Have you ever been walking down the street and noticed someone staring at you? Maybe you just shrugged it off and thought, Haters gonna hate. Well, good for you! You should strut your stuff and not worry about what other people think of you. However, in certain Latin American cultures and many other cultures from around the world, getting the evil eye can have far greater consequences than mere judgment.
In fact, in many of these cultures, getting the evil eye (or mal de ojo in Spanish) is a legitimate reason to make a visit to the doctor. So, while you may be able to get the evil eye and confidently walk away, there are many people out there who believe that mal de ojo has the real power to place a curse on or bring misfortune to its receiver.
Belief in the power of the evil eye is stronger in certain parts of the world than in others; however, this superstition has spread all over the globe and has had a significant effect on a myriad of different communities. Outside of first-world countries, in fact, it’s almost difficult to find any community that doesn’t have some variation of the mal de ojo superstition.
My first personal experience with the mal de ojo superstition was in the Caribbean island chain of Bocas del Toro, Panama. I walked into the home of a new friend and noticed that I was looking into a mirror as soon as I entered the front door. Thinking that that was a pretty strange place for a mirror, I asked my host what its purpose was. Mal de ojo was the answer.
Apparently, in this part of the world, the belief is that placing a mirror by the front door will protect you from anyone wishing to bring mal de ojo into your home by reflecting their malintent back at them. This is just one version of the evil eye superstition. Let’s take a look at some of the variations of this belief from around the world and the different ways that people try to protect themselves from mal de ojo.
Origins of the Evil Eye
The earliest evidence of belief in the evil eye is from texts collected from the ruins of Ancient Ugarit, located on the Mediterranean coast of modern-day Syria. The city was destroyed around 1250 BC during the late Bronze age and never rebuilt, but texts referring to the evil eye were still collected from its ruins. And while this is the first known evidence of this type of superstitious belief, the origins of mal de ojo probably trace back even further.
Later, it would appear that belief in the power of the evil eye became extremely widespread in Ancient Greek society. The phenomenon is referred to in hundreds of texts from Greek Classical antiquity and is mentioned by some of the most famous authors of the time, including Pliny the Elder, Plato, Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, Virgil, and many others.
Plutarch attempted to explain the evil eye scientifically, claiming that the eyes were capable of emitting deadly rays, which he compared to poisoned darts, that could be sent out to bring misfortune to others. Pliny the Elder once described the ability of certain African enchanters to bring misfortune upon or even kill those who upon who they fix their glare.
While there’s no real way to know how the superstition of the evil eye started, we do know that it has made its way all over the world and has become deeply ingrained in hundreds of local cultures.
The Evil Eye in the Modern World
These days, belief in the power of the evil eye, or mal de ojo, is strongest in Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia. However, there are also many communities in Europe, specifically in the Mediterranean region, that hold similar beliefs as well. There are also references to the evil eye in Islamic doctrine, implying that practicing Muslims also hold a belief in the evil eye’s power.
Today, the term “evil eye” has also become rather common in the English language even among those who do not believe in its power. To glare at someone is often referred to as “giving them the evil eye.” The evil eye has also appeared in popular media as well. Anyone who grew up in the 2000s will remember the feared “stink eye” that Tito would cast upon people in the Nickelodeon cartoon Rocket Power.
With the concept of mal de ojo appearing in so many places across the globe, an equally large number of protective charms and talismans have arisen across these cultures. Many of the ways that people protect themselves against the evil eye are strange and confusing, but the people who practice these protective rituals truly believe in their efficacy.
Protections Against the Evil Eye
Around the world, the many different cultures that believe in the power of the evil eye have come up with their own ways of protecting themselves against it. For example, in Ancient Rome, people used to carry around phallic charms (small statues of divine penises) with them that they believed would offer them protection from the evil eye. While this practice no longer continues today, there are still some interesting ways that people try to protect themselves against mal de ojo.
In certain cultures of the Caribbean and West Indies, there is a belief that the color blue has the ability to ward off the evil eye, or maljo as it’s called in that part of the world. As a result, people in these parts of the world will often dress in blue clothing and decorate their homes with blue ornaments to try to both prevent and relieve the effects of maljo. Certain communities also have stranger remedies for maljo, including bathing in the sea, rubbing one’s own saliva in one’s hair, and getting pinched.
In many countries throughout the world, the wearing of a nazar, or an image of a blue eye made from concentric circles, is meant to protect one from receiving the evil eye. It is also very common to see a nazar painted on the side of a car, house, or boat in countries where belief in the evil eye is strong. Among the countries that utilize the nazar in protective rituals are Turkey, Greece, Romania, Albania, Egypt, Syria, Armenia, India, Iran, and many others.
In certain parts of Italy, an amulet known as a cornicello is worn to protect people from the evil eye. The amulet is in the shape of a long, twisted horn that’s meant to emulate the shape of the horns of an African eland (which is a type of antelope). There is also the strange belief that grabbing one’s crotch can protect one from the curse of the evil eye, which most likely descends from the Ancient Roman tradition of carrying a phallic charm.
In parts of Latin America, there is the belief that mal de ojo can be transferred into an egg. A common cure for the effects of mal de ojo is to move an egg over the body of the afflicted in the shape of a cross. The belief is that the curse will be transferred to the egg by doing so and the afflicted will no longer have the curse. People in these cultures also sometimes place an egg in a glass of water and leave it under the bed of the afflicted or place it close to their heads. The belief is that, if the egg looks like it’s been cooked the next day, then the patient did have mal de ojo and it has been cured.
Watch Those Eyes
Whether or not you believe in folk magic such as mal de ojo, it’s probably better not to stare at people for too long in regions where belief in the power of the evil eye is strong. You might just accidentally give people the impression that you have bad intentions and are trying to place a curse on them.
On the flip side, if you’re in a place where belief in the evil eye is strong, you might want to stay on the lookout for people staring at you for long periods of time. Those people may be trying to place some sort of curse on you. And if they’re trying to place a curse on you, they might be willing to commit other bad deeds toward you.