Folk Belief – Greek

Greek: Mati

English:  Evil Eye

The Mati is known as the Evil Eye in Greek culture. This belief can also be found in Volume 8, No. 3 of the American Ethnologist. Nichelle’s interpretation states, “You would use this term when you want to explain an unknown disease, the bad luck of somebody, jealousy, or envy. If I said Oh Britt you look so pretty today” but I really didn’t mean to give that comment, I would inadvertently be giving you the evil eye. Children and teenagers are especially prone to this. In order to ward off the evil eye you make a sound of spitting: ‘too soo too soo too soo’ three times because of the importance of the trinity in Greek Orthodox religion (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Spitting three times negates the praise of something bad. To ward of the evil eye from babies a pin that is shaped like an eye with a solid circle in the middle and a circle in the outside as shown in Figure 1 is pinned to the clothing. Other times people will make crosses of dirt. In order to find out if you have the evil eye you take a cup of water and pour three drops of olive oil into the cup of water. If drops mix with the water then you have the evil eye. Getting rid of the evil eye is a recognized phenomenon by the church. The priest takes a communion and prayers. Witch doctors are also used to rid a person from the evil eye. However, priests look down upon witch doctors because they believe that the Mati is a form of witchcraft that has originated from witch doctor practices.”

I do agree with the interpretation of Nichelle’s analysis of this certain Greek belief. This superstitious belief in the evil can be traced back to 300 B.C. Folklorist have claimed its origination to be in Sumeria. I do agree that the origin of its roots comes from social concerns of other people or from a fear of strangers. The “Mati” is a polygenetic piece of folklore. The evil eye is known to a variety of cultures. For example, the evil eye is known as ayin horeh in Hebrew; ayin harsha in Arabic, droch shuil in Scotland, mauvais oeil in France, bösen Blick in Germany, mal occhio in Italy and was known as oculus malus among the classical Romans. Each culture shares similar and different characteristics of warding off the evil eye. In Muslim tradition the evil eye will be warded off by quoting scriptures from the Koran, while in France the evil eye can be warded off by throwing dirt on a child who is praised.

I believe the evil eye can be used as a code of identity, showing who is and isn’t a part of a particular culture or who doesn’t fall within the acceptance of a particular individual. By identifying someone with the evil eye, I believe that you have branded that individual as someone who is not a part of the group and who must go through a certain process to become a part of the group.


Herzfeld, Michael. Meaning and Morality: A Semiotic Approach to Evil Eye Accusations in a Greek Village. American Ethnologist, Vol. 8, No. 3, Symbolism and Cognition (Aug., 1981).pp 560-574. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of American Anthropological Association.