“Evil eye” is defined as “the ability to voluntarily or involuntarily procure damage of varying degrees to property or persons through a kind of negative energy, energy that is cast through the gaze.”
In the modern era it is hard for us to believe that the term “evil eye” is still in use to refer to something tangible and not something outdated, yet it is.
A very high percentage of Italians are strongly attached to this belief, although approaches differ.
Neapolitans, especially, are not unprepared when “hyettatura,” a word they introduced into common usage, knocks on their door.
Many of them, in fact, from the professional to the taxi driver, from the housewife to the office worker, never leave their homes without first making sure they have some kind of lucky object on them.
Red horns, cue cards, eyes, you name it, they are “sacred” amulets that keep them safe from any evil influences.
But let’s go step by step. How did this tradition originate?
“At the origins of the Evil Eye lies an extremely remote notion of the singular importance, both sacred and magical, of the eye, supposed within the prehistoric and more archaic cultures of the primitives and antiquity,” Pietro Fedele, founder of the “Great UTET Encyclopedic Dictionary,” explains.
Already in the Old Testament there is mention of this practice, which was also present in Roman culture, where the evil eye, called “fascinum,” was widespread. Then, in the Middle Ages, such belief reached incredible peaks, and the Church had to deal with this inconceivable issue for its beliefs.
In the past, the evil eye inspired not a few authors who made the topic the mainstay of several of their works.
In this regard, “La patente” by Luigi Pirandello and “Jettatura” by Téophile Gautier are worth mentioning.
Just as in the rest of Italy, such superstition is also widespread in Salento. In fact, there are various remedies to get rid of the negative energies released by the power of the eye.
Until a century ago, the town that par excellence held the ability to combat such influences was Soleto, whose inhabitants are still called “macari,” that is, sorcerers, sorceresses.
From all over the territory of Terra d’Otranto people went to this locality to take advantage of the services offered by these magicians, real or alleged.
Very different are the remedies used to neutralize the evil eye.
These include the use of horns and other apotropaic gestures, the formulation of particular expressions such as “eye, evil eye, parsley and fennel,” and the use of talismans to ward off bad luck.
However, there are also actual rituals that are performed by those who, according to them, hold a special power that would serve to eradicate spells.
Usually, according to archaic customs, such power is held by women, at first sight very normal people, who in the silence of their homes practice the most diverse rituals.
Many do not accept money in exchange for their services, but groceries.
The most widely used ceremonial is that of the “oil test.”
A bowl is filled with water and placed on the head of the “hyettato.”
A drop of oil is added to it and, after reciting a formula and making the sign of the cross on the unfortunate person’s forehead, the two liquids are mixed and waited for.
If the drop of oil in the water spreads or splits, the evil eye is there; if it remains compact, it is not.
The prayer recited by these women is a mystery.
It is handed down from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter and can only be learned by heart on Christmas or Easter night.
It cannot be written down or revealed to others.
It is interesting to note how the sacred is mixed with the profane and how pagan elements have survived the ravages of time.
There are other rites that serve the same purpose.
In Rome, for example, twelve live frogs are boiled in well water.
After that, one passes the water through a sieve and, after letting it cool, one must use it to rinse the eyes.
Other anti-injury remedies include: avoiding black cats and the number seventeen, placing a broom or scythe outside the house, equipping oneself with foxtails, horseshoes, four-leaf clovers and medallions with the number thirteen, etc.
How to regard the evil eye?
As something real or the result of collective suggestion?
Many people speculate on people’s misfortunes by making promises they can never keep.
It is certain that there is Good in the world, but there is also Evil, which can manifest itself through the most diverse forms.
It can manifest itself through satanic rituals or murderous rages, it can show itself in the disasters produced by a war or in voodoo ceremonies, it can reveal itself in the evil look cast by a man at one of his fellow human beings or through a furious quarrel between two lovers.
But at the root of all negativity is undoubtedly a lack of love for one’s neighbor and everything around us.
A negativity that, day after day, is destroying the world we live in and us with it.
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