In folklore and the occult the evil eye is generally thought to be a sign of trouble. Few, will agree that there is an accurate definition of the evil eye. To some the curses of the evil eye might be more accurately associated with old wives' tales.
The belief in the evil eye is ancient. Virtually every culture has referred to it. The oldest references to it appears in the cuneiform texts of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, around 3000 BC.
The ancient Egyptians used eye shadow and lipstick to prevent the evil eye from entering their eyes or mouths. Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible mentioned the evil eye.
Superstitions surrounding the evil eye still strongly persist in Mediterranean countries such as Italy, and in Mexico and Central America.
The evil eye is either involuntary or deliberate. In the first incidences the persons do not intentionally use the evil eye, and usually are not aware they are doing so. No wrong doing or revenge is sought to another person.
The deliberate or malevolent use of the evil eye is called "overlooking." This is thought to produce such misfortunes as illness, poverty, injury, loss of love, or even death. In the Middle Ages witches were said to give anyone who crossed them the evil eye. Also they were thought to be able to bewitch their convicting judges with it, and this was why they were made to walk backwards toward the judges.
Almost anything could cause the notion that some person possessed an evil eye. If someone looked too long or lingering at one's children, or possessions, or livestock. If a child got sick, or some possession was lost or stolen, or some animals died, then the person was really suspected of having an evil eye.
If the evil eye and its effects could not be driven away, then it is time to consult an older and wiser woman - usually a family member - hoping she knew a secret cure.
The evil eye can be listed as one of the earliest prejudicial signs. A stranger in a village or town was most susceptible of suspicion. Any person having an unusual characteristic could easily find himself in this category, such as a blue-eyed person among brown-eyed people, or people having body deformities. Some people were said to have been born with a permanent evil eye, corrupting everything they looked at. Also they were often called demonic possessed.
It is said the evil eye is most likely to strike in good times. Many believe good fortune brings bad. Small children and animals are most vulnerable. In many villages it was not considered wise to let children be seen too much. Likewise possessions were not to be overly displayed or successes should not be bragged about.
Animals under the curse of the evil eye were said to be "blinked" in Ireland during the 19th century. The local wise woman or witch was sought out to produce a cure.
Cures against the evil eye's curses are practically as ancient and numerous as the curses themselves. The primary cure or defense against the evil eye is the amulet. It can be fashioned out of most kinds of material . For witches the most "common shapes are frogs and horns, the latter of which suggests both the powerful Mother Goddess (a bull is her consort) and the phallus." The fig amulet, a clenched fist with the thumb thrust between the index and middle fingers, also suggests the phallus.
The ancient roots and the use of the phallus amulet dates back to the Romans and their phallic god, Priapus. Another name for this god is Fascinus, from 'fascinum'; the evil eye is occasionally called "fascination." The Romans employed the phallic symbol as a defense against the evil eye. Today Italian men still hold their genitals to ward off the evil eye or any misfortune. One is apt to wonder in such an action is not only a legendary carry-over but also a psychological assurance and comfort.
Spitting is thought to be a powerful aversion of the evil eye. This is a holdover from the Greeks and Romans.
There are many other defenses against the evil eye including tying bells to horses' harnesses, tying red ribbons to children's underwear, surrounding gardens by jack beans, the shamrock is used in Ireland, and garlic is used in Greece.
In Hindu lore, barley is used to avert the evil eye. This is an universal remedy supplied by the gods and the symbol of the thunderbolt of Indra, god of war, thunder and storms.
Other cures against the evil eye include reciting secret incantations
usually passed down from mother to daughter within a family. Alone with this,
in Italy, a few drops of olive oil are dropped a bowl of water (occasionally
salted). The oil may scatter, form into blobs or sink to the bottom. The
formations are then interpreted to determine the source of the attack. Once
this is done, more oil is added to the water while reciting the incantations
and making the sign of the cross on the victim's forehead. If this fails,
a powerful sorceress is sought for a more effective cure.