Friday, July 24, 2009

The Evil Eye

(Drawn by Kimberly Geiter)

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
- Anonymous

Origins of this cliché stem back to ancient Greece three centuries before the birth of Christ, but it remains as prevalent in our culture now as it had at any other time or place. This phrase reveals two concepts: 1) what's perceived can be just as important (if not more so) than what's
physically in front of you 2) eyes are one of the primary means by which most people gather information to form said perceptions. In the strictest biological sense,we use our eyes to see and absorb physical information about our surroundings. We evaluate and verify our other senses with what we see, and when our eyes don't work as they should, we find corrective measures to make up for the loss. On the opposite token, we often look into the eyes of others for information on the internal world, as well. There, we feel we'll find truth, sincerity, or even a glimpse into a person's soul. Many may also use a glance or a look as a form of communication, as if to transmit an intent or a thought from one's eyes through another's. Eyes are portals, no matter which side of the glass you're looking through, and they reveal to us the world.

Many cultures forewarn about the "Evil Eye" - that a mere glance or long stare can transmit a sinister intent, infecting the victim with bad luck, injury, disease, or even potential death. Commonly, such a curse originates from feelings of envy, where a spiteful person covets an item or quality that another possesses. Casting the Evil Eye is typically (although, not necessarily) unintentional - transmitted during either compliments or insults about the coveted possessions. Speaking isn't a requirement, however, as one could perform the same functions just as effectively glaring from afar. Symptoms of "catching" the Evil Eye often have to do with dryness - dehydration, withering, or desiccation - and primary victims are thought to be young children or babies, as so many comments are often made about them. Within Turkish culture particularly, a standard belief holds that comments about one's clothing and appearance can bring bad luck to a person just as well - possibly evidencing the presence of an Evil Eye.

In Turkey, there exists a common emblem used to counteract the Evil Eye. Often a tear-shaped amulet or circular bead made of glass, the symbol consists of a concentric series of white and differently shaded blue circles with the darkest circle at the center. Called the mavi boncuk (pronounced "bon-jook") or nazar boncugu (pronounced "bon-joo-goo"), this "Evil Blue Eye" was crafted to meet the gaze of Evil Eye casters, matching their sinister intents with benevolence, as if to say "Don't bother. Everything is alright." Mavi boncuks are traditionally given as gifts to new friends and beloveds, made and conveyed in the spirit of love. These amulets, emblems, and charms harness that benefecent energy and protect the person or item bearing the symbol from the Evil Eye, bad luck, and general harm. This motif is very widely utilized, displayed on babies and clothing, as well as tattoos, horses, and cellphones, and placed next to the doorways of houses. Turkish Airlines is specifically known for sporting mavi boncuks on the tales of their airplanes, while this Gentlemen has one hanging from his bedroom wall as we speak. Today, mavi boncuks may come in many different colors, but its power is always on the positive - never the negative.

Although certainly an interesting concept, what's more are the mavi boncuk's origins. The Turkish clans of old consisted of a variety of darker-complected peoples from Mongolia and traditionally Muslim nations who melded together as these tribes headed west and the Turkic empire expanded. Long story short, these tribes eventually settled in what is now modern day Turkey as other, fairer complected peoples from the west (some language homonyms suggest persons of French, Gaulish, or Frank origins) began exploring east. It is said that a group of these peoples made their way across the Eurasian continent and encountered the Turks shortly after the Turks had staked their territory. The Turks had never seen people's from the west before and were particularly amazed by the blue eyes of the strange people they encountered - thinking them beautiful. Gifts were exchanged before parting (some staying) and the Turks took this as a sign of good luck. The mavi boncuks were forged into a symbol to harness this benevolence and use it for the general good. The Evil Blue Eyes became a general ward against evil forces and spirits in the ensuing centuries and have been crafted and displayed proudly for the past 3,000 years.

