segunda-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2008

The Eyes Have It

February 9th, 2008

Write “Lord have mercy on us” on those three;They are infected; in their hearts it lies;They have the plague, and caught it of your eyes
-William Shakespeare

It goes by many names; the cursing eye, sick eye, eye of envy, hairy eyeball, sour eye, beating with eyes, the devil’s eye, even the rather cute name “fat eye”. Regardless of what you call it, it is one of the most widely held and deeply believed superstitions in the world. From the American South to South America, Portugal to Poland, Iran to Israel, everyone fears the Evil Eye.

The lingering gaze, the outright stare, the “over-looking” of a stranger can make the skin crawl, and perhaps for good reason. The dangers of the evil eye range from the mild, moths attacking clothing, accidents involving furniture (Dick Van Dyke comes to mind) and sour milk, all the way up to fire, sickness and the downright deadly. Children are thought to be especially susceptible to what Italians fearfully call the malocchio.

The concept of the evil eye predates all major religions and can be traced back to the very earliest of human records. Starting in the middle east, the belief made its way across Europe and Asia. While Medusa is perhaps the most famous practitioner of the evil eye, the Hindu god Shiva can also shoot a deadly burning beam from his third eye, and even Socrates was accused of possessing the evil eye with which he held his students in a demon trance. Even a Pope was said to have the evil eye. “Pope Pio Nono was supposed to be a jettatore (evil eyer), and the most devout Catholics, whilst asking his blessing, used to point two fingers at him.”
From the protection of the Egyptian eye of Horus to the Masonic eye of providence staring blankly out off of the US dollar bill, eyes can represent power, knowledge, and in this case, grave danger. The exact causes of the evil eye varies from region to region, but it almost always involves envy on the part of the caster. People with blue or green eyes are said to be more likely to cast the evil eye, though often people may not even be aware they are casting it. From crystalinks

“In Jewish religious thought, it is sometimes asserted that the one who looks upon another with envy is not always at fault, but that the envy may be perceived by God, who then may redress the balance between two people by bringing the higher one low.”
Compliments can be a dangerous thing
The concept of the evil eye was brought all the way to the American South by the publication of Henri Gamache’s (a nom de plume) book “Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed” in 1946. Later republished as “Protection Against Evil,” the book was aimed squarely at black Southern practitioners of Hoodoo. Hoodoo is a system of folk magic and a sort of superstition catch all. (It should not to be confused with Voodoo, though it does draw from that, as well as Christianity, European magic texts and Eastern religions.) Spells for repelling the evil eye quickly became standard among Southern Hoodoo practitioners.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator kills the man because of his evil “vulture eye”, but thankfully there are other less extreme measures. While traveling through Turkey, M and I were overwhelmed by the sheer number of what are called Nazar, or evil eye protection charms. Beautiful blue glass eyes hang from every available surface and adorn even the airplanes. Known as apotropaic (something that can ward off evil) the protections come in almost as many forms as their are believers.
(Hanging numerous Nazar’s off of a tree, is a sort of double protection. As the evil eye is often cast towards ones home, livestock or fruit trees a charm burdened tree acts as a sort home security device. Similar in purpose are bottle and pottery trees.)

Greeks have a ritual called xematiasma and use oil in water to test for the evil eye. Should one test positive (reveled often by a eye shape of the oil) they then perform a semi-secret pagan-cum-Christian ritual where the healer, usually a family member of the opposite sex, lick their fingers, performs the sign of the cross three times, and spit in the air three times. Believers in the Kabalah tie a red string around their wrists to ward off the evil eye.
In South America, eggs are used to absorb the evil while in parts of the Middle East, children are marked upon to make them unattractive, and boys are occasionally disguised in girl’s cloths to fool the evil eye. Italians have numerous protections, but they include a Cornicello, a small amulet of gold, silver, or red coral. In ancient Rome such an amulet was called a fascinum, as in to block “fascinators” who might cast a spell or “fascinate” them.

But the greatest modern protection against the evil eye was made through the work of an unsuspecting Italian American rocker, one Ronnie James Dio. Growing up in an traditional Italian home, Ronnie was accustomed to seeing the horned hands or “mano cornuta” displayed against the evil eye. All crescent shaped objects ward off evil (hence the lucky Horseshoe) and the horned hand (representing pre-Christian minotaur horns, not devil horns) was yet another way of warding off bad luck and the evil eye. Though it was, on occasion, was deployed at the wrong times. From wiki
“President of the Italian Republic Giovanni Leone shocked the country when, visiting Naples during an outbreak of cholera, shook the hands of the patients with one hand, and with the other, behind the back, made the corna. This act was well documented, as all journalists and photographers were right behind him, a fact that had escaped President Leone’s mind in that moment.”

Ronnie James Dio’s grandmother often deployed the horned hands and when Dio became the front man for Black Sabbath, he replaced Ozzy Osborne’s peace symbol with the corna or as most of us know it, the metal hand. From an Interview with Dio at

“It was symbol that I thought was reflective of what that band was supposed to be all about. It’s not the devil’s sign like we’re here with the devil. It’s an Italian thing I got from my Grandmother called the Malocchio. It’s to ward off the Evil Eye”

Though not necessarily the first to ever use it in a “rock” setting, Dio was without question the one who turned it into a popular symbol. So while legions of rock fans test their metal (as it were), they are also unconsciously forming an enormous protective shield against the power of the evil eye. The next time you feel the uncomfortable gaze of a stranger and fear the wrath of the evil eye, perhaps the safest place to go is your nearest heavy metal venue.


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