Informant is a student at USC, and is a practicioner of the Sikh religion.
“The Kara is a plain, completely round steel bracelet worn by all Sikhs to identify themselves to other Sikhs. You receive it right when you are born, and you’re supposed to wear it until you die. Well, I guess that you have to swap it out once it gets too small on you, but that’s besides the point. It is a form of identification so that everyone would know that we were Sikhs, because the Sikhs were known as the protectors of people from the Mughal empire. It is also a charm that protects you from bad spirits, and the circular shape is used to represent and remind us of the infiniteness of God. It is always made of steel so that everybody is equal. Like, the peasants will wear steel karas and the richest people would wear steel karas too, to show that everybody was the same under the eyes of God. So I wear one, and all of my family wears them as well, as a sign that we are Sikhs.”
This is a very good example of jewelry that is worn for religious reasons. This is very interesting to me personally, because I have seen a few people who are Sikhs wearing the same bracelet, but I had not known what the purpose was. It is also very interesting because this is an identifying mark within the Sikh community so that other members can recognize each other, so even today, beyond its religious significance, it serves a functional purpose.
The following family tradition/belief was told to my by the informant while talking about some of her family’s customs and traditions.
“When people get married or have children, we don’t have bridal or baby showers normally because it’s like, we think of it being bad luck because it’s something really good happening and to draw attention to that really good thing in your life is like asking for trouble, and so there’s this idea of the evil eye that’s watching and the evil eye, if it sees that you’re too happy or just ‘oh everything is just so perfect, my life is so great, I’m gonna have a new healthy baby’ or ‘I have a beautiful new marriage,’ it’s like drawing attention to that goodness is gonna make someone take it from you, and so our tradition is not to have a bridal shower for like a wedding or a baby shower… I think it stems from my grandma who’s Italian and Italian people will even wear around their neck or put on their baby’s christening robes little charms and there’s different ones; there’s like a little monkey fist, there’s a gold horn… there’s a bunch of different ones, and that’s supposed to ward off the evil eye so that even after the marriage or after the baby’s born, after these good things happen in your life, it keeps the evil eye from taking them away from you.”
The informant didn’t know what the different charms like the monkey fist or the gold horn symbolized when I asked her about it; she just knew that they were an important aspect of Italian cultural beliefs. She also mentioned that it was ironic that Italians tend to be quite Catholic (including her own family), but having lucky charms and believing in the evil eye is somewhat of a pagan custom.
The evil eye is a folk belief that’s shared amongst many different cultures, but it’s interesting to see that it even exists in Catholic culture. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in belief, or mutually exclusive from peoples’ Catholic beliefs. The informant also mentioned that if someone in her family married someone who insisted on having a baby or bridal shower, that they wouldn’t oppose it too much. So, this seems to be a loosely followed tradition, in the sense that the family prefers to follow it, but is not too strict about it if someone marrying into the family considers it an important part of their family tradition.
Informant: “So, in Sicily, there’s this thing called the Evil Eye, or in Italian ‘Il Malochio’. Someone could give someone the evil eye just by like looking at you, and it’s almost like they’re sending bad… stuff to you. Like, someone would give you the evil eye, and then bad things would happen to you. It was usually older people, I remember there would be these really old men and women, like old widows wearing black, who would give you the evil eye. And it was like they would just look at you or the stuff you have, and them just looking at you would bring you bad luck. Actually, a part of this is why a lot of Sicilians, especially older Sicilians, wouldn’t talk about what they had. Like, if something good happened to you, you weren’t supposed to talk about it because that would bring the evil eye to you, or at least people who would then give you the evil eye. And there were things you could do to protect yourself from the evil eye. Like there was this hand gesture you could do to ward it off
[informant begins making a hand gesture, extending her pointer finger and pinkie, and curling her middle fingers into the palm of her hand using her thumb. The two extended fingers are pointing down, and she is gently waving her hand. It is very reminiscent of the “rock on” hand gesture, except directed downwards]
and you would make this gesture and that would ward off the evil eye. Otherwise, there were charms you could get, like necklaces or pendants in the shape of a horn called ‘Il Corno’ which could protect you from the evil eye. Otherwise you could get a golden charm in the shape of the warding hand gesture, and that would also protect you.”
Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.
Collector Analysis: The Evil Eye is a very widespread and popular folk belief over a variety of different nations and cultures. The idea that someone could give you bad luck just by looking at your or your belongings enviously, or even that you could bring this bad luck upon yourself just by talking about the positive things in your life, is an oddly popular one. It is also interesting that the informant specified that the evil eye tended to be associated with older individuals. It is possible that older Sicilians are more traditional and thus more connected to their superstitious beliefs, and thus are more likely to either be concerned with warding off the evil eye or maliciously give the evil eye to someone.
