The little, blue-outlined eye you find in jewelry or knick-knack stores is more powerful than you might think. However, the power of what is dubbed today as the evil eye vastly differs from the powers of a typical comic-book superhero or an enchantment from your favorite fantasy movies. Its abilities and meanings differ significantly from culture to culture. Take a brief trip around the world, and you’ll see what you once thought of as a trinket from your last vacation with a new set of eyes.
The evil eye is a cross-cultural phenomenon in history, with its earliest occurrences dating around 5,000 years ago in ancient Greece and Rome. It was often embraced by Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish traditions, which would later form the Hamsa Hand, an open hand with the evil eye at its center.
The majority of the ancient Mediterranean world viewed the evil eye in a positive manner, using the amulet to ward off negative forces or energy. Oftentimes, those who believed in the evil eye put its power at the same level as whatever gods or deities they believed in. But not all the forces the evil eye was made to fight against were ones of religious association.
Dr. Robyn Walsh, a religious studies professor at the University of Miami, said people in ancient Mediterranean countries wore the evil eye as an amulet to shield their personal vulnerabilities.
“We’re all sort of aware at various points of our own vulnerability, but we don’t always have the executive function to constantly process it. But that’s why amulets are so important because we can go on autopilot, and let it do the work for you,” said Walsh.
Senior Chrysanthi Makrygeorgou is an international student at UM, hailing from Athens, Greece and can often be found wearing jewelry from her own country, some of which includes the evil eye.
“I strongly believe in the energy of evil eye, as a lot of times I have witnessed jealousy turning into bad luck from other people,” said Makrygeorgou.
Its energy even extends into the world of love — something UM students are very familiar with. Love is one of the most vulnerable feelings of all today, as much as it was in ancient times. Not all were open to embracing it, so ancient people wore the evil eye to armor their heart.
“They thought arrows could go into your eye and scramble your brains and make you fall in love with someone you maybe didn’t want to fall for,” said Walsh.
The inability to control the power of the evil eye isn’t a spiritual theme exclusive to the ancient Mediterranean. A Slavic folktale titled “The Evil Eye,” written by Polish writer and historian Kazimierz Władysław Wóycicki in 1837, tells the story of a man who was born under “an unlucky star” possessing him with an evil eye, and any person or animal he looked directly at would die or catch a disease. When around others, he was forced to either keep his eyes closed or keep his head down so as not to affect them.
But when the man, known to his community as “the evil eye,” fell in love and married a woman he met in one of his rare outing, he begged for his wide to cut his eyes out with a knife. When she refused, he decided to complete the act himself and bury his eyes in the ground. The evil eye’s servant years later decided to find and dig up the eyes, dying the second he found them.
It wasn’t long before customs of the evil eye spread across the world. In Latin America, where the evil eye is referred to as “mal de ojo,” directly translating to “evil of eye,” people use it less to protect themselves from harmful forces but to separate from the negative energy and stares of people who hate them. They believe negative energy can physically manifest itself into sicknesses like fever, vomiting, insomnia or excessive crying in children. By wearing the mal de ojo, they believe they are protecting themselves from both physical and emotional suffering.
In Serbian culture, the belief in superstitions is high, especially for the evil eye. UM freshman Catherine Thomas grew up in a household that embraces its Serbian heritage and never even saw an evil eye until she started using social media.
“My family would never want one in the house because it’s known to bring harm and cast curses,” said Thomas. “I believe it can be a good thing if one’s culture embraces it, but if you do not have any significance behind it, you shouldn’t be wearing it.”
In the Middle East, the evil eye is thought to cause bad luck in forms such as unemployment, sickness, disability, domestic issues and other accidents. It’s often believed to attack young, wealthy and attractive people but doesn’t shy away from all adults, children, people’s property or even cattle.
The evil eye is probably a more controversial topic to you now than before you read this article — however, there is no need to throw out that souvenir bracelet. As long as you acknowledge and respect others’ beliefs, you can embody the small but mighty eye all you want.
words_amanda mohamad. photo_sharron lou. design_julia gomez.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2023 print issue.
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