Home :: The Evil Eye - In Turkey And Around The World

The Evil Eye - In Turkey And Around The World

By Diana McLeod

      The belief in the “Curse of the Evil Eye” goes back to the beginning of time. It is a belief that a malicious or jealous person can use witchcraft to curse others. The curse can affect an entire family, or a person'’s livestock. The typical curse is one of unexplained illness. This superstition is widely believed in Turkey to this day. There are thousands of little shops that sell little glass “eye” charms to ward off the evil eye, and these shops do not cater entirely to tourists. Many homes and businesses have an evil eye charm somewhere on the premises, just in case. These charms are made of flattened blue glass, with a round “eye” staring out of the center of the piece. Their purpose is to “mirror” the Evil Eye, so the curse is reflected back to where it came from.

THE WORLDWIDE BELIEF: In our travels, Dave and I have seen this phenomenon in many cultures, although we think the Mediterranean custom is one of the most interesting methods of protection. The “evil eye” belief is practiced all the way from Greece, Italy and Spain to North Africa and as far east as India. The Spanish even brought the custom to the New World, and it is now practiced extensively in Latin America. There are remnants of the belief that have even made it all the way to the USA!

HOW IT GOT STARTED: Many scholars today agree that the Evil Eye is related to water. In the desert Middle East, where there is often drought, it has to do with wells drying up, crops failing, and thirst. Waterbourne diseases were probably another cause of the superstition. If one family’'s well got contaminated, then everyone who drank from that well would sicken, even their livestock. Neighboring families, who had their own wells, would be safe from the illness. Since there was no understanding of the actual reason why one family would suffer, when the rest of the neighborhood did not, it was easy for suspicion to fall on a person. People were often accused of witchcraft, or something like it. Many deaths, particularly those of children, were also caused by dysentery from bad water, or from food poisoning. In these diseases, fluids leave the body too quickly to be regenerated. These diseases also could be related to “drought,” so they were attributed to the Evil Eye.

      Belief in the Evil Eye spread from ancient Sumer. There are references to the evil Eye in the Jewish Torah and in the Christian Bible. Arabs also practice the belief. Jews avoided its curse by wearing red strings. This custom is also practiced today in India.

THE EVIL EYE IN TURKEY TODAY: As tourists, we saw Evil Eye charms everywhere in Turkey. Many homes and small businesses had one around the main entrance of the house or barn. Hotels and guest houses invariably had them. We wondered if they were there to add local charm to the hotel, or were they a way of warding off evil guests? Stickers and decals were everywhere. One hotel had a “disco ball” of radiating evil eyes in front of its elevators. Another hotel had evil eyes right inside the elevator. (This was good, because the elevator itself was really old and rickety). I also saw brand new modern apartment blocks under construction in urban Turkey that had evil eyes painted right into the modern paint scheme.

      We took quite a few buses in Turkey, and every bus had one. Most of the charms were on the bus itself, facing the passengers'’ entrances (like airport screening, only different!). They also hung them at ticket counters, to keep Evil from buying a ticket. I even saw a bus station security metal detector with an Evil Eye on it! Even the roads had evil eyes- glass eyes were often pressed into the pavement by the road crews that built them.

OTHER PROTECTION METHODS WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED: In Indonesia and Nepal, we have encountered similar beliefs. Shamanistic ancestor statues are placed around peoples'’ property, in the belief that the families'’ ancestors will inhabit them and guard the homesteads. (We have some of these antique statues for sale at Tradewinds, if anyone is curious...) Also, in Nepal, these is a belief that a certain vine, hung over a doorway, keeps bad luck from walking in. (We were given one, and we keep it in the office; where we hope it will keep away Internet viruses...)

DO YOU BELIEVE? If you have ever hung a horseshoe up for “good luck”, then you are a believer! This custom came from Europe, and it dates back to the Middle Ages, when Northern Europeans also believed in the Evil Eye. A horseshoe supposedly wards off the “Evil Eye” from your home or stable.

Thanks for reading! Diana

Click here to visit the Travel Story Archive and read more of Diana's stories from around the world!