Beware of the Evil Eye

Publication Date
November 4, 2020

In Mediterranean culture, many actions and objects are associated with bad luck: stepping over someone would cause them to stop growing taller (which can be undone if you step over them again), passing under a ladder is bad luck (but you can undo that if you pass under the ladder again in the opposite direction), a shoe laying upside down should be flipped back right away to remove bad luck, accidentally breaking glass means ridding your soul from bad luck that was attached to it, and harming a black cat—be it by accident or not—is a bad omen (no running away from that). But the most widely feared of them all is the Evil Eye. It is the manifestation of imperceptible envy (Envious Eye) or jealousy which causes ill fate or bad luck to the person receiving it. It is so deeply embedded in our daily lives that Blue Eye and Khamsa (also known as the Hand of Fatima) talismans and charms can be found everywhere—worn, hung, or painted—to ward off evil and bring good luck. People wait on announcing certain news until it actually happens because of fear the Evil Eye would jinx it. Newborns are deluged with charms to protect the baby from any misfortune brought upon by visitors. Truck and bus drivers paint their vehicles with ubiquitous shapes and phrases depicting Blue Eyes and Khamsa symbols to protect them on the road.

I am one of those believers. As a kid, my mom got me a necklace with a small pouch encasing the Khamsa symbol and some phrases meant to keep the evil eye away. She asked that I wear it whenever I leave the house for added protection. One day, I left the house in a hurry and forgot to wear it. Shortly after, in the elevator, my neighbor complimented my new cardigan. As I left the building and crossed the street, I got drenched with sewage water by a passing car hitting a pothole, which a couple of days ago didn’t seem to exist, and my new cardigan was ruined. I can’t explain definitively if there is any relationship between the compliment I received and the pothole incident, but I do know I was not wearing my necklace. The glow of my neighbor’s compliment was short lived. Maybe it was fate waiting to happen, maybe it was just a moment of bad luck, or maybe it was simply an accident attributed to me hastily rushing to cross the street.

In this instance, the absence of my talisman made way for the Evil Eye to manifest itself via the compliment, producing this unlucky event and leading to the destruction of my cardigan. Had I been wearing my necklace, I could have received the compliment without interference from the Evil Eye. This is how the Khamsa works; the added seconds it would have taken me to put on the necklace would have protected me from the Evil Eye, all other events — the compliment, the pothole, etc. — unchanged. We tend to internalize cultural beliefs as a way to explain specific misfortunes in the absence of reason. For me, in this situation, it was the Evil Eye — I didn’t plan for this to happen, so how could it be anything but?

Publication Date
November 4, 2020
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Megan Mayer
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