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

Persian Flattery Superstition

Main Story (direct transcription):

Dad: If someone says that you are something positive, such as being pretty, young, wealthy, or successful, superstitious Iranians make a fire.  In the fire, they have some kinds of herbs that smell like oud, or incense, and they have seeds in them.  They make the fire in a coil, it’s not like a huge fire, and they throw all these seeds into it.  Some of the seeds make a big “pop” noise, and it opens, and it looks like an eye shape.  They say,

“This is the evil eye!  This is the enemy!”

Me: So why do they start the fire in the first place…?

Dad: To contradict something.  Back home (in Iran), you cannot say how beautiful someone is, or if when you have a kid, you can’t say “such a big baby!”.  Like here, in America, you can say those things, but in Iran, if you say that, it’s like you’ve jinxed it.  I remember when my youngest brother was born, my great-great aunt came home, and she was very old.  He was a beautiful baby, but when she saw him, she spit on him.  She said,

“What an ugly baby!”

She didn’t want to jinx it, so she said he was ugly.  I was so offended when she said it!  It’s the “evil eye”.  Here, when I came to this country, people were saying things like, “what a big baby, how beautiful…” and I was so confused.  You don’t say things like that in Iran because you don’t want to jinx them.  Making the fire to contradict something positive that was said is too much work, so they don’t say positive things in the first place.

 

Context: The informant, my father, is a pharmacist who was born in Shiraz, Iran.  He moved to the United States after growing up in Iran, and now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  His first language is Farsi, his second is Spanish, and his third is English.  He lived in Spain for several years before moving to the United States, and therefore has collected folklore from his time in these different countries throughout his lifetime.  My dad was telling me about different Iranian superstitions, since we were talking about how my grandma is a very superstitious woman.  I asked my dad if any particular superstitions popped out to him, or if any of them in particular were his favorite, and he proceeded to tell me this one.

 

 

My Thoughts:

I really liked this snippet about Iranian superstitions.  I didn’t know that it was negative to say something positive about someone, especially babies, in their culture.  Since my dad and his Iranian family in America have spent ample time here, I have heard them say positive things about others, and they are not as superstitious as their Iranian ancestors were.  I thought it was funny how my dad tied in this superstition to his own life, telling of how his great-great aunt actually spit on my uncle when he was a baby.  When my grandmother comes to visit next, I will be sure to listen and see if she says anything positive about anyone, especially about my youngest baby cousin on my dad’s side.  Now that I know this superstition, I think it will be fun to see how many people practice it, and how many don’t, and see whether or not there is a generational gap in those who do, and those who don’t.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection

Il Malocchio – Italian Evil Eye

Il Malocchio: “In Sicilian culture… there’s something called the Malocchio, which translates to bad eyes. So, it’s the idea that I can look at you and curse you just by looking at you. I can curse you by giving you some kind of eyes. Like you stick two fingers out, your index and your pinkie, and point it in their direction. That is to give you the malocchio. Like ‘I saw this guy the other day and I hated him so much I gave him the malocchio,’ and this is the symbol to represent it.”

Defense: “Italians put it in their car, it’s the horn of the rabbit, the corno. It looks like a pepper, everyone has one in their car, my grandma has one in her car, it’s like a little pepper. The horn tradition evolved from like, I think, when the horn animal, the moon goddess was sacred. You can wear it around your neck, people hold it in their car as a protective measure.”

Diagnosis: “To diagnose someone with having been struck by the evil eye, you have them drop three drops of olive oil in a bowl of water, and if the oil forms, like, the shape of an eye, the victim has received the malocchio, and they’ve been cursed. When the oil separates from the water, you had to make the sign of the cross, la croce, and you say ‘il nome del padre, del figlio, e dello spirito santo,’ which is name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, to like protect yourself.”


 

The idea of “Il Malocchio” was introduced to the interlocutor throughout childhood, his grandmother and parents informing him of this belief while gifting him multiple “cornos.” He mentioned that he still has a corno with him at all times, even allowing me to view the one he kept in his bag. This belief remains in his life to present day which is why he is able to explain it with such clarity. Though he has kept some of the cornos, he stated that he does not entirely believe in the Malocchio as he keeps the corno by habit rather than by genuine faith in its abilities.

