USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Najar: The Evil Eye

“We were probably like – I was probably like 11, and [my sister] was probably 9-ish so it was kinda long ago, but I remember we were at my grandma’s house [in India], and she had three different stories. No one goes on the second story; it’s just like boarded up. And then the third story is a terrace. So, we go to the third story, and we’re just talking and my sister said something like ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or something, like literally those words. And so I was like, ‘Oh my God, dad’s gonna get so mad at you, you said a bad word, blah blah blah.’ Usually she would be like, ‘ok stop, you’re not being funny,’ but like legitimately she was like, ‘oh my god, you’re so right,’ and she just starts bawling. She’s crying, she’s losing it, she’s like freaking out, like legitimately I thought she was going crazy. She was like ‘I have to tell dad I said it!’ and she’s like running everywhere and she’s like ‘when’s dad coming home, when’s dad coming home? I have to tell him, I have to tell him, he’s gonna be so mad at me.’ And like, she’s nine years old, so she’s old enough to where it’s like ‘ok you’re being weird.’ And so, like no one thought much of it, and then my dad comes home, and she’s like ‘dad, I said “dumb”’ or whatever the word was. And he was like, you know, like, ‘don’t say that word again’ and whatever, and she was like ‘I know, I’m SO sorry.’ She just starts crying and crying. And she was doing weird stuff like that for three or four days, and we were like ‘ok what’s going on?’

“[It started] since she was on the terrace, I guess – because – we had gone somewhere, we had like taken the train somewhere and it’s super common knowledge that the train stations are like  the most haunted places in India because people commit suicide and stuff; they jump off while the train is coming. And so, they think that she got some “bad air” – so like a ghost, like, spirit thing. Because they don’t – it’s not like a ghost possessed you, but it’s just like you picked up on some bad aura or like a bad spirit from the train station and it kinda like made her go crazy. So like, I was freaking out. I was like, ‘Get her away from me. I don’t want her in the same room. She can sleep outside!’

“But yeah, so we took her to the pandit, which is a priest, and he like, did all this like, fire smoke stuff, and like put it around her and stuff. And he like gave her this bracelet and was like ‘okay, after doing that, this bracelet will collect the bad spirit inside of her, and then you take off this bracelet and you like dispose of it.’ If you were in India, you would throw it in one of the holy rivers, but we were going back home [to the United States], so he was just like ‘just put it in a river anywhere.’ I honestly think we took it to the Trinity River, I’m being so serious. It sat in our garage for a while. But yeah, he put that bracelet on her, and a couple days later, she was like fine, like it immediately went away. So I don’t know if it worked or like she was doing it to herself, like a placebo-type thing. I don’t know, but she was just acting super weird for a couple of days, like freaking out about things that didn’t matter. She was like losing her mind over stuff, like she couldn’t get over it. So yeah, I think that she picked up on some…some sort of bad air.”

 

When I was researching Indian ghost belief, I came across the belief of “najar” which roughly translates to “evil eye.” I asked my Indian friend that I knew from Texas if she knew of or ever had an experience with “najar,” and this is the story that she gave me. I find it interesting that her sister never caught this evil eye while in the United States, but it was only a trip to India that spurred this occurrence. I asked her to elaborate more on “najar,” and she told me a bit more about how people typically act when they have new (cute) babies.

 

“If you have a child – and some babies are ugly, but some are super cute. So if you have a baby and everyone’s like, ‘Aw, your baby is so cute, blah, blah, blah,’ – my mom would like freak out. She hated that, she would not let people like – you know how sometimes you like see a cute baby at Walmart and you’re just like staring at it like ‘aw that baby is so cute!” and you just look at it? – she would not like that at all. She would like turn her kids, us, around. She always said that if people were staring over you, like gawking over you, they’re gonna get jealous because you have this cute baby. And that jealousy is like evil, you know? And so your child is going to catch that evil eye.”

 

My informant also told me a bit about the steps that mothers would take to protect their babies against the evil eye, other than just staying away from potentially jealous people.

 

“Babies will sometimes have black dots on their foreheads to protect them from the evil eye. I guess it’s just symbolic of evil, like evil is black. You [also] always have this silver bracelet with black beads; I’m pretty sure my mom still has all three of ours. Because like, you wear it for a long time, until you’re older. Because I guess as an infant, you’re more vulnerable to the evil eye because you’re younger.”

