Tag Archives: Persian superstition

“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.

Muslim Traveling Superstition

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Mom: Before dad and I went on our honeymoon to Madrid, dad’s mom held up the Quran, and so did his grandmother, and we actually had to walk underneath the Quran to prevent anything evil from happening to us in our travels.

Me: It wasn’t just for the plane; it was for all of your travels?

Mom: Well, they didn’t state it, but I felt it was like their way of confirming that our trip would be as safe as possible.


Context: The informant, my mother, is a pharmacy administrator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She was originally born in New York but moved to New Mexico with her family at a young age.  Her father, a playwright and artist, was invested in his Native American heritage.  From her travels around New Mexico, moving from place to place when she was young, and also hearing stories from her father and my father, who is from Iran, she has gathered a variety of folktales.  My dad is originally from Iran, and all his family members are also from Iran, so my mom and I were talking about Iranian superstition and folklore that my mom has experienced while being married to him.  Since my grandmother is heavily Muslim, and is a very superstitious woman, my mom has learned about most Iranian superstitions through her.



My Thoughts: This is interesting because it is my mom’s, who is American, viewpoint on Iranian superstition.  Even though my grandma and my great-grandma did not explain to my mom why they wanted them to walk under the Quran before their travels, my mom was able to guess the purpose of it.  Although different cultures have their own superstitions, I feel like many feelings of superstition and fear are universal.  This superstition made me think about how different individuals express different feelings of things such as fear, excitement, and happiness.  People in America might say, “Have a safe flight!” or “Safe travels!” before a major trip such as a honeymoon; however my Iranian family wanted my parents to walk underneath a Quran to express this sentiment.

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.