How to Ward Off the Evil Eye

Laurie attempts to explain Middle East evil eye superstition.

Can a lingering look with a penetrating gaze cause catastrophe in another’s life? If you’re Jordanian, you might think so (and your grandmother certainly does): it’s the pseudoscience of the “evil eye”. In Turkey, people with Frida Kahlo unibrows or pale color eyes are considered prime candidates to dish out disaster.  Bedouin mothers keep their children unkempt for fear that attractiveness will invite what’s also called the “eye of envy”.  I’m told this mojo’s real in the Middle East.

But hold your horses: crying American toddler Laurie was often whisked down the street by her Irish ma and plunked in the kitchen of Zia Fran (Italian matriarch of our New Jersey block). Zia would fill a tub-sized pasta pot with salted water, get it boiling, and tuck into some decidedly un-Catholic voodoo.  She dropped olive oil into the water, tiny plops growing into a central yolk, and mutter in Italian until the oil bubble burst.  Only when the oil splattered would the “mal occhio” (translation: bad eye) be broken.  Zia was skillful, she could’ve dissipated the oil slick from the Exxon Valdez. My mother swears I’d stop crying on cue.

Olives, tomatoes, chickpeas and eggplant are mainstays of most Mediterranean cuisines, so it’s not a stretch to see how the origins of  regional superstitions also blur between nations.  The differential when it comes to the “evil eye” is that it’s actually described in the Holy Qu’ran, the Torah, and the Old Testament, which places its origins squarely in the Middle East. In his book Diwan Baladna, author Ahmad Kamal Azban lists some creepy Arab proverbs that demonstrate the “potent role of the eye in ill-fated events”:

  •     The envying eye has a rod in it, and most of his days are black.
  •     The eye fractured the stone.
  •     The envying eye causes blindness.

Many cultures maintain that envy and malintent work through the power of the human eye.  Think of how uncomfortable it is to be stared at, and how taboo it is to stare.

Loads of books and websites provide a back story to the phenomenon. In an essay, “Wet and Dry: The Evil Eye”,  Alan Dundes maps out how the belief was born.

He theorizes that the evil eye is based upon ancient associations of water with life and dryness with death. The desirous eye dries up liquids inside living beings, including milking animals, young fruit trees, and nursing mothers, which Dundes says point to its MidEast desert origins.  He suggests that the superstition spread out geographically in a radiating ring from its origins in ancient Sumer.

There’s no accounting for people’s beliefs. Those considered to have the covetous gaze are generally avoided even in contemporary culture and in modern cities like Amman.  A friend hid her best artwork before a dinner party so a suspected “envier” would not wreak havoc with her beautiful home.  Wouldn’t it be simpler to keep the guest off her list? She laughed and told me “Now that would be ridiculous.”

Be sure to carry protection.

Funny to see that advice in a new light.  The most popular way to ward off trouble is to carry a blue amulet, which itself looks like an eye.

In Arab mythology, it’s said that the “jinn” (evil spirits) will transform into a blue opal as a means of self-protection. If the predator senses the jinn within the gem, and if they urinate on it, they forever trap the spirit inside the stone.  The story goes that only a human hand can free a spirit from its blue prison, putting that spirit in service of his rescuer. (Even the promise of a genie sidekick wouldn’t get me to touch a peed-on stone, but as usual, I digress.)

Amulets to ward off evil typically take the form of the human eye, and are usually brilliant blue. Eye-in-hand pendants (called Hand of Fatima), bluegreen faience stones and blue glass “eyes” can be found throughout this region, sold as souvenirs, hung over shop doors, hanging from rearview car mirrors.

By thanking God, all grace remains.

But the best defense is an Oprah-endorsed “attitude of gratitude”. This could be a factor in the classic Arab characteristic of giving to the admirer the object of their admiration.

It’s wise to be self-effacing. In Arab culture, if someone gives you a compliment, you respond with “Masha’Allah” to ward off the evil eye. It translates literally to “It is as God has willed.”  In other words, implied with a virtual shrug, don’t blame me.

You can also recite passages from the Qu’ran.  Surah Falaq (The Daybreak) and Surah Nas (Mankind) are used for specific protection.

Or take a page from Zia Fran’s mal occhio playbook. This way, if you don’t break the spell, you can at least take solace in a nice dish of pasta.

Image of evil eye from Shutterstock

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15 thoughts on “How to Ward Off the Evil Eye”

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  6. Ummer says:

    Laurie,

    what are you making me blush for?

    Men being envious? Well not in the looks department that’s for sure. If a man is going to be jealous and give evil eye, it’s going to be for the signs of success, power and such in another man.

