USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘evil eye’
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Ach’k (Evil Eye)


Western Armenian: աչք

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ

Transliteration: ach’k

Translation: eye

A blue bead representing an eye can be used to ward off evil. The bead is simply called the “ach’k,” meaning “eye.” For example, the ach’k could be hung from the rear view mirror of a car, worn as a necklace, or kept somewhere in a house. There is a particular color of blue needed for a bead to be an ach’k.

In particular, it is supposed to protect its owner from others’ covetous eyes. There is a particular saying associated with this belief:

Western Armenian: աչք կպնէ

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ kpnɛ

Transliteration: ach’k gbné

Translation: the eye touches

The phrase literally translates to “the eye touches,” but the informant translates it as “the eye will touch you,” meaning that other people’s covetous eyes could touch you with some negative magic, unless you have an ach’k protecting you.

Background Information:

The informant learned this folk belief from his mother, who believes in it passionately. She keeps several in her house and gave him one to put in his car. The informant is skeptical of the belief but doesn’t deny it outright. For a while, the informant kept his ach’k hanging from his rear view mirror, until he became embarrassed by its perceived superstitious-ness and took it down. He still keeps it in his car, though—now out of sight in the glove compartment.

The informant believes that the ach’k is a very common belief among Armenians.

Contextual Information:

The ach’k belief is accompanied by the particular saying and object associated with it. These items are usually performed and displayed in public, though the informant has made his more private due to embarrassment.


The ach’k belief is clearly a variant on the very widespread “evil eye” folk belief. Unlike the more common variants, in this version of the belief, the eye is not particularly associated with growth, but rather with envy. It still shares the general spirit that there is a danger in prosperity and wealth—whether it is grown, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

Using a bead representing an eye to protect from others’ eyes is an example of homeopathic magic.

For other versions of the evil eye folk belief, see “The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook” (1981) by Alan Dundes.


Getting My Ears Pulled When Speaking of The Dead

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 62

Residence: New York City, USA

Performance Date: April 8, 2017 (telephonically)


Alan is a 62- year old man, born and raised in New Jersey who is a 2nd Generation American whose ancestry is Austrian and Russian.


Interviewer: Good Morning. You mentioned that you experienced your mother’s family superstition first hand when you were a youngster. Can you explain it?


Informant: Sure. My mother would always pull my ears and those of my sister, when we were very young, when she heard that either a relative or person she knew had just died.


Interviewer:  Was there a reason why she did this?


Informant: She never spoke directly about this, but my mother was a superstitious individual when it came to the evil eye. I have to assume that this had something to do with that. For instance, she would always dress my sister and me in red if we were visiting someone who she felt possessed an evil eye. I remember one time when she just stood in front of this particular person and walking backward pushed my sister and me out of the room. I was young and didn’t really think anything about it.


As I got older I began to realize that the pulling of our ears when she spoke about the dead was a part of her superstitious beliefs. I never observed this behavior with her sisters and brothers (my aunts and uncles). Her mother and father (my grandparents) were both dead before I was born so I never saw if it was somehow connected this action to them. However, knowing my mother, she might have come up with this crazy superstition all on her own.


Interviewer: Does She Still Do This?


Informant: No. The last time I remember her tugging at my ears was when my Great Uncle Joe had passed away when I was 13. We were driving to a supermarket and my father asked my Mother when was Joe’s funeral. As he did she reached around from the front car seat and managed to grab my left ear, but I twisted and prevented her from getting my right one. From that day forward, she never tugged my ears again!”






Thoughts about the piece:  

Superstitious gestures like this one become ingrained even if connection to meaning is lost.

