and slippers, tattoos, gloves, or you can get the talismans set in gold, silver or surrounded by diamonds.
It is said that close to 40% of cultures around the world still adhere to the belief of the curse of the evil eye, and that of needing a talisman to protect you from the curse it bears. Here in Egypt, many believe that talking too much about success and possessions, or receiving too many compliments or praise about beauty or achievements can attract the jealous eye from someone with a subsequent curse. Many believe that babies and young children are more vulnerable to the evil eye, and occasions like births, graduations, weddings and birthdays can attract the evil eye.
It is good to be aware of the prevalence of this in so many cultures, and the fear that is associated with it. Whether you adhere to this in your own life or not, it is good to know and understand, particularly as a foreigner, especially with blue or green eyes, how speaking too much praise about a beautiful baby or new furniture in a home, can leave people in much fear of the evil eye. Let us be sensitive to others, understanding of their world-view, even if it is different to our own.