Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The basic feature of the belief system is that various people, often women who are characterized as witches, can bestow a curse on various victims by their malevolent gaze. The effects on victims vary; some have them cursed with bad luck of various sorts. Others believe the evil eye has even more baleful powers, that it can cause disease, wasting away, and even death. Some cultures hold that the evil eye is an involuntary jinx that is cast unintentionally by people unlucky to be cursed with the power to bestow it by their gaze. Others hold that while it is not strictly voluntary, the power is called forth by the sin of envy. In southern Europe and the Middle East, people with blue eyes are feared to possess the power to bestow the curse, intentionally or unintentionally.
Painted balls (or disks) painted with blue circle with a concentric black circle inside representing an evil eye are common talismans in the Middle East. A blue eye can also be found on some Fatima's Hands (or Hamsa), an amulet against the evil eye in the Middle East.
Among Europeans, the belief seems to have been strongest in the Mediterranean basin. In Judiasm the evil eye is called a "kenna kora" and people usually spit in order to ward off the evil eye. In Italian the evil is called jettatura or mal' occhio, in Greek baskania or matiasma. In Latin, the evil eye was fascinum, the origin of the English word "to fascinate". Belief in the evil eye also features in Islamic mythology; it is not a part of Islamic doctrine, however, and is more a feature of Islamic folk religion. The evil eye belief also spread to northern Europe, especially the Celtic regions. It generally is not a part of the native folklore of East Asia.
Attempts to ward off the curse of the evil eye resulted in a number of talismans being resorted to. The large eyes often seen painted at the prows of Mediterranean boats are there, traditionally, to ward off the evil eye; the staring eyes return the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer. In ancient Rome, people believed that phallic charms and ornaments offered proof against the evil eye; the idea here was that the ribald suggestions made by sexual symbols would distract the witch from the mental effort needed to successfully bestow the curse. Those who were not fortified with phallic charms had to make use of sexual gestures to avoid it. This is one of the uses of the mano cornuto (a fist with the index and little finger extended, the heavy metal or "Hook 'em Horns" gesture) and the mano fico (a fist with the thumb pressed between the index and middle fingers). In addition to the phallic talismans, statues of hands in these gestures, or covered with magical symbols, were carried by the Romans as talismans. In Brazil, carvings of the mano fico continue to be carried as good luck charms.
From Europe, belief in the evil eye was imported to the Americas. In 1946, the American magician Henri Gamache published a text called Protection against Evil, also called Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed! which offers directions to defend oneself against the evil eye. Gamache's work brought evil eye beliefs to the attention of hoodoo practitioners.
- Eye of Horus - an Ancient Egyptian symbol of protection and power.
- Eye of Providence - a symbol showing an eye surrounded by rays of light or a glory, and usually enclosed by a triangle.
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