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by Archaeology Newsroom

Spells Against the Evil Eye

This paper presents and analyses the text of three spells against the evil eye. The spells were collected by the author from native men and women evil eye heaters during ethnographic fieldwork at a mountain village in central Crete in 1989. The belief in the evil eye is a cultural idiom widespread throughout the Mediterranean area. It refers to the alleged power that some people are considered to have to cause harm by looking at another person or his/her property. Evil eye affliction is cured when special prayer-like spelis are ritually performed over the body of the afflicted person by folk healers, elderly men or women, who “know the words” and can thus take the evil away. The paper has two main focuses. The first is to show, on the basis of indigenous rhetoric, that the evil eye phenomenon is not related to any kind of sorcery or black magic. Native people think that the evil eye is a natural properly, a physical quality, that means no purposeful harm. The illness caused by the evil eye happens accidentally, it is a potential danger, but not a deliberate and malevolent attack. Painful symptoms may occur, however, through the mediation of sentiments, when the looking person expresses excessive admiration that comes straight out from his/her heart.

The second point refers to the spells as texts. The suggestion is that they are symbolically constructed speech acts, which do not only say, but actually do things, in order to cure the suffering. The healfnq ritual is enacted on and through the body of the afflicted person, whereas holy entities are invoked to sanctify the entire procedure In this context, the human body, as a cultural vehicle, seems to be a meaningful locus, where various spheres of experience, personal feelings, social interaction and religious imagination, are represented, mutually signified and understood.