The Evil Eye

by Meg Suttle

I often hear people around me deflecting compliments given by others. Is this because they don’t want to come off as cocky? Or is there a deeper, more sinister root to why people feel they can’t just take the compliment? If you consult the Skeptic’s Dictionary written by Robert Todd Carroll, it will tell you that a compliment from another person, or even an envious look, could make you fall victim to the “evil eye”. The “evil eye” is an ability given to few, for unknown reasons. It can be provoked or accidental and the curse of the “evil eye” can affect the victim in a number of ways. An article in Life Science titled “The Evil Eye: A Closer Look”, written by Benjamin Radford, states that the pain inflicted from the “evil eye” can range from something small like a flat tire, to a major medical issue, or even death. Examples given in the article are vomiting, depression, hiccupping, and insomnia. Humans are not the only victims of the “evil eye”- plants and animals can be affected too. Radford gives the examples of a cow’s milk drying up or crops dying as a result of an attack from the “evil eye”. As crazy as it sounds, some people believe the power of the “evil eye” can put them in grave danger.

In complete honesty, the “evil eye” theory has little to no true scientific evidence; however, this doesn’t mean it lacks an effect to its true believers, according to Armando De Vincentiis. This psychotherapist believes that the true believers become prey to suggestion. Those who are looking especially close at negative suggestion can fall prey to this bad luck. In an article posted by the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry, written by Massimo Polidro, says, “one could almost say that believing in the evil eye can bring bad luck.” Despite the lack of “evil eye” evidence, there are certain tests that, self-proclaimed, psychics use to convince their clients they have the curse, effectively swindling them into doing whatever that psychic suggests. Many of these sacred rituals involve simple objects like eggs, salt, or a photograph, and they are rigged to always somehow result in the presence of the “evil eye” (Polidro). The evidence against the “evil eye” is pretty strong considering there isn’t any scientific evidence for it. There is no reasoning behind who has the ability to give the evil eye, zero proof of what exactly brings the curse on (different articles say it’s intentional or unintentional), and there is no correlation between a “look” and a certain event. No matter how hard some have tried the “evil eye” has never been scientifically proven.

Historically, the “evil eye” theory goes way back. Carroll believes the “evil eye” belief began in Sumeria and while the belief isn’t universal, it is still present today in the Mediterranean (Carroll). Radford highlights references made to the “evil eye” in influential historical texts such as the Bible, the Koran, and even some of Shakespeare’s plays. When considering the “evil eye’s” ancient background, it is very easy to assume this was an old wives tail of the past. This assumption is incorrect. The belief in the “evil eye” can even turn deadly. Life science’s article included a quote from a Folklorist named Alan Dundes’ book, The Evil Eye: a Casebook in which he stated, “…keep in mind that the evil eye is not some old-fashioned superstitious belief of interest solely to antiquarians. The evil eye continues to be a powerful factor affecting the behavior of countless millions of people throughout the world.” True believers of the “evil eye” have attacked people based off of nothing more than the suspicion that someone possess its power.

How could the “evil eye” belief have such a vast historical background and still be held as truth by some? There are a few different theories on why the “evil eye” has such a hold on some people. The Skeptics Dictionary cites a case of post hoc reasoning being the driving force behind the theory. As we discussed in class, post hoc reasoning is when event A happens which is followed by event B and it leads people to believe event A caused event B. In the case of the “evil eye”, people believe that once the eye has been given (event A), then any negative thing that happens (event B) is a result of the “evil eye”. Another theory given by Carroll is that the theory of the “evil eye” stems from a general social anxiety and distrust of strangers. The last cause of the “evil eye” theory that I found was that behaviors stemming from primate biology. Eye contact is a way that animals assert dominance in the animal kingdom. Some folklorists believe the evil eye is extrapolated from this behavior.

I’m sure you’ve received a dirty look from someone at some point in your life and thought nothing detrimental would happen to you. This is not the case for the true believers of the “evil eye” theory. Despite having absolutely zero scientific evidence backing this claim, some people really believe people on this earth have the ability to curse you with misfortune with just a look. Post hoc reasoning has a lot to do with the “evil eye” theory still being around today. In the true believer’s eyes, because they were cursed, any bad thing that happens was a result of the curse. The next time you receive a glare from someone, you might want to watch your back.

