By Peter Fredson
Years ago I did research in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, land of the Tzeltal, Tzotzil and Tojolobal Indian groups. I walked a narrow mountain trail on a cool and foggy morning and saw many people going to their milpas (fields) to tend their crops of corn, beans and tomatoes. I walked on the cobblestones of a small village, passing the mainly deserted huts, when I saw, seated on stone steps, wrapped in a rebozo shawl, a woman who was holding an infant. As I passed I glanced at the infant, gave a quick smile to the mother, and continued on my way. I heard the baby cry, then the sound of the woman running after me. As I turned, the woman held out the baby toward me and said in anguish, “Sir, Sir, Please make the sign of the cross over my child.”
I made a cross sign three times over the child, and the mother said, “Thank you, sir. Thank you.” The baby stopped crying, the woman went back to her seat, and I continued my mountain walk.
Later that day I returned to San Cristobal to visit an old jungle explorer friend, Frans Blom, and told him of my encounter. He then informed me that I had witnessed a case of “The Evil Eye”, or “Mal de Ojo” a common phenomenon in the Central Highlands of Chiapas.
In later years I ran across many similar occurrences, and decided that they all formed part of the theory of “bad luck.”
It is a theory of causation, explaining what happens when “things go wrong.” In vulgar usage it may be phrased as “Sh-t Happens.”
The Evil Eye theory is found all over the world, with many instances found in ancient Mediterranean countries. It is pre-Christian and its effects are usually due to some sort of envy.
If you have an acquaintance that won a lottery, erected a new house, got a new car or job, your envy will excite a destructive power within you which is emanated from the eyes. Then the good fortune of someone you envy will turn to bad luck…the house will burn down, the car won’t start, they lose their job, the cow will go dry, they will get terrible headaches…and an infinity of other injurious or detrimental effects will occur.
What causes people to believe in the evil eye? When someone looks too long at a child, or people’s possessions, or their crops and livestock and consequently if the child gets sick, or a possession is destroyed or lost, or a horse or cow dies, then the cause is attributed to an envious person.
A stranger in a small village is the usual person under suspicion. Any person with unusual blemishes or deformities might be envious of more “normal” people. Some people are thought to be born with the evil eye, devastating everything they look at. Sometimes they are called demon-possessed.
An interesting analysis of this phenomenon elicits two distinct kinds of destructive power. One is deliberate, intended to cause harm, but is under control of the sender of bad vibes.
This is manageable, for the senders can be informed of very bad consequences, like cutting off their head, if they do not restrain their destructive powers. Such people, when warned, usually act very circumspectly thereafter.
However, the worst kind of recipients of bad luck is when the sender has no control over eyeful emanations. The emanations simply escape, run wild, and are uncontrollable. The only remedy for the innocent possessor of such power is physical destruction.
There are numerous precautions or protections against destructive eye power. Counter-spells, wearing blue beads, hanging certain plants around the house, prayer, and not arousing anyone’s envy are remedial. Ancient Egyptians put on heavy eye shadow and lipstick to keep the evil eye from entering their person.
A good defense against the evil eye is an amulet in the shape of frogs, horns or phalluses. Spitting is thought to ward off the evil eye. Other defenses against evil eye include tying bells to horses, tying red ribbons to children’s underwear, or displaying a shamrock in Ireland.
In India barley is used to avert the evil eye. Other cures include reciting secret spells and chants. Making the sign of the cross on the victim’s forehead is prevalent in Christian countries. In the last resort a witch or sorcerer is hired to dispose of the sender by reversing the flow of destructive power, back to the sender.
I’m not sure what triggered this memory recently. Perhaps getting old with aches and pains and many difficulties with arthritis, spastic colon, kidney failure, etc. demands some sort of theory of causation. Personally, I blame FOX NEWS and their belligerent “news-casters.” Some of them definitely look like they have the “EVIL EYE.”