For other Jewish superstitious customs see:




Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Protection Against Compliments and the Evil Eye

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: So, in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they make fun of this, but it’s kind of true. In Greece, we believe very heavily in the evil eye and that its disease very easy to get. If you receive a lot of compliments, and you don’t do this one superstitious thing, you can get the evil eye. Everyone, or at least every Greek, knows that one person who died from the evil eye. Honestly, maybe he or she died from cancer, but there’s always that one grandmother who believes the death was because of the evil eye. Basically, when you get complimented, someone will warn you that you will get the evil eye. If a family member complimented me, for instance, then someone would probably say that he or she is giving me the evil eye. Then, I would have to make a spitting noise three times. Sometimes, someone else can do that for you. Also, sometimes people compliment you but say that you don’t have to do the three spitting noises. They will explain that they are just stating a fact and not complimenting you in an envious way. Some people give compliments out of jealousy or resentment, but if they don’t and say that they don’t, then you don’t have to make the spitting noises. If you do make the spitting noises in front of someone who complimented you, they will not take offense to it. Also, people can walk up to you and make the spitting noises three times  and say that they did it just in case someone compliments you today. People will not stop complimenting you. You just have to do this to avoid the evil eye. Everyone in Greece does this. I learned this from my mother when I was really little.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important because I don’t want to get the evil eye! Actually, one time, one of my cousins had a friend who died when she was little. She told me that it was because of the evil eye, and it really freaked me out. I asked my mom, and she told me not to believe that too heavily but to always follow the superstition to be safe. Once, in high school, I got a really bad headache for days. My mom asked if I had been doing the spitting noises, and I hadn’t for a while, so I got back to doing that. Also, sometimes when my mom gets lightheaded, she blames it on that. It’s all in our heads, but in the back of our minds, we think it’s possible.

Personal Thoughts: I really enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I never realized how seriously Aliki, and Greeks in general, take the evil eye. What is also interesting is that this piece promotes those receiving compliments to take caution. In a sense, it keeps them from being conceited and just accepting compliments, which is admirable.

Folk Beliefs

The Bad Eye and Arab Folk Beliefs on Protection Against It

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting.

Informant’s Background: 

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script:

ما شاء الله

Transliteration: masha’allah

Translation: whatever the will of Allah (or god)

Piece Background Information:

The evil eye, or the bad eye- it’s like f you’re bragging or saying something like “ Oh I won something or did something good”, then there’s another person looking at or listening to you. They would give you the bad eye, in envy I guess like they want to take this away from you. You would get into trouble, or lose your money, or something terrible would happen to you cause you talked about it or showed it to people. So sometimes, ’til this day, for example if I get a really good grade, or high GPA, and were to take a picture and post it to Snapchat or something, my mom would come to me and say “don’t do that” or “take that away” because she doesn’t want something bad to happen to me. It’s very true, and a lot of people believe it.

In our culture, it’s very connected to religion and there are certain religious ways you can fight that and treat it or deal with it. In our culture, in school we are taught that you shouldn’t believe in like wearing a bracelet or something physical that will protect you from evil. It’s all very spiritual and it’s all in your head. You have to say certain things and believe in certain things, and that will protect you better than wearing something. There are particular phrases you should say if you feel you have the bad eye, in Arabic such as “masha’allah” which if I already gave you the bad eye, and then I say this, it’s kind of like taking the bad eye away and reversing it in a way. Also, you guys have the bible, we have the Quran, which is the holy book for us. You would read certain pages of the Quran on the person who feels they have the bad eye, and that is supposed to cure them or take the bad eye away.

We would learn this from my parents,you know, from home, and also from school. Thinking about it, I probably believe most of the things I just told you. I live my life believing that. I adopt all these beliefs until this day. 


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in the informant’s apartment adjacent to USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece:

The informant believes in the evil eye strongly and thus takes the three word phrase for curing the evil eye seriously noting that it is especially useful when said by the person who is the source of the evil eye. The informant shared his beliefs on the evil eye, which was heavily enforced by not only his parents, but by school and religion too. I found it very interesting that there is a disparity between protections against the evil or “bad” eye as he preferred to call it in his culture and in others where physical objects or charms are not thought to be protective against it. It fits with the informant’s overarching theme in the pieces he shared with me (see: Arabic Folk Speech to Handle Fear/Bless and see: Ramadan and the Ritual Celebration of Eid Alfutr) that emphasizes the Muslim ideal of strengthening their connection with Allah through exercising self control, thereby cleansing their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Folk Beliefs

Gujarati Protection Against Evil Eye

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.


