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The power of the evil eye in Greece– the history of an ancient symbol of protection

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Τhe eye moves constantly, like a breath of light

Τhe eye learns constantly , because it sees

Τhe eye remembers

Τhe eye foresees

Τhe eye admires

Τhe eye envies


Plutarch, Moralia VIII,

Convivalium Dilputationum Liber V. Z.681

the evil eye

a.



The evil eye (‘mati’ in greek) was considered for centuries the cause of all sudden and inexplicable evil. It has always had the power to affect a person's physical and mental integrity.A power equal to the intensity of fire that melts metal. Its has a harmful effect and is motivated either by admiration or envy.


The concept of ‘vaskania’, originally synonymous with malice, envy and slander and with causing harm by staring, was born in the Middle East. However, it found fertile ground in the beliefs of the people of the Mediterranean with their strong emotions and even stronger tendency to externalize them. Personal insult and litigation, rivalry and flattery, love subjugation and revenge, fear and anxiety for the future were the strongest motives for the evil eye. The most common motive - even nowadays- is jealousy. The evil eye states that when someone is envious of you, they have the power to give you an 'evil glare' and send you bad luck. Envy, a human emotion with corrosive power, was particularly evident in the weaker social and economic classes,“Envy, you know, creeps up on him who holds the power” (Sophocles, Aias, 157).In order to stop its often destructive momentum, magical tricks are used. These tricks or beliefs which are most familiar to the Greeks find their origins from distant Persia and neighboring Egypt. Examples are invocations to Gods, incomprehensible expressions, gestures, amulets, wax effigies which are all are eagerly adopted and adapted to the local conditions.


The most common form of magic in Greece is the so-called homeopathic magic, based on the principle of fighting fire with fire. In ancient times the eye talisman was used, it was painted on vases, carved in bone jewelry etc., all in the fight against the eye.The idea of the good eye as a weapon against the evil eye is also Egyptian and is best represented in the magical amulet ‘wadjet’, which is the left eye of the god Horus.


In ancient Greece around 7th century BCE the eye symbol was adopted by the vessel painters.It was painted usually on drinking vessels, mainly goblets, and was often combined with the representation of eyebrows and noses, so that the full sense of the face is given to the symposium participants and their possibly evil gaze is imprisoned there.

Gestures used to be the most casual and spontaneous way to avoid the evil eye. Βy using them people sought to attract the gaze, to break its continuity and hence to diminish its power. Certainly these gestures presuppose an awareness of danger and free us only from what is susceptible to our perception.


The word ‘vaskanos’ refers to the Old Testament, with the meaning of envy and evil. In Byzantine sources it is associated with magic and envy. The church accepted ‘vaskania’ from a very early age, removing its magical essence and considering it to be the often involuntary result of diabolical energy, a kind of transference of diabolical energy through an intermediary - and his evil eyes - to an animate or inanimate object. The use of wishes against the evil eye, amulets and gestures is preserved to this day.


People’s need for protection was mainly expressed through jewelry, objects that preeminently highlighted the beauty and promoted the prestige of the individual in society. Due to their direct contact with the human body, the jewelry had a prominent protective effect. The charm -behind every different form- maintains a unique, magical property: it protects and threatens at the same time. it is a shield for the wearer and a spear against every malevolent force.The eye amulet was chosen, as a countermeasure to the evil eye, as is widely believed that offers protection to its owner, repels misfortune and attracts luck.


The team at Apeiro Kosmima



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