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.