 

In conclusion this interview, my informant expressed uncertainty as to whether her sister was affected by a spirit or simply rattled from leaving home for a prolonged period of time.


“I don’t know if it was actually a ghost or if she was just like being weird, but she was acting really weird and spooked me out too. There’s so many things; it could’ve been like we’re home now and she’s calmer; we had been gone a while. Or it could’ve been like the ghost left her on the plane or something. But yeah, she was back to normal when we got back home.”

Folk Beliefs

A Figure in the Night

When I was 12 or 13, one night I woke up to go the bathroom around 2 or 3 morning- you know, the witching hour. I cam back to bed, and was still fully awake- it usually takes me a little bit to go back to bed. I was alert. I was looking out my open doorway, which was lit only by the light of the nightlight in my bathroom coming out into the hall. Then I saw a figure walk out of one room, past my door, and into the next room. And it wasn’t, like, a dark, shadowy figure- it was very clearly a person, a person-shape. It wasn’t dark either, it was fair- more white and washed out than how an actual person would look in the dark. It looked white, and it was wearing some sort of clothes- nothing specific. I didn’t know what I saw at first, but my entire body just froze. I had never been so scared in my life. I just froze in my bed, and eventually was able to fall back asleep.”

My friend who told me this story also told me a lot about her mom’s beliefs, and it was interesting to hear them, and also see how they affected her own personal beliefs. Her mom is Chinese, but grew up in Vietnam. She is a strong believer in the supernatural, as well as the many superstitions that are common in her culture. One thing that I found particularly interesting is that her mom believes all young children can see ghosts up until a certain age, because they are still in the liminal early stages of life. Her superstitions were also interesting, a couple being that owls are an omen for death, and that if a cat jumps over a body at a funeral the body would sit up straight in its coffin. That latter one amused my friend who told me, and said she had asked her mom if she had ever experienced it, to which she replied that she hadn’t but didn’t want to take any chances by having cats at a funeral. It seemed like her mother’s, and grandmother’s as well, pronounced belief in ghosts actually caused her to be more skeptical for a while, not believing all the crazy stories they told her. However as she got older, and experienced the story she told me, as well as others, she began to accept it. She said that now she still doesn’t know if she believes some of the more out-there stories her mom has told her, or the superstitions. It was interesting to see the affect of prevalent ghost belief at home on someone who grew up in America (in Boston, Mass).

Folk Beliefs
general

The Haunted Third Floor

When I was in 5th grade, the school that I went to was really old. It was founded in 1841 and had a long history, and a lot of ghost stories. This one building that used to be dormitories, the third floor of it was supposed to be really haunted. My class was on the 2nd floor, but we could charge our laptops in this one room on the 3rd floor. It was always locked since people’s laptops were in there. One day we went up there to put our laptops away, but our teacher forgot to come meet us and unlock the door. So we were standing in the hallway and there wasn’t anyone inside the room. But then the doorknob to the room started shaking a lot. At first we thought someone was in there, but then we realized no one would be in there if it was locked. We got really freaked out and went and got the teacher, and went back up with her. She opened the locked room and no one was in there. It was eerie”

My roommate told me this story about her school back in Hawaii. She does believe in ghosts, so she obviously thinks that is what the cause was. It is interesting to hear this, as it is not such an overt siting, so someone more skeptical on the subject would probably write it off as nothing. While collecting this story from her, we began to talk about Hawaiian ghosts and how they relates to their culture. She said that ghost belief is very prevalent in Hawaii- more so than the rest of America- and intertwined with the native culture. She observed that Hawaii has had a large influence from Asian immigrants from many different countries, especially Japan, which has a more pronounced belief in ghosts. Since she is of Japanese and Chinese descent, we talked about how those cultures have also influenced her beliefs and led her to be more open-minded to ghost belief.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Old age

Great Grandmother from Across the Country

*The informant is a grandmother, a wife, has a degree in Art, and has heard, and been involved with, many ghost stories.

