What Is the Evil Eye?

Have you ever had a string of misfortunes befall you, seemingly out of nowhere? Many people believe that unexpected illnesses, injuries, and other negative events could stem from the evil eye, a curse ultimately caused by someone else’s envy.

This curse, cast unknowingly with a glance from a jealous person, can cause unpredictable harm and misfortune. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent it from afflicting you, or to remove the curse if it’s been placed onto you.

The evil eye has a long, rich history in Judaism, and is shared with other cultures in the Near East and Mediterranean region. From the Torah and ancient Talmudic scriptures to modern-day beliefs, people have been aware of the evil eye curse, and have taken measures to protect themselves from it.

The Evil Eye: A Curse Borne of Envy

Traditionally, the evil eye is a curse, cast by a malevolent glare. Closely associated with envy and jealousy, the evil eye is thought to cause misfortune and injury. In Judaism, traditional spells and talismans are created and used to ward off the ill effects of the curse.

The best known symbol for protecting oneself against the evil eye is the near eastern hamsa, known in Jewish culture as the Hand of Miriam. You’ve probably come across this symbol before: an eye in the palm of a stylized hand. For millennia, people have constructed defenses against this form of black magic, and talismans are foremost among them. Judaism contains a rich tradition of evil eye protections, with deep historical roots.

The History of the Evil Eye

The “evil eye” is a concept with a long history and an impressively wide geographical range. Originating in West Asia, traditions regarding the evil eye– and how to protect yourself from its effects– are found throughout the Mediterranean regions, from Egypt all the way to Afghanistan. It is especially prominent in the context of Judaism, where the evil eye has been written about since incredibly ancient times.

The very earliest symbols identified as evil eye talismans, meant to protect against the curse, date from ancient Sumer in modern-day Iraq. References are also found in ancient Hebrew texts, where it is called “ay’in hara.” These Judaic texts are where we first see a discussion of the evil eye’s relationship to jealousy and envy.

Throughout the recorded history of the Hebrew people, there have been many text references to the existence, power, and nature of the evil eye.

Within Tainnatic literature, a set of rabbinic works composed between 10 and 220 AD, the vice of the envious evil eye (“ayin hara”) was contrasted with “ayin tova,” good eye, associated with satisfaction in your own life and wishing the best for other members of your community. Talmudic literature identifies the concept of the evil eye as more than a symbol of moral concepts like envy and hatred. In the talmud, the “evil eye” is identified as a force with harmful powers. This conceptualization of the evil eye curse continues through the middle ages and into the modern era.

You’ll also find the concept of the evil eye among neighboring cultures, notably in Islam.

Today, belief in the evil eye is still shared by millions of people in North Africa, the Near East, and Mediterranean Europe. It is especially prevalent in modern Judaism. Associated with that belief are useful talismans, spells, prayers, and other protections that you can use to guard yourself against its effects.

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