Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Ever Evil Eye

A while back, I posted on an ancient incantation from Ugarit to reverse the Evil Eye. See here. This text was over three thousand years old. And the Evil Eye was something feared throughout the ancient near east and the ancient Mediterranean.

Yet I should not neglect to mention that this extremely ancient and widespread belief in the maleficence of the evil eye has survived and is alive and well today, continuing to permeate religious belief and ritual of all backgrounds. Large numbers of Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and others) all retain the traditions of the evil eye. In fact, I have found the people have been coming onto my blog from Google searches on the evil eye (and how to reverse its effects). I doubt my website will give much practical help, however. Moreover, I have a comment on my posting from an independent vendor of Evil Eye amulets, bracelets, and so forth. Check out her site here. I doubt that my blog has enough traffic to boost her business however. By the way, in case people don't know, the most common amulet or symbol to ward against the evil eye is a hand facing downward with an eye in the center of it. You may have seen it before.

Being one of the most persistent and widespread religious concerns from antiquity to today no matter which god one prays to or what religious group one belongs to, it certainly deserves study. And, in fact, if anyone knows of any full-length scholarly study out there on the evil eye, I would love to hear of it. The problem is, who would do it? One would have to master so many languages, regional histories, and broader historical developments in order to undertake such an ambitious project.

I have found a few books from a quick search:

Rivka Ulmer, Evil Eye in the Bible and in Rabbinic Literature (KTAV 1994)

Clarence, Maloney, ed. Evil Eye (Columbia University Press, 1976)

R. C. Maclagan, Evil Eye in the Western Highlands (1902)

Frederick Thomas Elworthy, Evil Eye: An Account of this Ancient and Widespread Superstition (1895)

The most comprehensive treatment appears to be just before the turn of the twentieth century--back when scholars investigated extraordinarily huge questions. There were some additional materials related to India and the evil eye used as evidence in witchcraft trials. For such a persistent and widespread phenomenon, it is amazing that so little investigation has gone into it. Unless Elworthy settled the case over 100 years ago... Any takers out there for a very huge research project? Can someone think of other religious phenomena that are as persistent and widespread as the fear and warding off of the Evil Eye? Or is it in a league of its own?

1 comment:

Matthew Wilkinson said...

"Can someone think of other religious phenomena that are as persistent and widespread as the fear and warding off of the Evil Eye?"

How about sacred animals? I have been wondering why the bull in particular has received so much attention in ancient religions. If not sacred animals the phenomena of unclean animals may be equally persistent and widespread. It would be interesting if someone researched the roles animals play in world religions, modern and ancient, and in what ways their treatment of animals overlap.