31 thoughts on “The Evil Eye

  1. I think its interesting how you showed a different side of the extraordinary belief and how that belief holds a certain truth to its believers. I also liked how you incorporated the vast historical background as incorrect but still held many followers. Lastly, I enjoyed how the evil eye theory tries to incorporate real science like biology to strengthened its argument,

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed my post! One of the main things that lead me to choose the evil eye as my extraordinary belief was it’s rich cultural background. I too found it interesting how true believers attempted to incorporate biology into their proof of the evil eye’s existence. I tried to find more on why that was considered evidence but because it was such a farfetched claim, I couldn’t really find anything further.

  2. I was interested to read this blog because the evil eye theory is something I know little about. It makes sense that people believe this theory because it is very superstitious, which is a quality many people have. I like how you pointed out that there is no scientific evidence for this, which does not surprise me. Despite this, I do not think people will ever stop believing in something like the evil eye because of the personal and strong connection we have as humans.

    • I agree with what you said about the evil eye being something that people will always believe in. Through researching the topic, I found that the cultural ties with this extraordinary belief are extremely strong. With this belief being passed down from generation to generation, I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon. If the lack of scientific evidence didn’t deter people in the past, I don’t see it having a huge impact in the future either.

  3. I think the reason the Evil Eye is so deeply believed by people is becasue of its cultural roots. Similar to all culturally rooted things, people believe because the belief has been passed down for centuries. I have family who is Greek, and they don’t care what anyone has to say, as far as they are concerned, they rep the Evil Eye always. There is also a store in the short north called Karavan, which is a store with all kinds of goodies from Turkey, and they have Evil Eye everything. Even though I know the belief stems from something without proof, I still love the aesthetic and the idea behind the belief so I have an Evil Eye hanging from my rear view mirror!

    • The store in the short north sounds super cool and I will definitely have to check it out! It was pretty cool to see all of the jewelry and other items people make and sell in relation to the evil eye when looking up information about the topic. My roommate won’t leave the house without her evil eye bracelet.

  4. Meg, I thought your post was very intriguing! I sometimes feel uncomfortable taking compliments, so from that viewpoint it was really interesting to read what you found. When doing your research, did you ever find any articles talking about the “evil eye” in the states?

    • Hi Julia! When researching, the evil eye didn’t come up in the states specifically but I think that the idea of it definitely is still believed by some Americans. With its rich cultural ties, relatives of those who may have moved to the states may have passed this belief to their offspring keeping the belief alive.

  5. Meg, this is a topic I have never heard of. I wont lie, it made me chuckle because of how utterly ridiculous it is. If someone believes that a look can cause so much misfortune, do they also believe that people can fly, or turn invisible? It seems like something as ridiculous as flying or invisibility is just as possible to believe as “evil eye” so, how did a culture choose to believe in evil eye?

    • I’d have to agree with you Charlie! I think that often people don’t want to come to terms with the fact that bad things just happen sometimes and they need someone or something to blame it on. It’s easier to deal with an unexpected unfortunate event like a sudden death when there is an underlying reason for this event. I think that’s a pretty major reason why this belief has been so prevalent in certain cultures.

  6. Before reading your blog post, I had no idea what the evil eye was so I found your post very informative! This is definitely a phenomenon that’s hard to grasp. How could people actually believe that few people have a power of the evil eye that causes bad things to happen to people? This is a classic example of people’s desires to make sense of the unknown. They look for answers as to why bad things happen to them seemingly unfairly or out of the blue and the evil eye is an explanation that makes sense to them.

    • I definitely agree with what you said in regards to people wanting to make sense of the unknown. It’s a scary world when random things can happen to you at any moment for no reason at all. Blaming random bad things on one person or one specific belief can make life a little more bearable for some.

      • I’ve definitely had days where one bad thing happens after another after another. It seems like some sort of unlucky force is out to get me, like something similar to the evil eye. It’s a funny thing to think about, but obviously has no scientific evidence to back up its claims.

  7. This is very interesting, but I don’t understand how a compliment or envious look from someone else could cause you to fall victim to the evil eye. Is it just a curse of bad luck? Do the people giving dirty looks also have the curse, and are able to pass it on to others? This is an interesting topic. I understand culturally explanations for people believing in this “evil eye” phenomenon, but I think it’s one of those things that if you are a believer, and you believe to have been cursed, you will attribute anything bad that happens to you to the curse.

    • I believe that most think that only specific people posses the power of the evil eye and they can’t pass this power on to others. They can only use their power against others to make bad things happen to them by giving them a dirty look. I would agree with believers attributing all bad things to this belief just because they believe.