    So yeah there is a preventative measure for the individual, and that’s called giving your success (wealth) to the women (quran 4:34), and if you don’t have any woman, get one (quran 4:3).
    That way, a man might have a lesser likelihood of looking successful.

    There’s another point about decreasing the love/desire of worldly things (quran 3:14), and that’s the love of God (quran 2:165).

  7. laurie says:

    Ummer

    Your post is fantastic – a story in itself, I learned much. Perhaps you can also provide new insight?

    Why are men excluded from the preventative cover-up concept? Would they not also be incited to envy one another’s looks, possessions (watches, clothes)?

    I also buy into prevention, but in terms of modest dress, am puzzled why it isn’t applied/adopted by all regardless of gender. Thanks again for the great info share!

  8. laurie says:

    Holy smokes, Francine is that YOU?

    My God I loved your mom (and dad). Isn;t it a riot that she taught Nanny and Margie to be proper Italian wives?

    Next time I’m heading back to Grove Ave I’ll give you a shout, you can teach me the magic… then we’ll go ring Mrs. Habernack’s doorbell and run and hide in her bushes; or see if any of the Bitondos or Shelleys want to come out and play slap; we can tease Sophie Ruskewitz; or just go up to County Discount to buy new Spaldines.

    Whatever we do – we have to avoid Uncle Lou and Bob’s homemade wine. Your message made my day!

  9. Francine says:

    Laurie
    Thanks for sharing your experince with others. It has been taaught to the younger generation like me and Sally. I love to hear stories of Zia Of Grove Avenue. You are the only one that still calls her Zia.
    With happiness and love the next generation of Zia’s
    Francine

  10. Ummer says:

    Laurie, the eye isn’t an idol of course… What it represents is occult methodology. And of course occult methodology though they the symbols and what not seem to work, but they work specifically since they are symbols of information directing spirits/jinns to respond.

    For at least the Muslim and the Christian, and the Torah following Hebrew who does not adhere to kabbalah, they will not have any desire to submit themselves to the use of symbology. Simply because they have come to learn that it is of black magic. And they do not want the help of spirits/jinns, as they do not want to declare worship to those jinns. And as well as harboring jinns in their local space.

    Personally as for the evil eye symbol, I believe it’s a declaration of being under ownership or allegiance to the anti-christ.

    As for what I know of when it comes to removing evil eye. Let me give an example… and obvious one to that. A woman is very very pretty, other women give her the eye. An eye of either jealousy or what not.

    Another example, a woman is dressed up in a way another woman doesn’t like. An eye of hatred and elitism develops against that first person.

    In occult method, to push away any evil spirits than coming on to you, you take on symbology. In religious method, you and the other person are advised to reduce the thing making others feel the need to give out evil emotions.

    One such religious example I know of:
    Quote
    (On that hijab verse)The reason for the revelation of this Ayah was mentioned by Muqatil bin Hayyan, when he said:

    “We heard — and Allah knows best — that Jabir bin Abdullah Al-Ansari narrated that Asma’ bint Murshidah was in a house of hers in Bani Harithah, and the women started coming in to her without lower garments so that the anklets on their feet could be seen, along with their chests and forelocks. Asma’ said: `How ugly this is!’ Then Allah revealed: وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ (And tell the believing women to lower their gaze…).”
    unquote.

    In one way, the spirits or forces are removed. In the other way, the prevention of pollution is push forth.

    I personally believe prevention is better than clean up, it’s a lot less messier. Just a little bit more work than TV dinners (microwaves vs eco-solution). And to me, an evil eye symbol equivalent to commercial TV dinners.

  11. laurie says:

    Ummer

    I wish my brain was built to wrap around concepts like those in your star clip!

    But to your comment, an amulet is not a false idol, but rather a protection against undesirable forces. I’m thinking that acceptance of good and evil powers is pretty much across-the-board in the major world religions: so by extension, wouldn’t protective devices be ok too?

    Thanks for the viewpoint (and the cool clip)

    1. Jewish tradition has a problem with false idols of any kind, but any religious Jews I know do not have a problem wearing the evil eye.

  12. Great article, Laurie! (now you say Masha’Allah) 🙂

  13. Ummer says:

    The symbols and amulets are occult in origin. Literally from black magic solutions. They’re a violation of the second commandment. And also the muslim prophet, the last prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, told us that on the day of judgement the one who drew/created idols would be tasked to make that creation of his come alive. But he will never be able to do it ie he’s screwed.

    For example, stars are use in occult practice… rather than drawing a star, one can make a star in a jar.

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