Although I have heard of the term “malocchio,” I have only experienced the evil eye through a Hispanic lens by way of the term “mal de ojo,” which is essentially the same concept. When a person falls ill or is subject to bad circumstances, it is generally fitting to blame an outside source. In this way, it is somewhat a visually contagious superstition because it can be passed through infection, usually with malicious intent. The supposed cure for the “mal de ojo” that I have witnessed involves a cross made of straw, and though I have not witnessed it, I have heard of the utilization of an egg to ward off the negative effects of the evil eye.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Mal de Ojo

Main Piece:

“This happens when a person has a very strong stare. If they stare at a newborn with their glare the child will get a really high fever, convulse, and die. The only cure is to have the person with the evil eye carry the baby. That is the only way to reverse the evil done. I know babies who have died from this curse.”

Context:

The informant is a 77-year-old Spanish speaking woman, born in Mexico. She believes this to be true. She does not think those with the evil eye necessarily know that they have that power.

Analysis:

It seems that this belief is a way to explain sudden deaths of infants. It is a way to explain the unexplainable.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Red String: Mexican method of Warding Off Evil (The Evil Eye)

Tell me about the Red String in Mexico.

A.H. – “Um, it depends on the person; but, people who are superstitious and use the whole red-string-fending-off-the-evil-eye put these strings around their babies, like, as soon as they’re born – literally.  So like, even before they’re before they’re competent, they already have this red string around them.”

And this red string repels the evil eye . . . That is what’s being repelled?

A.H. – “Right.  It supposedly does.  And I think it’s used even more on kids, because they can’t really defend themselves, and/or are less conscious of their surroundings.  Now that I think of it, adults definitely use it, but I definitely see it more on kids and babies.  In Mexico.  So, it’s really interesting what’s considered to be the evil eye itself; it can be even someone just looking at your kid on the street, and it’s obvious that they think they’re cute, or something, and I think people just have a lot of malice in them; the parent will assume like – and it’s not even always a bad thing, it can be a jealousy thing too, like someone could be threatened by some cute-ass baby . . . obviously not that that person wants to be the baby, but that they’re jealous in some way or another.”

A.H. – “If someone does see that, they have to be cleansed of that.  If not, then you’re affected by the eye, supposedly.  And I don’t really know where the egg thing comes from.”

Egg?

A.H. – “Yeah.  You’d grab an egg and rub it all over the kid’s body, and supposedly the egg absorbs the evil.  But, it’s weird – I feel like people who aren’t very superstitious still do that.”

Let’s go back to what you said about malice and the people.  Do you think that . . . the vibe, at first thought, when you have your child wearing one of these, is: you would assume that the first thing someone else would think about your child isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is something like jealousy, or envy, 0r anger, or just a want to ruin what’s been given to you?

A.H. – “Yeah.  Whenever I ask my mom about this – because she’s the one who told me about this in the first place – It’s not even just if somebody gives you a bad look.  It’s like, you can’t really trust people, strangers- if someone’s looking at your kid, you assume it’s because they’re going to do something to them . . . I don’t know.”

So at it’s base, in it’s most rudimentary form, it’s just “stranger danger?”

A.H. – “Yeah.  It does the job of fending off the eye, as well as reminding the wearer of the dangers of what the evil eye can be.”

Would you say that if you were to see somebody wearing a red bracelet, you’d wonder why? 

A.H. – “Yeah.  For instance, a friend of mine always wears a red string bracelet and I always think about it, even though it’s probably not for the same reasons.”

And what does it make you think of?

A.H. – “I guess just what my mom told me.”

How else can you repel this evil?

A.H. – “It’s actually interesting, if some parent were to see some stranger giving their kid the evil eye, the instinct would be to ask that person to touch the child.  So once that happens, the evil is absolved, regardless of whether or not that child is wearing the red string.  At it’s roots, it’s another example of the dangers of voyeurism, I feel like.”

 

This example of the Red String vs the Evil Eye is perplexing, as it is both completely similar to and totally the opposite of another cultural superstition; that of the Turkish evil eye.  The dichotomy of cultures, as well as parallels in those same cultures, are exemplified here perfectly.  It’s funny, even, that the very thing which keeps Turkish families safe is that which is being repelled by the red string.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Ach’k (Evil Eye)

Item:

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.

Analysis:

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.

Gestures
Protection

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. http://www.imamother.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=172695

For other Jewish superstitious customs see: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

 

 

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

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
Protection

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. 

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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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

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.

Piece:

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.

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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
Magic
Protection

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.

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