Other, darker interpretations of the mavi boncuk's origins discuss the fear the Turks felt at the arrival of said western people. Although they found the blue eyes attractive, the Turks were wary of the power that beautiful eyes can have - considered a harbinger of misfortune if they were to be turned on you. The mavi boncuks were created not out of a positive act, but to meet aggression with an equal force. Perhaps a near warning, the wary gaze of the mavi boncuk returns a sinister intent of its own, as if to snap back balefully, "An eye, for an eye." The blue of the eye instead is part of a mediterranean motif as a symbol of protection, thereby deflecting or absorbing the maleficent forces conveyed by any purposeful, unintentional, or invisible Evil Eyes. The eye-shape pattern would then add insult to injury, instead of actively protecting the bearer from destructive influences.

"When the Eye of Horus opened, the world was enlightened. When it closed, darkness came again"

Historians suggest that the mavi boncuk may be found as a symbol over 5,000 years ago, first recorded by the Mesopotamians or Egyptians. Others present evidence claiming that similar eye figures may have originated as far back as the Upper Paleolithic Age - before agriculture had taken root in human society - between 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. By that hand, it is no surprise that the mavi boncuk would have similar cultural analogues across multiple faiths, cultures, and folklives. Can you think of any? What else can eyes symbolically represent? As always, Gentle Readers, post below.


Meg said...

Having read this, I feel better about my blue eyes. Or at least the fact that people are sometimes wary of them.

Jstone said...

can only women have evil eyes? all those pictures are women. i think this whole post is just an extension of ozkirbas' rampant chauvinism.

Ozkirbas said...

Your FACE is rampantly chauvinistic

... or blame Google and DevArt for only showing pictures of female eye-models

Matt Lindeboom said...

One might also think of it in terms of the power that a woman's gaze holds over a man, whether a look of love, warning, or other. Mysterious power often breeds fear, even revilement. But this is more of a literary view than anthropological one.

Scotty said...

That one chick... I think she's into me.

Ozkirbas said...

It's because she totally knows you're Thor

Tina Der Bedrossian said...

"Bringing a modern touch to an ancient tradition."

Evil Eye Around The World
• Albanian "mer më sysh"
• Armenian "char atchk"
• Amharic "Buda"
• Standard Arabic عين حسد ayin hasad
• Tunisian Arabic "'ayn l-mrida"
• Assyrian "ayna"
• Azerbaijani "göz dəyməsi","kəm göz"
• Bengali "Nojor", "Nazar"
• Bulgarian "uroki"
• Chamorro "Atan baba"
• Croatian "Urokljivo oko"
• Danish "det onde øje"
• Dutch "het boze oog"
• Filipino "Matang Nanlilisik"; "Usog" or "Balis"
• Finnish "Paha silmä"
• French "Le Mauvais Oeil", "La Guigne", "La Skoumoune",
• German "Böser Blick"
• In Greek, matiasma (μάτιασμα); mati μάτι "vaskania" “βασκανία”
• Hebrew "ayin ha'ra"
• Hindi "Kudrishti" or "Buri Nazar"
• Hungarian szemmel verés
• Kurdish chawi geza
• Italian, malocchio
• Macedonian, "Zlobno Oko"
• Maltese "l-għajn il-ħażina"
• Norwegian "det onde øyet"
• In Persian, depending on the region
o Iran, Cheşhm Zaxm, Ceşm Šur
o Afghanistan, Dari & Tajiki-speakers use "nazar" "chashmi bad"
• Polish złe oko, marne oko
• Portuguese, olho gordo, quebranto, mau olhado
• Romanian deochi
• Russian сглаз, глаз, дурной глаз
• Sicilian, ucchiatura
• In Slovak little babies are said to have a malady named z očú (from the eyes)
• In Spanish mal de ojo, el ojo, The act of giving someone mal de ojo is called ojear in Panama (literally to eye).
• Swedish "onda ögat"
• Tagalog "ohiya" or mata ng diablo
• Tamil "Dhrishti" or Kan dhristi
• Turkish "Nazar", "kem göz", "göz"
• Urdu "buri nazar", "nazar"
• Yiddish aynore or ahore Hebrew עין הרע cayin harac);