  8. Very interesting topic. I was a little shocked to read that this belief isnt universal because it is actually a shared belief in many cultures, religions etc . The first time I ever heard about the evil eye was in George Lopez- a Mexican Tv show, the first time i actually experienced it was my freshman year in college when my friend – who is Mexican told me she needed to touch my hair because she was admiring it from afar and if she did not bring the compliment to the surface it would be as though she is lusting or envious, the term for this in Spanish is “Ojo” and i know there are sooooo many other cultures who believe in this and call it a different name.

    • I think it’s pretty cool how different cultures can share the same idea but make it their own and even call it something totally different. I’d be interested to hear more about how your friend was taught this belief. Generations of family members often carry beliefs with them and pass them along to younger generations.

  9. I have never heard about this until I read this post and wow I can’t believe people actually believe in something like this! Evil eye believers have to be at least a little paranoid, it’s just very irrational for people to think bad things will happen to them just because someone gave them a dirty look. I feel bad for anyone with a generally mean looking face!

    • My friend said the exact same thing! She is often told that she naturally looks very mad or annoyed so when I was telling her about this belief, she joked that a lot of these people would think that she has the evil eye. I think it would be hard to go through life feeling scared that someone else could have this sort of power over me just by looking at me.

  10. I had never heard of this “Evil-eye” but I guess some people are crazy paranoid. What should you do when someone gives you a dirty look? Just submit to the will of the evil eye and accept all incoming tragedy? Beg the person not to curse you? This belief has such potential to totally crush someone’s life, I would hate to believe in this. This seems like such a weird, unimaginative, and un-intricate way to become cursed. If curses are real, I at least hope they would be more complicated.

    • I agree that this would be a hard belief to have. I feel like something like a look can be easily misinterpreted. This could cause a lot of unnecessary stress constantly thinking that a look from the wrong person could do you in at any moment.

  11. Growing up, my uncle always used to make comments and jokes about the evil eye, but I never really knew what he was referring to. Your post was very interesting to read and learn more about. People who have this extraordinary belief must feel helpless considering they can’t really do much to stop the evil eye.

    • hey hannah! i thought it was interesting to hear your perspective about how your uncle used to say jokes about the evil eye. I think alot of different cultures still believe in the evil eye to this day and it is a very big deal to them because they feel it truely affects their lives! I have a friend who takes the evil eye to heart and it is definitely no joke to her!

    • I too had briefly heard about the evil eye growing up but never really understood its origins. I think a lot of people have different perspectives and interpretations of the evil eye belief and its interesting to see you uncles! I would be interested to see where he originally heard about the evil eye.

  12. I am not a true believer on this topic, BUT there have definitely been times in my life where I have just been walking down the street and I notice someone just absolutely death staring me. It has even been to the point where I have felt violated and offended for the stank eye someone has given me, but I never felt it had the power to cause bad things to happen to me.

    • I think everyone has at least one experience in their life where someone has been giving them a nasty look. It’s definitely not a good feeling to be the recipient of such a look. I think that true believers might just attribute bad things that occur to the evil eye because it’s much harder to accept that bad things can just happen sometimes.

  13. In the last few years I’ve seen a lot of jewelry and clothes and trinkets with an eye on it, at one point it seemed like it was on everything. I always thought it was just a trend until I had looked it up and it said that the eye protects from the Evil Eye. I never knew what that was until I read your post! Now that I’m thinking about it, people do often try to deflect compliments or feel the need to compliment them back, I notice that I do that a lot too. It seems almost rude to accept compliments, maybe that comes from the fact that it is so deeply rooted in some cultures that it has become a staple in our manners.

    • I’m glad you learned something new from my post! Since writing about this topic. I’ve found I’ve been a lot more aware of just how many different people wear the evil eye and in how many ways they wear it. I even noticed a poster my roommate had on her wall had an evil eye reference on it that I had never noticed before. I think the societal norm is definitely to deflect compliments. That was a really good point and I too wonder if that stems from some of these beliefs.

  14. I loved reading about your article because this belief is deeply rooted in my family. Being Greek, I was given my first evil eye necklace as a baby, and we have various depictions of evil eyes throughout our family home. I was taught not to be jealous, and to be as humble as possible so as not to give the evil eye to myself or others. Though I do not necessarily believe in this otherworldly evil that can be cast upon others, it has been a big cultural aspect of my life and the mythology behind it is quite interesting. Cool article!

