Residence: New York City
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/28/2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Korean
Background: MB has family in Filipino, Korea, Mexico, and US, and so he has heard cultural stories from many different parts of the world. Here he is explaining one belief that his Filipino grandfather told him. I contribute with a belief from my Indian culture. MB – informant. SD – interviewer
MB: My grandfather told me that if you keep a garland of garlic near your bed or somewhere where you spend a lot of time, it wards off witches and bad spirits. Does your family have a similar tradition?
SD: I know in Indian culture, it’s lemons and green chilis. Like when you do something big like open a new shop or get a new house, you tie a string that has one lemon and a few chilis strung through it on the front door of the establishment. This prevents evil from entering the home/shop. My family doesn’t do this but I have seen this in many places in India.
MB: Yea. I know people like sages here so there are many things to ward off evil I guess.
SD: Do you think the garlic garland has anything to do with vampires? (laughs)
MB: (laughing) Maybe!
Here we discuss the many different ways where people ward off evil spirits. The belief of evil spirits is present in almost all cultures and is probably tied to religious beliefs. It is often passed down through the generations, like in MB’s case. I have also noticed that the item that wards off the bad spirits is also a food item, which can be because it comes from nature and is available to everyone. In an institutional and religious context, spirits are warded off by holy water and other items that aren’t available everywhere, but from a folk belief standpoint, everyday items can be used by the masses to ward away evil spirits.
Context & Background:
The informant is an old lady from Rajasthan (north India) and my late grandfather’s family friend, and she explains the tradition of warding off bad spirits or bad luck from a person.
Performance: (via phone call)
The act of purifying or taking away the bad spirit is called “Nazar Utarna”. Translation: Remove the evil eye. What we do is, we take a piece of cotton that we use for religious ceremonies and dip it in mustard oil. We then have to take an oath of silence until we complete the whole removal process. We take the oil dipped cotton to the person who we are purifying and wave the cotton around them but not touch them. We go around the entire body in a circular motion, vertically from feet to head, 12 times, to take away all the bad spirits around the person. The cotton has now absorbed all the bad spirits and we go and burn the cotton, either in the kitchen sink or anywhere else. The longer the cotton burns, the more bad spirits you had around you, but now they are gone. Once the cotton has burned, the silence oath is over.
I asked the lady if this was somehow a religious ceremony, and she said no really. This has elements of religiousness and hinduism, like using the cotton that is used in other religions ceremonies, but it isn’t written in any holy book and the priests don’t tell you to do this type of thing. This is purely a tradition that has been passed down for generations. This ceremony was also performed in my house, and I thought it was really weird and didn’t take it seriously at all, but now that I analyze it more, the concepts of the actions make sense. Like the absorption of the spirit and burning it makes more sense than a lot of other superstitions that I have heard like sage or garlic garlands. This can also be considered as magic, contagious magic, as the cotton is somehow associated with the bad spirits around a person and they are being burned, and homeopathic magic, because anyone can replicate this action. You just need to believe in the magic.
For another version see:
Rgyan Admin, et al. “Easy Ways To Remove Evil Eye (Buri Nazar Nivarak Sujhav).” Rgyan, 26 Mar. 2020, rgyan.com/blogs/easy-ways-to-remove-evil-eye-buri-nazar-nivarak-sujhav/.