 

Informant: I was born in San Diego, California, and Mum’s family was living back here in Maine. Mum always thought that she was her grandmother’s favorite, although her grandmother probably didn’t have a favorite. In my parents bedroom there was a little alcove where they kept my crib so they could keep an eye on me to make sure I was alright. I remember as a toddler standing up in my crib and seeing this white figure of a older woman walk into the room and it was like she was glowing. She was white, but I could see she was an old woman, and she went to the bed and my mother sat up and they were talking to each other. As I got older I thought it was a dream that I had had, so I never really said anything about it. When I got to be an adult Mum told me about her grandmother that she had loved so much and how when we were in California she woke up one night an there was her grandmother standing by the side of the bed. Mum was talking to her and she said “Grammy, what are you doing here in California? You’re supposed to be in Maine.” And she said, “Well, I wanted to come and see you before I left so that you didn’t worry about me or be sad, and so I could say goodbye.” Then the next morning my parents got a phone call and my great grandmother had died that night– a little bit before Mum saw the figure and talked to her. Mum told me this story and described what she looked like and I went “OH MY GOD! [laughs] I thought that was a dream!”. I described what I thought she looked like and she was said “Well yeah, that was my Grandmother”.

Collector: Was your great-grandmother sick? Was her death expected at all?

Informant: She was quite elderly, but I don’t think she had a lingering illness or anything. We knew it was coming soon but it wasn’t expected. And Mum always thought she was the favorite so she wasn’t really surprised that her grandmother came to say goodbye.

 

Collector’s Thoughts: I’ve collected many interesting stories from this informant, and although it may not sound the most reliable as it was recorded as a young child, many believe that children are able to see and experience spirits more than adults can. The validation from her mother that this experience really happened helps make the story more believable. I’ve heard many other stories where spirits visit to say goodbye and the fact that her favorite grandchild was not able to say goodbye to her in person may be the reason why she returned- to tie up loose ends. Many ghost stories revolve around that idea of a ghost returning to do something they were unable to do while they were living.

Folk Beliefs

The Clear Footsteps

*The informant is a resident of Maine, a wife of 20 years, a mother of three, and has a college education. She has an open mind to spirits and the paranormal, but is a bit skeptical.

**The house where this story occurred had been said to be haunted. The story occurred around 9pm in the summertime.

Informant: It was at my grandparent’s home in Cherryfield, Maine. The house was built in 1790, but it was built with timbre that was marked with the King’s Lumber. I was 16 at the time. I was upstairs in the bedroom that I had used growing up, it was my room at my grandparents house, and it was not directly above the dining room but really close to the dining room. I was up there and the whole family was gathered [in the dining room] and I was just getting over a breakup so I was spending a lot of time by myself and reading books. I heard somebody walking down the hallway and they stopped in front of the bedroom door. I said “What do you want?” and there was no response. I got up off the bed and opened the door and there was nobody there. I get back in the bed and I keep reading and a little while later I hear the walking resume in front of the door. I thought “I’m getting annoyed” and I get up off the bed normally, walking over to the door loud and ripping the door open and nothing. So then I started to get up really really quietly and would walk to the door. I could hear everybody downstairs chatting because the sound carries up, so then after like going really quietly and opening the door and there was still nobody there, I closed the door and I moved my feet like I was walking away but I was really just standing there. I was waiting and then I heard the steps start again, right in front of the door, and I ripped the door open and there was no one there. I ran out of the room and ran down the stairs and everybody was in the dining room. There’s no way it was them,because that’s the closest stairwell to the dining room and they wouldn’t be able to attempt to trick me upstairs and be able to get back there before I did. And there’s no way that they would have been able to leave the front of the door because I was standing on the other side of the door and as soon as I heard those steps stop in front of the door I yanked the door open. There was nobody there. It was clear footsteps, it wasn’t like a squeaky floor board. It was clear footsteps.

 

Collector’s Thought: The informant whole-heartedly believes she was in the presence of a ghost. Through her storytelling she tells it as if it happened yesterday, and at some parts she was more excited to tell the story and at others she seemed lost for words. I have visited this house before and while it is a beautiful home, you can definitely tell it is older and that many people have lived there. The informant was in a very emotional state when the occurrence happened. The fact that this story occurred in an older home, late at night, while the informant was alone and emotional seems to follow many of the ghostly motifs we have encountered in stories.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Signs

Time Myth

 

Informant:

Brandon grew up in Saccremento California to a practicing Jewish family. He is an only child and works as a financial advisor at a back in New York City.

