Hard Eyeing The Evil Eye

According to Dundes 1981 :

Dundes Evil Eye


As a tourist to Morocco, Israel, Turkey or Romania you might notice an abundance of bracelets with blue-eyed stones, Israeli doorway hamsa’s, Turkish blue eye glass amulets or Romanian Deoshi blue eye engravings. Most of these items are an inheritance of generations past and are wide-spread in many countries. They serve to attract the attention of tourists more than they do trouble-makers.

In fact, if you google images for “evil eye”, most of the results will be pictures of the ‘blue eye’. This, however, is not an evil one; but just the opposite, a symbol meant to shield the wearer against the ill-disposed powers. Well documented in the study of folklore (Dundes, 1981), mutations on the eye motif are especially popular in the Mediterranean area. What makes this cultural artifact so successful?


Blue Eye Evil Eye


The evil eye, for all its mystic properties, is still an eye. It may dry up goat’s milk, rip tires or sicken children, but it does not do so randomly. It follows from the evil person’s ocular inspection of something. Mere knowledge is not enough, vision is crucial. What is a good way to prevent this unwanted attention?

Perhaps staring back. Eye symbols may be perceived as a substitute for real eyes. They may fall under the actual domain of perceiving eyes as part of faces with further presumed results.

Olivier Morin (2013) dissected the cultural attraction of direct gaze representations in portraitures, and here the stare exercises supplementary moral coercion.

There is experimental evidence that presence of eye figures makes people display more prosocial behavior. When policed, people are more careful with their reputation and adjust their ways according to social norms (Ernest-Jones, Manesi). They pay more often for their coffee at untended machines, and the effect is sharper when symbolic eyes seem to pay attention by their direct gaze. So could it be that ornamental amulets effectively keep away evil-doers by making them feel watched?  Or perhaps wearers of amulets see their overseer gaze as an instinctive reason to attribute them some capability? If the evil eye comes from treacherous attention, one can signal that the attention is registered. When eyes (humans) look at each other, a certain form of shared consciousness appears. I know you are looking at me, and I know you know I am looking at you, etc. If you are inspecting me, I am inspecting you. If you have vile plans, better look away since someone saw you looking.

Here is another perplexity: natural blue eyes are considered to be particularly susceptible to evil-eye transgressions (probably due to the scarcity of blue eyes in the concerned regions hence their attractiveness?), yet also blue eye amulets are the most used defense. Is there a causal link from one symbolism to another? Seeing stylised blue eyes evokes that the other observer knows about and takes protection against evil eyes in culturally-marked ways. But it is also a visible public indication of the tradition of “evil blue eyes”  Does this signal not only “I see you” but also “I expressly see you, the one with the evil eye”?

The artifact also promotes two representations. One is the obvious idea of magical protection. But it also an intuitive warning of the evil eye itself. Folklore has other intermittent means to avert calamity-by-attention. 



2 thoughts on “Hard Eyeing The Evil Eye

  1. Really interesting man. I like posts like these that end up raising more questions. By the way, how does that make sense by how you cause harm by praising someone- that has to be the opposite meaning, right? So if you look at someone with good intentions it’s the opposite of the evil eye or what? Never read that book so its pretty interesting to me.

    1. Glad it grabs your attention! It is believed that it shows interest which could be amalgamated to envy and avidity- hence the popular apprehension.

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