From the Eye of Horus to Gigi Hadid, ‘for thousands of years the eye has maintained its steady hold on the human imagination,’ writes Quinn Hargitai.
When it comes to warding off the mystic malevolent forces of the world, there is perhaps no charm more recognised or renowned than the ‘evil eye’. Ubiquitous in its use, the striking image of the cobalt-blue eye has appeared not only in the bazaars of Istanbul, but everywhere from the sides of planes to the pages of comic books.
There’s a key distinction between the evil eye, which is a curse, and the eye amulet, which dispels the curse
In the last decade, evil eye imagery has most frequently appeared in the world of fashion. Kim Kardashian has been photographed on numerous occasions sporting bracelets and headpieces featuring the symbol, while fashion model Gigi Hadid jumped on the trend in late 2017, announcing that she would be launching the EyeLove shoe line.
This recent endorsement from A-list celebrities has resulted in the surfacing of countless online tutorials for making your own evil eye bracelets, necklaces and keychains. Though all this attention would suggest the evil eye is seeing a sudden surge in popularity, the truth is that for thousands of years the symbol has maintained its steady hold on the human imagination.
To understand the origins of the evil eye, one must first understand the distinction between the amulet and the evil eye itself. Though often dubbed as ‘the evil eye’, the ocular amulet is actually the charm meant to ward off the true evil eye: a curse transmitted through a malicious glare, usually one inspired by envy. Though the amulet – often referred to as a nazar – has existed in various permutations for thousands of years, the curse which it repels is far older and more difficult to trace.
In essence, the curse of the evil eye is not a complicated concept; it stems from the belief that someone who achieves great success or recognition also attracts the envy of those around them. That envy in turn manifests itself as a curse that will undo their good fortune. The concept is well captured by Heliodorus of Emesa in the ancient Greek romance Aethiopica, in which he writes, “When any one looks at what is excellent with an envious eye he fills the surrounding atmosphere with a pernicious quality, and transmits his own envenomed exhalations into whatever is nearest to him.”
The belief in this curse spans cultures as well as generations; to date one of the most exhaustive compilations of legends regarding the evil eye is Frederick Thomas Elworthy’s The Evil Eye: The Classic Account of an Ancient Superstition. Elworthy explores instances of the symbol in a number of cultures; from the petrifying gaze of Greek gorgons to Irish folktales of men able to bewitch horses with a single stare, virtually every culture has a legend related to the evil eye. The eye symbol is so deeply embedded in culture that, in spite of its potentially pagan connotations, it even finds a place within religious texts, including the Bible and the Quran.
Plutarch said those best at delivering the curse were blue-eyed
An eye for an eye
Belief in the evil eye has transcended mere superstition, with a number of celebrated thinkers attesting to its veracity.