LOOKING BACK – NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2014

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BEHOLD THE EVIL EYE

The evil eye is an ancient belief that a malevolent look will cast a curse on someone or something. This superstition holds that a person possessing the evil eye can cause injury or death by looking into the eyes of its victims. First recorded by the Mesopotamians about 5,000 years ago on clay tablets, the evil eye may have originated as early as the Upper Paleolithic age; prehistoric humans may have believed that certain people could, either purposely or accidentally, cast evil with a glance.

The concept of the evil eye is found in many cultures and religions spanning the globe. To confuse the curse, people are encouraged to hang amulets (such as the God’s eye, made of yarn undated, above left) or wear jewelry featuring eyes. The oldest of these symbols in the ancient Egyptian Oudjat or Wedjat (Wedjat, made of clay, 2200-400 BCE, above right) but these amulets are widely sold in shops today. To this day, according to University of California at Berkeley anthropologist Alan Dundes, Europeans from Mediterranean countries still fear that a certain look might carry barbs of envy that can hurt their recipients. People in Islamic countries and on the Indian subcontinent share the same fear of dangerous looks or equally dangerous compliments.

Courtesy of the Optical Heritage Museum, opticalheritagemuseum.org

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