The Origins of the Evil Eye
It is said that there are three kinds of evil eye: the first is the unconscious evil eye, which causes harm and hurt unintentionally. The second causes harm and hurt intentionally, while the third kind is the invisible eye, believed to be the most potent, harmful, and feared.
The superstition of the evil eye is one of the strongest symbolic images in the world, and despite the differences in methods to ward off evil eye across different territories, the evil eye keeps the same meaning no matter where the superstition is held and story is told. Evil eyes are thought to be expressions of jealousy and are usually personified by a malicious glare which inflicts pain, suffering, bad luck, and genuine misfortune on the person the glare is aimed at. When someone looks at good things with envy, they fill the surroundings with a destructive energy. Rooted in jealousy, it is believed that the evil eye is the greatest threat to anyone who does well in life, achieves great success, or that receives too much praise. This envy manifests itself as a curse that aims to undo good fortune.
The conception of the evil eye superstition is difficult to trace but evil eye protection can be traced back to ancient times. The earliest record of the use of the evil eye amulet dates back to 3300BC in one of the oldest Mesopotamian cities, Tell Brak; amulets in the shape of idols with incised eyes carved out of Alabaster were excavated in the area and are regarded as the earliest forms of evil eye amulets.
The evil eye superstition is so deeply ingrained in culture that, despite its potentially atheist connotations, it even finds a place within religious texts, including the Bible and the Quran. From the terrifying gaze of Greek gorgons to Irish folktales of men able to bewitch horses with a single stare, practically every culture has a tale related to the evil eye, and the desire for protection against it is nothing new, with each believing culture coining their own methods of protection;
In Hindu culture, it is believed that you are most vulnerable to evil eye when you are going through puberty, getting married or expecting a child. Hindus believe that the eye is the strongest point of energy in the body so even a flattering glare could cause evil eye to curse someone. When this happens, their cow’s milk supply will dry up, leaving them without. This birthed the tradition of giving a bowl of milk to someone you admire in order to counteract the unconscious evil eye. Hinduism also regards women to be the most frequent givers of evil eye so women will often paint their eyelids black for protection from receiving evil eye and for prevention of giving evil eye.
Judaism follows the idea that if a person possesses a negative attitude and feels envious, as opposed to joyful, of other people’s successes, then this person is dangerous to others. This way of looking at it also works in reverse, in that those with a positive attitude will celebrate the successes of others and wish them well. Jewish protection methods to ward off evil eye consist of spitting three times after a vulnerable person’s name is mentioned, or saying, when discussing future plans, “let it be without the evil eye” (‘kinehora’ in Yiddish).
The European belief in the evil eye originated with the idea that a harsh glare can bestow bad luck on someone. The evil eye is also associated with witches, giving those with unibrows or unique eye colours a stronger ability to cast it. European Christians would create a cross with their hands while pointing their pinky and index finger towards the curse’s origin. In some areas, people burned bear fur to rid evil eye.
In ancient Greece and Rome, it was believed that the gods and goddesses used the evil eye to punish people who had become too proud as a result of too much praise. In this sense, individuals would cause their own downfall as a consequence of pride. In order to protect against evil eye, Ancient Greeks would burn incense and carry crosses.
Similar to the Ancient Greeks, Islam preaches that too much praise will bring harm as a result of evil eye. When giving praise, Muslims will say ‘Masha’Allah’, meaning God has willed the good fortune to evade any negative effects of the evil eye.
The Turkish and Turkish Cypriot cultures still hold the traditional custom of bringing an evil eye amulet to babies, as it is believed that young children are the most vulnerable to evil.
To oppose the evil eye, Turkish people created the Nazar Boncuk charm, also known as the Turkish evil eye. The purpose of the amulet is to repel evil spirits and protect you from harm. The use of the evil eye symbol on amulets is thought to reflect the evil glare back on to the person giving it. Wearing evil eye jewellery is one of the most common practises of protecting against it.
Due to their glass nature, evil eye amulets are subject to cracking and breaking over time. This in itself holds superstition, but it is not the bad omen one might think it is. The Turkish culture believes that all bad energy cast is diverted away from you and into the amulet, meaning that if an evil eye amulet is cracked or broken, it has fulfilled its purpose to protect. As soon as the amulet cracks or breaks, it must be immediately replaced to ensure that no future evil eye prevails.
Though you can find different coloured ones, evil eye amulets are traditionally blue. This colour choice has its own superstitions and stories; throughout time, light coloured eyes have been idolised and sought after as a sign of mystical beauty, but the Turks believe that these beautiful eyes become the biggest harbingers of misfortune when they turn towards you with envy. Multiple historians have theorized that, as dark-eyed people were the norm in the Mediterranean, those with blue eyes were rare and considered the most skilled at casting evil eye; Turks believe that people who possess eyes of an unusual colour are wicked, do not hold good wishes for others, and hence seek their harm and misery.
Blue was therefore chosen as the colour of evil eye amulets with the mindset of an eye for an eye, being that, a blue eye can’t curse me if a blue eye is staring back at you.
This theory can, however, be proven scientifically wrong by the fact that original evil eye beads are said to have first been made from Egyptian glazed mud. This mud contains a high percentage of oxides, which, when baked, causes the copper and cobalt to produce the blue colour. These blue beaded versions began appearing in Egypt in 1500BC and were adopted by Turkic people, who associated the colour blue with their sky God, Tengri.
As glass production became more sophisticated, glass beads started appearing in the Mediterranean just after 1500BC. Evil eye amulets grew popular and underwent widespread circulation amongst the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and perhaps most famously, the Ottomans. Though their use was mostly concentrated in the Mediterranean and the Levant, through trade and the expansion of empires, the blue evil eye amulets found their way across the globe.
Evil eye amulets can be found all across Turkey and Northern Cyprus, in jewellery, art and home décor forms amongst many others. Due to modern technology and trends and the adventures and conquests of the Ottomans, other cultures and civilisations have adopted and adapted the evil eye amulet, meaning that they can be found in more territories than those of the Turks.
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What’s fascinating about the evil eye isn’t just the length of time this superstition and its protection methods have lasted, but that its meaning and usage has barely deviated over the course of this time. We still believe in the evil eye and use amulets today in the same ways the Egyptians and Ottomans did back then.