So my grandma always did this thing, where she had this belief where if people see success too much, they give you the stink or evil eye, trying to wish you bad luck. So what she would do and say to do is to make a black mark somewhere you cannot see it- so take a little bit of like eyeliner, or mascara, and put it like right behind the ear or something to ward off evil spirits, and people’s bad visions. It’s the same way either way for males and females, but females do it generally.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already mentioned within piece that their grandmother taught them this folk belief on protection against the evil or bad eye.


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Upon further research, it is commonly believed in India that the main source (i.e. givers) of the evil eye are women, which is why they generally use this protection against the evil eye.  The black mark is meant to cast or ward off negative energy and evil spirits. I could not find significant meaning as to why it is a black mark, or behind the ear, but I found this protection against the evil eye very interesting.

Folk Beliefs

Evil Eye Talisman

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has kept an Evil Eye talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror of her car. During a celebration for my mother’s birthday, I pulled my grandmother aside and asked her the Evil Eye’s significance, following which she explained:

“Many years ago, two of my friends spent some time in Turkey. When they came home, they brought me an Evil Eye as a gift. All over Turkey, they put them outside of their door or inside of the car, and it is meant to ward off spirits by scaring them away. The superstition is that you cannot throw it away after someone gives it to you, that would be like inviting the evil spirits in. I have been in my car before and had people stop me and give me praise for keeping the Evil Eye visible, then show me where they keep theirs.”

I was somewhat familiar with the superstition surrounding the Evil Eye before talking with my grandmother, and knew that belief in the protection offered by one was prevalent in Greece. Hearing that her Evil Eye is from Turkey and that many other Americans have commented on the object (the informant, my grandmother, is from northern California), leads me to believe that this superstition is present in a great deal of cultures. Offering the object to someone as a gift encourages them to engage in the superstition surrounding it, because the object will remind the receiver of the giver while also supposedly serving as protection. Even if the owner of the Evil Eye does not necessarily have a deep-rooted belief in spirits, the object is significant in that it can offer a sense of comfort for the owner to suppress any worries that the spirits do exist, without the owner having to do anything more than keep the talisman somewhere close by. I myself am considering asking my grandmother for one to keep in my car, just in case.


Gesture: Evil Eye

Main Piece: “In Italy, my experiences…bad things happening to me meant that I watched what people did when they wanted to ward off the evil eye. A common gesture is to make this sign [index and pinky finger are raised with other fingers tucked in. Hand "pokes"or "stabs" the air].”

Background: The informant learned this gesture by watching people perform it. The informant grew up in Rome and it seemed important to the informant because Italians are typically a Catholic/Christian population, so it seemed pagan to her that the devil would be warded off by a hand gesture. The informant sees this gesture as a different way of approaching ill fortune in the absence of religion. She noticed, growing up, that Italians are very expressive with their hands, so this gesture was significant.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table outside.

My Thoughts: I find it interesting that the informant’s interpretation of this gesture was to “ward off” the evil eye. I’ve heard of the evil eye in a different context (in Israel) and it is used quite differently. In Israel, the evil eye is an object, usually a glass medallion which resembles the eye, hung in a common space (such as a home or a car) to ward off evil. The informant interprets the evil eye as what should be warded off. I find the gesture interesting as well. Its symbol and movement appear threatening, as the fingers point in the opposite direction of the individual with his/her fingers pointing outwards and moving in an abrupt, sudden way. It seems that, for this group, the way to ward off threat is to be threatening themselves. The gesture was something that was picked up by the informant. Rather than an oral medium of passing down folklore, the informant adopted the gesture in a social context of learning.

Folk Beliefs

Yiddish Jinx: “Kneina Hura”

Main Piece: “So in the Jewish tradition… it’s really a Yiddish term… so I think more of the older generation identifies with it and it’s been passed down my family from my grandparents and, so, the term is ‘kneina hura’. It’s basically what we would consider a jinx and so it’s when you say something in advance and then if something is going well but then you’re like don’t say it… that’s kneina hura. I’m trying to think of an example. So it might be if you have an event coming up over the weekend and you look at the forecast and you say oh what great weather– my mom would say don’t say that, that’s kneina hura because then it may rain.”

