What Is The Evil Eye? Meaning & History Of This Common Symbol

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What Is The Evil Eye? Meaning & History Of This Common Symbol
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Every culture has its interpretation of the evil eye— but what is the evil eye, exactly?

The evil eye symbol has a heavy influence in various parts of Asia, Latin and Central America, East and West Africa, and Europe, specifically the Mediterranean area. Even though each culture and society has its interpretation of the evil eye, each seems to have a similar connotation.

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What is the evil eye?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the evil eye is defined as a “glance believed to have the ability to cause injury or death to those on who it falls.” Pregnant women, children, and animals are believed to be particularly susceptible to the evil eye.

The belief of the evil eye is prominent in various parts of Asia, East, and West Africa, Latin and Central American, and the Mediterranean. Evil eye talismans or amulets are popular in these cultures as they're said to protect those who display them from the effects of the evil eye.

History of the Evil Eye Symbol

The evil eye reportedly dates back to at least in the eighth century B.C. Various Greek philosophers and writers, including Hesiod, Plutarch, and Pluto, referenced the phenomenon. 

Plutarch’s scientific explanation states that the eyes are “the chief...source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye.”

Another part of Plutarch’s philosophy was that people from the south of the Black Sea had the exceptional power of giving off the evil eye. It’s claimed that those who are extremely proficient with the power tend to have blue eyes, which is because it’s a genetic rarity in the Mediterranean.

During the times of the Roman empire, people felt more aware of the evil eye’s powers as some even believed entire tribes emitted its powers. In ancient Greece, the evil eye commonly appeared on drinking vessels.

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The Evil Eye in Today’s Society

In today’s society, the evil eye is still taken seriously in various cultures. It has also made its way into popular culture through jewelry and fashion.

The belief in the evil eye is strong in various cultures and religions, including Muslim doctrine. Ibn ‘Abbas reported Allah’s Messenger saying, “The influence of an evil eye is a fact; if anything would precede the destiny it would be the influence of an evil eye, and when you are asked to take bath (as a cure) from the influence of an evil eye, you should take bath" (Book 026, Number 5427).

As mentioned before, people with blue eyes — or lighter colored eyes in general — are thought to bestow the evil eye, whether on purpose or not. In fashion, evil eye necklaces or amulets are blue for this reason.

For those who don’t take the evil eye curse seriously, whether by the culture they grew up in or the lack of belief, the evil eye could simply mean looking at someone in anger or disgust. 

Henri Gamache, an author whose subject tended to be magic, published a book in 1949 titled Terrors of the Evil Eye Exposed! — later reprinted as Protection against Evil — offered tips on how to defend against the evil eye.

Evil Eye in Fashion

The evil eye is portrayed as a singular cobalt blue eye, sometimes with eyelashes. It’s a common symbol found especially on jewelry like necklaces, amulets, and bracelets.

Coach 1941 famously featured the evil eye on one of its sweaters in its 2019 Cruise Collection. The evil eye was also featured in Nicole Miller’s 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection on various pieces, including jackets and dresses. Even ASOS had a houseware brand, SUPPLY, that featured the evil eye on a bedspread, a bath mat, and even a cushion cover.

Susanna Cordner, a senior research fellow and archivist for the London College of Fashion, attributes the rising popularity of the evil eye to “contemporary anxieties” which brings people back to the talismans and amulets that had brought comfort in the past.

Cordner also explains how the founders of many famous luxury brands, including Coco Chanel and Saint Yves Laurent, were especially superstitious. Their successors have appropriated that private belief into what Cordner describes as a “public muse.”

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Chinyere (pronounced sha-near-ruh) is a writer who covers entertainment and pop culture news, along with the zodiac.

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