Written by Nandini Sethi
You must have seen the ‘evil eye’ charms/pendants being sold in bulk at the jewelers along with an amulet, and you probably even own one for accessorizing purposes. Although the first occurrences of this symbol dates to thousands of years ago, the meaning and impact of it remains just the same today.
The evil eye or ‘buri nazar’ is a look or a gaze that brings bad luck or misfortune to a person who has achieved great success or recognition, often stemming from reasons of envy or dislike. This culture spans across centuries and geographic location and defines how certain superstitions or customs come from. Frederick Thomas Elworthy, has explored the instances of it in different cultures- In Irish folklore, men were known to bewitch horses with a single stare, and in parts of Greece they believed that the intensity of the evil was so strong that it took just one stare to kill children or small animals; a Polish folktale tells the story of an old man who resorted to cutting off his own eyes because he felt responsible for bringing misfortune to his loved ones.
6th century philosophers such as Plato and Plutarch gave scientific backing to explain the function of the evil eye: they suggested that the eye was the main source of deadly rays that could emit invisible rays of negative energy.
Plutarch’s writing even tells us about the beliefs people of that era held- in the Mediterranean, where the culture of the evil eye was most prominent, blue eyes were considered unnatural, since it was extremely rare, and they had to be bewitched. It was understood that a certain section of society was better at cursing people, including people with aqua eyes and those living south of the Black Sea.
Since there was so much fear and fear-mongering among ancient communities, there was a need to discover or explore a talisman specifically to ward off evil eye curses. Many historians believe that it was the Greeks that first developed amulets designed to protect vulnerable people from the ill-effects of the evil eye, but other suggest that it was in fact the Turkish that began to hand-make eye symbols with concentric rings and included them in jewelry and as emblems. Even the Hamsa symbol became quite popular, that is, the image of a hand with an eye in the center. In fact, in Turkey, it is a still considered a tradition to bring either a pendant or charm of the evil eye to newborns since they are more susceptible to the curse. In Indian tradition, using salt in your room or placing a rock salt lamp is considered to absorb all nazar dosh (evil eye effect) and infuse the house with positive vibes.
Today, the evil eye has become more of a fashion statement, but there are still innumerable communities, transcending borders, that believe in the power of a mere trinket with an heirloom symbol on it; that it is more than just an accessory. There are even some debates that people who wear such an accessory so flippantly, without knowing the meaning or significance behind it are rendering it useless; that the trinket will not only not protect them from the curse of the evil eye, but on the contrary incur a curse even more powerful, even more potent. The main question they are asking is this: are you or are you not a believer?