Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Fending off the Evil Eye

The Evil eye is found in nearly every culture with the earliest reference found in the cuneiform script of Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, around 3000 BC.

The ancient Egyptians used eye shadow and lipstick to prevent the evil eye from entering their eyes or mouths. Both the Old and New Testaments mention the evil eye. Superstitions surrounding the evil eye strongly persist in Mediterranean countries. The deliberate use of the evil eye was thought to produce misfortune such as illness, poverty, injury, loss of love, or even death. The power of the evil eye was so greatly feared in the Middle Ages, witches had to walk backwards toward their judges.

Almost anything could cause the notion someone possessed an evil eye. Observed looking at children or livestock prior to illness or death was definite confirmation to the superstitious. Strangers were viewed with great suspicion and anyone with unusual characteristics such as eye colour or physical disfigurement like flat feet were in danger of being classified as evil eyed. Some babies were thought to be born with the evil eye corrupting everything they looked at. These children were referred to as demonically possessed.

The evil eye was likely to strike in good and fortunate times. Many of the family's riches were deliberately hidden from children just in case they gave them the evil eye. Likewise, success was never bragged about. Animals thought to be under a spell were referred to as "blinked".

The community sought help from their wise elders in matters of the evil eye, and amulets were commonly used in antiquity as protection.

In Roman times the phallus was used as protection from the evil eye. Today Italian men still hold their genitals as protection from evil or any misfortune. Another name for Priapus was Fascinus and some referred to the evil eye as fascination.

Spitting is thought to be a powerful aversion to the evil eye. Frogs and horns were common shapes used by witches. Horse brasses on the harness were thought to protect from the evil eye as was tying ribbons on children's underwear. Garlic and the shamrock have also been used as a protection and many gardeners plant jack beans around their gardens to the same effect. Hindus believe barley can help and represented a symbol of thunderbolts of Indra.

Other cures against the evil eye included reciting incantations usually passed down from mother to daughter within the family. Suspicious Italians put a few drops of olive oil in a bowl of water (occasionally salted) The oil would either scatter into blobs or sink to the bottom. The final formation is interpreted to determine the source of the attack. Once complete more oil is added to the water while reciting the incantations and making the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead. If this fails a powerful sorceress is sought for a more effective cure.

In the New Year, many cultures believed the first foot to cross the threshold brought the house good fortune for the coming year. "First footing" is an ancient custom and tradition demands the first person to pass the threshold must be a sonsy (trustworthy), a stranger of dark complexion and full head of hair, carry a lucky talisman. It was considered very unlucky to have a first fit who was a person with fair complexion. Suspicious people refuse to leave their home until they were first footed. 'First footing’ were used to ward off the Evil Eye.

Reviewed 31/01/2016

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