    • That’s so interesting the belief was introduced to you as a baby! I definitely think beliefs like this one have evolved into a tradition among family members and have become more of a way to teach life lessons to children. That’s really cool that you have actual experience yourself with the belief!

  15. I swear that everything I tell in this story is true and this is my experience. I never even heard of the evil eye. I had no concept of it, but I believe I have had once. This is what happened.

    I am a man who grew up in Norway. In a non-religious household. I have regarded myself as an atheist my whole life. I have held no religious beliefs and no superstitions.

    In April 2006 I was in Colombia together with my soon to be Colombian wife who I had met there on vacation 6 months earlier.

    We went out to have a few drinks in the center of Cartagena on a Monday together with my girlfriend’s uncle. It was not many people there, but we sat together and had a good time.

    After a little while, I noticed a girl sitting alone on the next table looking very strong at me. It was a kind of look I had never had before. It was not a look of interest. It was an intense look of something that looked like a mixture of shock, disbelief, hate, and disgust.

    I wondered if the girl didn’t approve of a westerner and a Colombian girl together, but I didn’t really care except that it was rather uncomfortable to be stared at in this way. And she never took her eyes off me. Both me, my girlfriend and her uncle reacted to this woman’s behavior and after some time the uncle went to ask her why she was looking at me like this and if she could please stop.

    The woman said she thought she knew me. She asked if I was from Canada and gave a name. The uncle denied this and told her I was from Norway and asked her to please stop looking. However, she did not and after the drinks, we left the premises.

    The next day I got sick with a high fever of around 39 C. At this point, I did not at all relate this to what happened the day before. I never believed in anything like the evil eye or weird stuff like this. I thought I had got “something” and waited for it to pass. However, the illness felt very different from anything I had ever had before.

    It was a pure fever. I felt tired, heavy, sick and beat down by the fever, but I had no pain or other symptoms of infections or disease. I felt my eyes to be heavy. Not in a sleepy kind of way, but like they had weights hanging from then. My forehead felt dull and my mind slow.

    I am a person who reacts very well to a painkiller, such as paracetamol and fever normally goes quickly when I take it. However, to my surprise, neither ibuprofen nor paracetamol did anything for the fever. The fever stayed strong.

    After two full days like this, I felt no improvement and I went to the doctor. The doctor told me I had a virus and gave me the same as I was already taking. More paracetamol, Ibux and some other things to improve my immune system. It had no effect.

    The disease did not alter in any way for six full days and I was afraid I would lose my flight back to Norway. I was getting desperate and worried about what this was. Still, after these six days, it never occurred to me that I had gotten anything that couldn’t be found in a doctors manual.

    On the night of the sixth day my soon to be wife approached me nervously. She knew me and knew I would laugh at what she was about to tell me. She told me she, her mother and her sister have been talking. They thought I might have gotten the evil eye. The symptoms matched they said.

    My wife was surprised by my reaction. I did not laugh, because I was already scared. I just said; “If this is something like that. What do I do to get well? “

    I was tired of being sick for almost a week with no sign of recovery and was open to try anything. Even if I didn’t believe in it. I felt it could not hurt me more.

    They said there was an old neighbor that would come in the next morning and check on me. If I had the evil eye she could get rid of it.

    The next morning I was exactly as I had been for the last 7 days. In a full fever and only getting weaker I kept to bed as I had for the last week. The old woman came into the room. She was totally white-haired, dark skin and crystal blue eyes. Not blue, but something between white and blue. Like a frost blue.

    She sat on my bed and held her thumb and finger together over my forehead. Kind of twitching them together softly, while she kept her eyes closed and seemed to be mumbling. At this point, I did not speak Spanish. So, I do not know if she was speaking in Spanish or something else. She continued to the same routine over my chest, my wrists and ankles.

    Then, after about 10-15 minutes she got up and left.

    I would never expect what happened to me over the next 30 minutes. The fever subsided and was gone within half an hour. The same afternoon I left the house with my girlfriend and went to the shopping mall.

    It was a strange experience and I could never quite explain, nor understand what happened to me that week. The disease I had was strange and not like anything I have ever had. And if my recovery was a form of placebo it does not explain that strange fever.

    And if it was the evil eye I could not have gotten it because I am a believer, because I never had heard of it and I did not believe in it. All I can say is that the whole thing was strange.

    I have written this with anonymity as I am a businessman in Norway and I am afraid I will not be taken seriously if people can google my name with my story.

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