Background: The informant heard this term from her mother and grandmother, who still uses Yiddish. The informant has very little knowledge of Yiddish, while her mother knows only what she’s heard from her own mother. Growing up, the informant intepreted this saying as a way to ward off a jinx. Her mother occassionally uses Yiddish informally, but her grandmother uses Yiddish terminology quite often. The informant notes that jinxes are important to her family because they believe that despite the inevitability of things going wrong, there is some higher authority with control over these events.

Performance Context: The informant sat in a chair while I sat at my desk.

My Thoughts: The informant’s piece of folklore has been passed down orally directly through the grandmother, who is the family’s holder of Yiddish terminology. Yiddish is considered a dying, or even dead, language with little contemporary usage. The informant herself rarely uses Yiddish and can only remember a few phrases from her grandmother, so it seems unlikely that this saying will be passed down generationally. The superstition and value placed on the power of the jinx is interesting, as the evil eye (a source of protection against harm) is quite dominant in navigating chance and fortune in Jewish tradition.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Keyn eyn-hore and Wearing Blue

According to the informant, it is traditional for young newborns to wear clothing and accessories that have the color blue on them for about the first two years of their lives. The idea is that by wearing blue, the weak and helpless infants would be protected from the evil eye, which in Yiddish is known as keyn eyn-hore. This blue protection can come in many forms, including blue clothing and blue jewelry.

The informant, Reyna Babani, is a 71-year-old Mexican Jew who lives in Mexico City. Because she grew up in such a close-knit community, Reyna considers herself an expert on Jewish culture. Although she does not remember who taught this idea to her or when it was learned, she claims that it is a staple of Yiddish culture because everyone she know participated in it. She enjoys this tradition because it helps her feel that the newborn children are safe, especially since they are at such a vulnerable stage in their lives. She also acknowledges that other colors, like red, have been known to work in the past.

What is strange about this tradition is that the color blue has been chosen out of all of the colors that humans can see. Why was blue chosen to protect these children? Why is red not used universally? What other colors are used around the world for a similar purpose? These are questions that would be quite interesting to research.

For more research on the evil eye and Judaism, look here: Brav, Aaron. “The evil eye among the Hebrews.” The Evil Eye: A Casebook 2 (1981): 44-54.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Spitting on Babies and Crossing your Heart; Protection from the Evil Eye

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: Oh, you have to do the cross every time you pass a church or God will be angry. It’s a good one. Like my Grandmother will be driving and she’ll do the [sign of] the cross.

Me: God will be angry?Are there reprecussions if you don’t do it?

A: I’m unaware. Oh my God, the Evil Eye! Katherine Dupas still wears hers.

Me; Oh yeah we talked about that in class!

A: There’s an idea that if someone sends negative energy towards you and thinks ill will of you then something bad will happen to you. That’s kind of what it is. If you don’t cross yourself it’s not that you necessarily have something negative towards you it’s that you won’t be as protected by God against the negative energy and stuff from the Evil Eye.

Me: So the Evil Eye is…?

A: Other people being malicious towards you.

Me: So the Evil Eye is the symbol of that? And the cross in front of the church protects you from that?

A: Yeah.

Me: So why do people wear the Evil Eye?

A: Cause then it also protects you from the Evil Eye.

Me: By wearing it?

A: Yeah, cause the Eye looks at the other eye instead of at you.

Me: Ok, I get it now.

A: This is also why old ladies, old Greek ladies spit on babies and small children. When they’re like “ptou-ptou” it’s because there an idea that people who are attractive will incur the Evil Eye because of their beauty people will envy them, so you’re supposed to spit on them for good luck and also make them less enviable.

Me: So you do that to babies because you don’t know or because they’re young?

A: Cause they’re young and adorable, and you don’t want someone to be envious of their adorableness and send them bad vibes.

Me: Aw, who would wish terrible things upon a baby?

A: The Evil Eye works in weird ways.

A talks about