Evil Eye

Evil Eye
Catalog # SKU1483
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name Frederick Thomas Elworthy


Evil Eye

An Account of this Ancient
and Widespread Superstition

By Frederick Thomas Elworthy

THERE be none of the affections which have been noted to fascinate or to bewitch, but love and envy; they both have vehement wishes, they frame themselves readily into imaginations and suggestions, and they come easily into the eye, especially upon the presence of the objects which are the points that conduce to fascination, if any such there be. We see likewise the Scripture calleth envy an evil eye."


So wrote one of our greatest philosophers, and on the same subject he says: "Of all other affections, it is the most importunate and continual; . . . therefore it is well said: 'Invidia festos dies non agit,' for it is ever working upon some or other. It is also the vilest affection and the most depraved; for which cause it is the proper attribute of the Devil, who is called 'The envious man that soweth tares amongst the wheat by night.'"

As to the word fascination, even in Bacon's time it had acquired its modern sense, implying the influence or effect we now associate with animal magnetism. Notwithstanding this, the word was used by various writers down to the end of the seventeenth century in its original, technical meaning, as an alternative for "evil eye." Nowadays it has practically lost its older sinister sense, and except among scholars has retained only the pleasant one in which Bacon used it.

A fascinating person now, is one who charms delightfully, who excites feelings of pleasure, who is in every way attractive. Similarly in our everyday talk the alternate word bewitch has retained only in polite society its pleasant side. A bewitching woman is one who excites the passion of love alone, and the simple use of either synonym conveys now no implication of malevolence to the conventionally educated.

The quotation from Bacon with which we started well marks the progress always going on in the development of word-meanings. In the Elizabethan age, to fascinate or bewitch had in literature even then arrived at a double position, applicable to either love or hate; whereas in earlier days these words were wholly confined to maleficence in signification. This of course only applies to literary language and polite society; among the peasantry the Latin form, fascination, is unknown, while everything relating to witch or witching still bears an evil sense only.

In proof of all this we have only to compare the modern colloquial significance of the terms fascinating or bewitching, as used in speaking of a person by the educated, with witch, witching, or the west country dialectal "wisht," as used by the peasantry.The belief that there is a power of evil working, which is ejaculated (as Bacon says) upon any object it beholds, has existed in all times and in all countries. It was adopted and sanctioned alike by the Fathers of the Church, by mediæval physicians, and all writers on occult science; while in our own day it still exists among all savage nations, and even here in England in our very midst. Heliodorus makes Charicles say of his host: "I fancy an envious eye has looked upon this man also; he seems to be affected much in the same manner as Chariclea. Indeed I think so too, I replied; and it is probable enough, for he went directly after her in the procession."

The origin of the belief is lost in the obscurity of prehistoric ages. The enlightened call it superstition; but it holds its sway over the people of many countries, savage as well as civilised, and must be set down as one of the hereditary and instinctive convictions of mankind.

The stories that might be adduced of the constancy of the belief in a blighting power of influencing other persons, and of controlling events injuriously to others, even. in these days of board-school enlightenment are almost infinite. Here, in Somerset, the pig is taken ill and dies--"he was overlooked." A murrain afflicts a farmer's cattle; he goes off secretly to the "white witch," that is the old witch-finder, to ascertain who has "overlooked his things" and to learn the best antidote, "'cause they there farriers can't do no good."A child is ill and pining away; the mother loses all heart; she is sure the child is overlooked and "is safe to die." Often she gives up not only hope but all effort to save the child; the consequent neglect of course hastens the expected result, and then it is: "Oh! I know'd very well he would'n never get no better. "'Tidn no good vor to strive vor to go agin it." This is no fancy, or isolated case, but here in the last decade of the nineteenth century one of the commonest of everyday facts.

The imputation by St. Paul, that the foolish Galatians had been spellbound, meant that some evil eye had "overlooked" them and worked in them a blighting influence. It was an apt allusion to the then, and still, universally prevalent belief in that power of "dread fascination" which the writer of the Epistle so well knew they would comprehend, and he therefore used it as a striking metaphor.

Abundant testimony exists in the oldest monuments in the world that among the ancient Egyptians belief in and dread of the evil eye were ever present; their efforts to avert or to baffle it, both as regarded the living and the dead, who they knew would live again, were perhaps the most constant and elaborate of any, of which we can now decipher the traces.

We see evidence of this in the very beginning of Egyptian mythology. Ptah, the Opener, is said to be the father of the gods and of men. He brought forth all the other gods from his eye, and men from his mouth--a piece of implied evidence of the ancient belief that of all emanations those from the eye were the most potent.

How strong the feeling was among contemporary Orientals, the many passages in Scripture referring to it distinctly prove. Indeed it is found in the literature of every people, in every land since history began to be written. No science, no religion, no laws have been able to root out this fixed belief; and no power has ever been able to eradicate it from the human mind; so that even amongst the cultivated and the enlightened it still exists as an unacknowledged, mysterious half-belief, half-superstition, which nevertheless exercises, though secretly, a powerful influence on the actions of mankind.

We in these latter days of Science, when scoffing at superstition is both a fashion and a passion, nevertheless show by actions and words that in our innermost soul there lurks a something, a feeling, a superstition if you will, which all our culture, all our boasted superiority to vulgar beliefs, cannot stifle, and which may well be held to be a kind of hereditary instinct.

Softcover, 8" x 10.5", 330+ pages with 180+ illustrations


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