Jan 11, 2012

Evil eye

In the past, it was believed that all the living beings, especially the young and beautiful ones, could be bewitched by the look of a bad eye. Even mothers should not caress their babies for fear of casting a spell on them. For that reason, they used to put amulets on the child as soon as it was born or they blackened their forehead

Another source of physical and mental disequilibrium and pain is the evil eye. This is a specific type of spell which in most cases is believed to be unpremeditated. Beliefs about the evil eye are well know and documented throughout the whole of southern and southeastern Europe and „the Mediterranean area“. Such beliefs were also present in Dolina, even if informants were initially reluctant to talk about them. Although most of my material was collected in rural Bosnia, I also consulted informants in Sarajevo about popular beliefs there and discovered that belief in the evil eye and knowledge about different protective measures are also found among Sarajevans. The more educated people in Sarajevo dismiss such ideas as superstition, however
This villagers use several different terms for „evil eye“, the most common being grdne oči (ugly eyes); others are urokljive oči (bewitching eyes) or pogane oči (filthy or evil eyes). I was told that you cannot know if someone has an evil eye or not, and even the possessor does not know. A person may not know s/he has been bewitched by evil eye until s/he gets ill with a splitting headache and fever.
It someone looks at another person and say that he or she is beautiful without saying mašalah, the first person may unintentionally cast a spell on the second person. Mašalah  expreses wonder at and pleasure in what a person sees. In the original Arabic it means something like „what Allah wants will be“ (that is, everything is dependent on God's will). Beautiful girls and babies thought to be particularly vulnerable.
In the Bosnian village of Dolina, I did not see evil eye accusations as a means of enforcing social control and conformity. Instead, the concern was with the person who was at risk from the evil eye, and with this person's power to attract another person's attention because of her beauty rather than with accusing someone of having „bewitching eyes“ (since that person had probably cast the evil eye unintentionally). I have no information about actual people accused of having cast the evil eye, but was repeatedly told that there was no way of knowing who had. This is reflected among other things in the fact that the verb for casting spells, ureći, was never used actively in the third person to describe the agency, but only passively to describe the person who had been the victim of the evil eye, as in „the child has been cast spells on“ (dijete je ureknuto). The people most concerned about such spells are those closest to the person or object believed vulnerable to the evil eye, such as the mother of a newborn baby. I suggest that beliefs about evil eye are primarily an expression of one' own fear of losing someone or something which one highly desires and which is therefore very precious. But because it is highly desired, the person who has it knows that others might desire it too.
In Bosnia allusion was never made to the envy (or jealousy) of the potential possessor of the evil eye (although accusations of jealousy are often made to explain hostile and uncooperative behavior in other contexts), and envy was not seen as problematic as it was common and assumed from the knowledge and experience of one's own feelings.

Formula against the evil eye:

The "urok" sits on the treshold,
his mate under the treshold.
The "urok" has three eyes:
one eye is of water,
the second eye is of fire,
the third eye us charmed.
 The water eye burst
and put out the fiery one
and took the charmed one
to the high mountains
to the broad plains.
The sea has no bridge,
nor a dog horns,
nor the palm (of the hand) hair
nor is here any spell on my -name-.