IN the Gitano language, casting the evil eye is called QUERELAR NASULA, which simply means making sick, and which, according to the common superstition, is accomplished by casting an evil look at people, especially children, who, from the tenderness of their constitution, are supposed to be more easily blighted than those of a more mature age. After receiving the evil glance, they fall sick, and die in a few hours.
The Spaniards have very little to say respecting the evil eye, though the belief in it is very prevalent, especially in Andalusia amongst the lower orders. A stag's horn is considered a good safeguard, and on that account a small horn, tipped with silver, is frequently attached to the children's necks by means of a cord braided from the hair of a black mare's tail. Should the evil glance be cast, it is imagined that the horn receives it, and instantly snaps asunder. Such horns may be purchased in some of the silversmiths' shops at Seville.
The Gitanos have nothing more to say on this species of sorcery than the Spaniards, which can cause but little surprise, when we consider that they have no traditions, and can give no rational account of themselves, nor of the country from which they come.
Some of the women, however, pretend to have the power of casting it, though if questioned how they accomplish it, they can return no answer. They will likewise sell remedies for the evil eye, which need not be particularised, as they consist of any drugs which they happen to possess or be acquainted with; the prescribers being perfectly reckless as to the effect produced on the patient, provided they receive their paltry reward.
I have known these beings offer to cure the glanders in a horse (an incurable disorder) with the very same powders which they offer as a specific for the evil eye.
Leaving, therefore, for a time, the Spaniards and Gitanos, whose ideas on this subject are very scanty and indistinct, let us turn to other nations amongst whom this superstition exists, and endeavour to ascertain on what it is founded, and in what it consists. The fear of the evil eye is common amongst all oriental people, whether Turks, Arabs, or Hindoos. It is dangerous in some parts to survey a person with a fixed glance, as he instantly concludes that you are casting the evil eye upon him. Children, particularly, are afraid of the evil eye from the superstitious fear inculcated in their minds in the nursery. Parents in the East feel no delight when strangers look at their children in admiration of their loveliness; they consider that you merely look at them in order to blight them. The attendants on the children of the great are enjoined never to permit strangers to fix their glance upon them. I was once in the shop of an Armenian at Constantinople, waiting to see a procession which was expected to pass by; there was a Janisary there, holding by the hand a little boy about six years of age, the son of some Bey; they also had come to see the procession. I was struck with the remarkable loveliness of the child, and fixed my glance upon it: presently it became uneasy, and turning to the Janisary, said: 'There are evil eyes upon me; drive them away.' 'Take your eyes off the child, Frank,' said the Janisary, who had a long white beard, and wore a hanjar. 'What harm can they do to the child, efendijem?' said I. 'Are they not the eyes of a Frank?' replied the Janisary; 'but were they the eyes of Omar, they should not rest on the child.' 'Omar,' said I, 'and why not Ali? Don't you love Ali?' 'What matters it to you whom I love,' said the Turk in a rage; 'look at the child again with your chesm fanar and I will smite you.' 'Bad as my eyes are,' said I, 'they can see that you do not love Ali.' 'Ya Ali, ya Mahoma, Alahhu!' (30) said the Turk, drawing his hanjar. All Franks, by which are meant Christians, are considered as casters of the evil eye. I was lately at Janina in Albania, where a friend of mine, a Greek gentleman, is established as physician. 'I have been visiting the child of a Jew that is sick,' said he to me one day; 'scarcely, however, had I left the house, when the father came running after me. "You have cast the evil eye on my child," said he; "come back and spit in its face." And I assure you,' continued my friend, 'that notwithstanding all I could say, he compelled me to go back and spit in the face of his child.'
Perhaps there is no nation in the world amongst whom this belief is so firmly rooted and from so ancient a period as the Jews; it being a subject treated of, and in the gravest manner, by the old Rabbinical writers themselves, which induces the conclusion that the superstition of the evil eye is of an antiquity almost as remote as the origin of the Hebrew race; (and can we go farther back?) as the oral traditions of the Jews, contained and commented upon in what is called the Talmud, are certainly not less ancient than the inspired writings of the Old Testament, and have unhappily been at all times regarded by them with equal if not greater reverence.
