Tag Archives: jinxes

“Cheshm Zadan” (The Evil Eye) – Persian Superstition

Description of Informant

NV (75) is a retired school teacher born in Abadan, Iran. She went to boarding school in England from 1956-1963, moving to American for college afterward. She always remembers her arrival in the states, as it was the day before Kennedy was assassinated. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.


Context of Interview

The informant, NV, sits on a loveseat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. She is opposite the collector, BK, her grandson. Most text spoken in Farsi is rewritten phonetically using Roman characters and italicized. Some Farsi is translated and italicized for efficiency.


BK: Tell me about your superstitions.

NV: Oh! I have a lot of superstitions. You don’t want to hear about all that. Oh, I always say “pinch your butt!” That’s an Iranian one, “pinch your butt.” I say that all the time. For instance, if [my daughter] is saying something nice about [my granddaughter], I’ll tell her “pinch your butt! pinch your butt!” so straight away she pinches her butt. If you compliment someone, but you don’t want something bad to happen to them, you say “pinch your butt.” Or at least I do. And now [my daughter] does it, everybody does it, but it comes from Iran. 

NV: It’s a Persian thing. Cheshm zadan. Do you know cheshm zadan? That’s a very superstitious thing in Iran. Like, they say some people have the “Evil Eye.” You know? Yeah, the evil eye. Like if somebody looks at you and— for instance, we had gone to [visit] my dad’s side of the family in Tehran. And that night, they had complimented [my daughter] a lot. “Oh what a cutie she is!” She was like 3 years old. “How cute!” That very night, she walked in the middle of the night to come from her bed to our bed, and she hit the corner of her forehead and split it open and we had to have three stitches. We had to take her to the emergency room for three stitches! From that day on, everybody said “cheshmesh zadan“. They kept saying that, in that house when they were saying she was so cute, cheshmesh zadan. So someone gave her the evil eye and that’s why that bad thing happened. That’s a very big superstition with Iranians.

BK: How does pinch my butt come into it?

NV: No idea! They just say “pinch your butt!” Like in English you’d say cross your fingers. Pinch your butt, or koonat rah veshnkoon begeer.

BK: And that’s how you “undo” the evil eye?

NV: Yeah. Now, some people, they believe that if you give a compliment you should follow it with mashallah. You know, like, if you say “this child is so beautiful, mashallah” then you’re taking away the evil eye. The thing that, like [my cousin] she really believes in the evil eye. You know the eye, like the blue stone, she’s got it all over her house. That’s a big superstition. They got it hanging over the doors, they got it all over. I don’t have any of those. But this cheshm zadan is really something.

NV: My cousin is known for giving the eye. My mom had bought these fancy stockings from England. I mean really nice, with decorative holes in them, top of the fashion, right? She’s sitting there at a party, and her legs are crossed and looking gorgeous. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then my cousin says “What beautiful socks you have!” And that very minute— everybody laughed their heads off— that very minute, it got a run in it. You know what a run is? It tore. You know the stockings that are nylon? If you cut a little bit it just *tearing noise* starts to run, it messes it up. She’s known for having the evil eye. “Cheshm mezanan!”

Collector’s Reflection

چشم زدن (phonetically cheshm zadan) is one of the greatest of Persian superstitions. The term literally means to glare, but free translates to jinx someone/something. If you compliment someone without protecting the compliment, you risk jinxing it, causing something bad to happen to the referenced trait (e.g. compliment the face = facial injury, compliment the socks = socks are ruined). The jinx concept is often referred to as the Evil Eye, and shares a space with similar Mediterranean traditions (many are familiar with the blue glass evil eyes that decorate many middle eastern and mediterranean homes). An individual known for jinxing or giving the evil eye (such as the informant’s cousin) would be said to have “salty eyes” (چشمش شور, cheshmesh shooreh).

There are many ways to dispel of the evil eye, such as the aforementioned religious (ماشالله) mashallah or the secular pinching of one’s butt (كونت را وشگون بگير, koonat rah veshnkoon begeer). The latter is the equivalent of the American crossing of one’s fingers to block a bad omen/jinx. One may also burn esphand (wild rue seeds), the smoke of which is said to cleanse the air and prevent bad omens, such as the eye.

Another evil eye story comes from my (the collector’s) other grandmother. When my father was born, she began producing an incredible amount of milk. She was the envy of the town for this display of fertility. One day, she was out with a friend when her breasts started to leak. Out of surprise, her friend exclaimed, “Wow! You have so much milk!” And that was the end of it. That evening, she didn’t have enough to feed her son, and they had to run to the market in the middle of the night for powdered milk. From then on, she barely produced a drop. They said her friend gave her the evil eye, and jinxed her.

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.



Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.


Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Birth Plans Jinx the Actual Birth

The informant is my mother, Dayna Rayburn, born in 1960 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She grew up in Tulsa, before going to college at the University of Oklahoma and graduating with a degree in nursing. She has worked at St. Francis Hospital in the newborn nursery for thirty years.

In this piece, my mother talks about how she feels “birth plans”, or when the parents think they know more than the nurse, will jinx the birth of the baby.

Mom: One last nursing thing I thought of.

Me: Okay.

Mom: In the past few years, some expectant parents have done research on the internet and have downloaded these “birth plans” which indicate their preference on labor, mobility, hydration, and nourishment, monitoring, pain relief, augmentation, which is what they want to do to speed up labor…

Me: Like, literally?

Mom: No, like distraction.

Me: Got it.

Mom: The birth plans basically just include things about what they want. Inevitably, things never go as planned. Either the moms require a C-section, the mom and or the baby do not tolerate labor or the baby has to go to the neonatal intensive care nursery, which is where the sick babies go.

Me: That’s where you used to work.

Mom: Yes, but then I left because it was too sad. Is that okay to say?

Me: Yes, yes.

Mom: Okay, but yeah. Nurses believe that the birth plan jinxes the mom and baby because the delivery never goes as planned. It’s kind of like life: you think it’s going one way and then it comes and changes everything. All nurses think the birth plans sets the moms up for feelings of failures. Nobody can plan what will happen for sure with labor and delivery. There’s just too many variables.

My mother, especially in her profession, does not like it when someone talks about nothing have gone wrong, or anticipates that nothing will go wrong. She always wants people to be prepared for anything, which is what you have to do when you’re working as a nurse. These parents coming into the hospital believing their child’s birth will go smoothly obviously irks my mother, as she thinks they have jinxed themselves and, most importantly, their child. I know this also bothers my mom on a different level, as she hates it when her patients think they know better than her. After working as a neo-natal nurse for thirty years, she hates being told by a twenty four year old what is going to happen.

Knocking on Wood in Nursing

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for some time.

In this piece, my grandmother talks about being “jinxed” in the nursing profession and what she does to combat them.

M: We would always teach the younger girls about knocking on wood.

Me: Why would you knock on wood?

M: A lot of times they would be really happy with how their day was going, and would saying something like “today’s a really good day”, and us older nurses would hate that.

Me: Why?

M: Because we felt as if they were jinxing us. So we would make them go “knock on wood” to prevent the jinx.

My grandmother has never seemed like a superstitious woman, but perhaps in her profession, where there is a lot of luck involved, superstition comes naturally. A lot that happens in nursing is unexpected and not avoidable, so having superstitions is a way to make them feel as if they are somewhat in control of the situation.