Two charms capable of warding off ‘Il Malochio’. The charm on the left is called ‘Il Corno’. The hand shaped charm on the right is the same hand gesture that one could use to protect themselves from the Evil Eye. Image courtesy of www.lifeinitaly.com
The Evil Eye and Evil Eye protection as described by informant:
“My mother is not a very religious person or anything she did grow up in an Islamic home. She thinks I’m just being superstitious. I 100% with my soul, even though I believe in God and I believe in Allah, I believe in the evil eye also it’s one of the strongest beliefs I have. It’s it’s not just a Persian thing it can be any Mediterranean you know even the Turks have it everyone has some variation of it basically you wear it and people who wish bad things upon you people who are jealous envious and I feel like I deal with that a lot because I’m in such a competitive major you know so for protection any of their evil energies go to this this absorbs it I will not feel anything and if you don’t I know the Kurds from Iraq I don’t know if the Kurds from Iran do the same thing, my friend who’s Kurdish from Iraq she says that one time she didn’t wear, okay, she didn’t wear this (holding evil eye pendant) she didn’t have any evil eyes on her and she was going to a weeding and she looked really pretty at the wedding and so she felt like a lot of people were being jealous and sending her the evil eye and when she got home on her legs she literally had pimple like things with black they were blackheads all over legs and that’s in the culture. They say that’s it, they put the eye on you they ruined your skin, and like people swear by this 100%. Like I don’t go anywhere without wearing one that’s why I have them in my car I have them on my keys and I wear my necklace. Mine’s literally from Iran, and they had to go everywhere to fucking find it for me. Cuz Like theyy bracelets and stuff like they both them off the internet and stuff and they break but that’s part of the legend is that they break because someone wished something bad on you and the energy broke the bracelet. Instead of the energy effecting you it broke your bracelet or it broke your necklace. That’s how you know it works.”
As my informant says, the Evil Eye exists in different cultures all over the world and the oicotype that she believes in cites the evil eye as deliberate and malicious wishes of bad things to happen to someone, often out of jealousy. Where some might say they have bad luck or bad karma, the evil eye is another popular concept to explain when bad things happen, though there are ways to protect yourself from it or, in a sense, other people. Her evil eye charms and jewelry protect her from the evil eye by absorbing this negative energy, often breaking as they take on the impact of the cynical and envious. Though she explains that her own mother, who is from Iran is not a believer, she is and has gotten her various charms from her aunts and other family members. My informant insisted that she believes in it, and the staunch confidence despite her own mother’s suspicions was funny to observe because as she said herself, “I know, I’m this Persian girl from Oregon with a Valley Girl accent, but I swear it’s true.”
Military Marine Corps Superstition
When youre in combat or even training its bad luck to eat the charms in your MRE
Its something you learn early on so you just dont do it. Every MRE comes with some sort of dessert.. like lemon pound cake or poppy seed pound cakes. Those are the best, but you never know what youre going to get.. but if you get these charm candies you arent supposed to eat them. Youre supposed to throw them out on the side of the road or into the garbage. I dont really know why its bad luck. But I think its just in the Marines. There are stories of misfortunes from Marines disobeying this.
The informant did not seem to have much of an opinion about the reasoning behind this superstition. In my opinion, it seems to relate to the Marines (or other military service members) experiences with dangerous situations while in combat. Although the individuals play a large part in their own safety, they are living in constant danger, and the potential of death looms over them. In some ways, this superstition seems to be an attempt to alter ones fate in a dire situation. The Marines have relatively little control over their situation during combat, and must follow orders in every aspect of their lives. In this way, it makes sense that throwing away these candies is a way of asserting some form of control over ones own fate. It is ironic that these candies represent bad luck because they are charms, which typically are viewed as symbols of good luck. The charms remain symbols of luck in this context, but represent bad luck rather than good. This consistency as a symbol of some form of luck helps explain why these specific candies are associated with bad luck, and exemplifies that this association is not entirely random.
Evidently, this superstition is discussed in this publication:
Evan Wright (2004). Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the new face of American war. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. pp. 83. ISBN 0-399-15193-1.
Furthermore, there are many message boards and online posts regarding this superstition. There are even people who suggest that candy should be entirely removed from MREs, supposedly to prevent even the possibility of bad luck stemming from these candies. The informant also stated that he believes the film Jarhead (2005), directed by Sam Mendes, references this superstition.