evil eye

   The belief that certain people can inflict disease or death simply by a glance was accepted by the educated throughout medieval and Elizabethan times, as it had been by Pliny and other classical authorities. Scientists held that vision was an active process, in which the eye emitted rays, and that envy or anger made these rays destructive; Francis Bacon, in his essay 'Of Envy' (c.1600), says the emotion causes 'an ejaculation or irradiation of the eye', inflicting a 'stroke or percussion' on the person envied.
   In common speech, the action was called 'overlooking', and it was generally regarded as *witchcraft, consciously used. Writing in the 1890s in Somerset, Elworthy said the stories about it there were 'almost infinite', and 'one of the commonest of everyday facts'. Sick pigs were said to be 'overlooked', and so were sick children; it was taken for granted they would die, so no effort was made to cure them. Certain protective charms designed to attract, deflect, or confuse a witch's gaze, including *witch balls, *horse brasses, and *threshold patterns, reveal a fear of overlooking; however, spoken curses and physical actions are more frequently mentioned than mere looking in English accounts of witchcraft.
   There are occasional English references to the idea, common in Mediterranean countries, that those with the evil eye cannot control it. *Aubrey mentions a man who accidentally overlooked his own cattle (Aubrey 1686/1880: 80); there is an account from Yorkshire of a man who kept his eyes fixed on the ground so as not to harm anyone, and another who made sure he looked at a pear tree first thing every morning, so that it would take the brunt of his power (Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 155).
   ■ Elworthy, 1895/1958, is a valuable introduction, and there is a collection of essays in The Evil Eye: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (1992), but neither uses many English examples.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • EVIL EYE — (Heb. עַיִן הָרָע, ayin ha ra; lit., the eye of the evil ; Aram. עֵינָא בִּישָׁא, eina bisha), a widespread belief that some persons may produce malevolent effects on others by looking at them, based on the supposed power of some eyes to bewitch… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • evil eye — evil eyed, adj. 1. a look thought capable of inflicting injury or bad luck on the person at whom it is directed. 2. the power, superstitiously attributed to certain persons, of inflicting injury or bad luck by such a look. [bef. 1000; ME, OE] * * …   Universalium

  • Evil eye — Evil E*vil ([=e] v l) a. [OE. evel, evil, ifel, uvel, AS. yfel; akin to OFries, evel, D. euvel, OS. & OHG. ubil, G. [ u]bel, Goth. ubils, and perh. to E. over.] 1. Having qualities tending to injury and mischief; having a nature or properties… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Evil eye — E vil eye See {Evil eye} under {Evil}, a. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • evil eye — n. 1. a look believed by some to be able to harm or bewitch the one stared at 2. the power to cast such a look: With the …   English World dictionary

  • Evil eye — Nazars, charms used to ward off the evil eye. The evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. The term also refers to the power… …   Wikipedia

  • evil eye —    A demonic power of causing illness, misfortune, calamity, and death through the eyes. Evil eye beliefs are universal and date to ancient times. The oldest recorded reference to the evil eye appears in the cuneiform texts of the Sumerians,… …   Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology

  • evil eye — noun a look that is believed to have the power of inflicting harm • Hypernyms: ↑look, ↑looking, ↑looking at * * * noun : the glance of a person that is believed to be capable of inflicting injury many people are reputed to … cause harm by staring …   Useful english dictionary

  • evil eye — 1) N SING: the N Some people believe that the evil eye is a magical power to cast a spell on someone or something by looking at them, so that bad things happen to them. 2) N SING: usu the N If someone gives you the evil eye, they look at you in… …   English dictionary

  • evil eye — Synonyms and related words: Jonah, anathema, bad blood, bad influence, bad temper, bad will, ban, bedroom eyes, blasphemy, blighting glance, cantrip, charm, come hither look, commination, curse, damnation, denunciation, enchantment, evil… …   Moby Thesaurus

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