The evil eye is mentioned in Scripture, but of course not in the false and superstitious sense; evil in the eye, which occurs in Prov. xxiii. v. 6, merely denoting niggardness and illiberality. The Hebrew words are AIN RA, and stand in contradistinction to AIN TOUB, or the benignant in eye, which denotes an inclination to bounty and liberality.
It is imagined that this blight is most easily inflicted when a person is enjoying himself with little or no care for the future, when he is reclining in the sun before the door, or when he is full of health and spirits: it may be cast designedly or not; and the same effect may be produced by an inadvertent word. It is deemed partially unlucky to say to any person, 'How well you look'; as the probabilities are that such an individual will receive a sudden blight and pine away. We have however no occasion to go to Hindoos, Turks, and Jews for this idea; we shall find it nearer home, or something akin to it. Is there one of ourselves, however enlightened and free from prejudice, who would not shrink, even in the midst of his highest glee and enjoyment, from saying, 'How happy I am!' or if the words inadvertently escaped him, would he not consider them as ominous of approaching evil, and would he not endeavour to qualify them by saying, 'God preserve me!' - Ay, God preserve you, brother! Who knows what the morrow will bring forth?
The common remedy for the evil eye, in the East, is the spittle of the person who has cast it, provided it can be obtained. 'Spit in the face of my child,' said the Jew of Janina to the Greek physician: recourse is had to the same means in Barbary, where the superstition is universal. In that country both Jews and Moors carry papers about with them scrawled with hieroglyphics, which are prepared by their respective priests, and sold. These papers, placed in a little bag, and hung about the person, are deemed infallible preservatives from the 'evil eye.'
Let us now see what the TALMUD itself says about the evil eye. The passage which we are about to quote is curious, not so much from the subject which it treats of, as in affording an example of the manner in which the Rabbins are wont to interpret the Scripture, and the strange and wonderful deductions which they draw from words and phrases apparently of the greatest simplicity.
'Whosoever when about to enter into a city is afraid of evil eyes, let him grasp the thumb of his right hand with his left hand, and his left-hand thumb with his right hand, and let him cry in this manner: "I am such a one, son of such a one, sprung from the seed of Joseph"; and the evil eyes shall not prevail against him. JOSEPH IS A FRUITFUL BOUGH, A FRUITFUL BOUGH BY A WELL, (31) etc. Now you should not say BY A WELL, but OVER AN EYE. (32) Rabbi Joseph Bar Henina makes the following deduction: AND THEY SHALL BECOME (the seed of Joseph) LIKE FISHES IN MULTITUDE IN THE MIDST OF THE EARTH. (33) Now the fishes of the sea are covered by the waters, and the evil eye has no power over them; and so over those of the seed of Joseph the evil eye has no power.'
I have been thus diffuse upon the evil eye, because of late years it has been a common practice of writers to speak of it without apparently possessing any farther knowledge of the subject than what may be gathered from the words themselves.
Like most other superstitions, it is, perhaps, founded on a physical reality.
I have observed, that only in hot countries, where the sun and moon are particularly dazzling, the belief in the evil eye is prevalent. If we turn to Scripture, the wonderful book which is capable of resolving every mystery, I believe that we shall presently come to the solution of the evil eye. 'The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.' Ps. cxxi. v. 6.
Those who wish to avoid the evil eye, instead of trusting in charms, scrawls, and Rabbinical antidotes, let them never loiter in the sunshine before the king of day has nearly reached his bourn in the west; for the sun has an evil eye, and his glance produces brain fevers; and let them not sleep uncovered beneath the smile of the moon, for her glance is poisonous, and produces insupportable itching in the eye, and not unfrequently blindness.
The northern nations have a superstition which bears some resemblance to the evil eye, when allowance is made for circumstances. They have no brilliant sun and moon to addle the brain and poison the eye, but the grey north has its marshes, and fenny ground, and fetid mists, which produce agues, low fevers, and moping madness, and are as fatal to cattle as to man. Such disorders are attributed to elves and fairies. This superstition still lingers in some parts of England under the name of elf-shot, whilst, throughout the north, it is called elle-skiod, and elle- vild (fairy wild). It is particularly prevalent amongst shepherds and cow-herds, the people who, from their manner of life, are most exposed to the effects of the elf-shot. Those who wish to know more of this superstition are referred to Thiele's - DANSKE FOLKESAGN, and to the notes of the KOEMPE-VISER, or popular Danish Ballads.
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