Original script:My father always used to say that if you are in a group or someplace where people are talking and everyone goes quite at once and you look at your watch it will be 20 past the hour.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: The informant has a strained relationship with his parents. It’s interesting to me that his father uses this time related myth as a way of explaining lulls in conversation.

Context of the Performance: When there is a lull in the conversation.

Thoughts about the piece: I had never heard this before but it is a good way to break the awkwardness in social situations. Like a lot of tales, proverbs, and other folkloric things it helps people in social situations.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Descarnada

-La Descarnada (El Salvador)

Original script: “my grandfathers friend had a chilling experience with a beautiful and sensual woman who appeared in the desolate roads asking for a ride. When he asked where she was headed she said a few kilometers. Then she got in the car and began to touch and kiss him then something dreadful happened; the skin from her body fell off! He was found in a total state of confusion and a lot of people said La Descarnada is a bad spirit of a bad witch.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her grandfather believes the woman to be the witch “La Descarnada”

Thoughts about the piece: A lot of the Myths and tales from this area of the world seem to center around women and the evil behind there seductive powers. Perhaps they serve as tales of caution not to mess around with lose women or maybe deep down they express a fear of women.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Evil eye

Subject: Evil eye inoculation

Informant:

 Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and conceders herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script: “a lot of Saudi superstition is based around the evil eye. One really prevalent practice is the ingestion of another persons spit…it sounds disgusting but this is how it works. If you have a guest and fear that they may have eye eyed your house or family you take either the water they have drank or you wash the cup they have been drinking coffee or tea from, wash it and drink from the water you wash it with. It is believed that if you do so, you take a trace of that persons essence and therefor inoculate yourself against any evil or malice that comes from them.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Most of Arabic myth and superstition surrounds the evil eye and it’s affects on people and how to protect ones self from its negative affects.

Thoughts about the piece: Saudi’s often employ what would seem to be superstitious practices probably left over from a time before Islam. However, like all good folklore, the myths, practices and superstitions have evolved with the spread of Islam to involve Islamic themes such as using prayer and the name of god to proceed the ritual.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Magic
Protection

Mashallah

Informant :

Haifa grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a progressive family. She is a Professor at the King Saud University in Riyadh and considers herself a religious person, but does not believe in a lot of the superstition behind some of the stories. She grew up, and works, around all different kinds of people that shared with her different traditions and folklore of which she has shared some of her favorite.

Original script:                                                                                                                 

ما شاء الله

Phonetic (Roman) script: Mahsallah

Transliteration: Mashallah

Full translation: As god wills.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Mashshallah is said to ward off any bad or evil eye from things. When you say something is nice like “you have nice hair” you have to say mashallah after it of you may unintentionally give someone the evil eye. My mother still yells at me if I don’t say mashallah after I say something nice and will even tell strangers to say mashallah if they are complementary or her kids.

Context of the Performance: Said to ward off the evil eye from a person, home or object and used throughout the Arabic speaking world.

Thoughts about the piece: Like a lot of traditional Arabic saying and myths this blends superstition with religion (Islam). While the saying involved the belief that only god can make something happen, it still is used to ward off evil created by humans.

 

general
Protection

Workplace Tradition

Subject: Event Planner Traditions (Workplace)

Abby:

Original script: “We always carry an emergency case with us, literally think like a magicians magic hat. We have EVERYTHING in it, from shampoo to protein bars, and it is only in a little clutch! It has saved our lives a dozen of times! And we use it for everyone! The brides, the clients, us, the vendors, it does come in handy. In fact I don’t know an event planner that doesn’t carry one of these kits with her. “

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Abby says “I have been working with an event planning company for a couple of months and love it. I can say throughout these moths these emergency kits have come in handy DOZENS of time. They are literally the best things ever. “

Context of the Performance: The Emergency kit it used during wedding celebrations.

Thoughts about the piece: The wedding kit is a piece of occupation folklore that no one outside of the wedding planning business would be aware of. Because of Abby’s work ethic, and because she works for a professional company, the wedding kit is essential knowledge and an essential tool for preforming the job correctly and avoiding any major disasters.

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