The superstition of the Evil Eye goes back centuries, and can be found in societies throughout the world.
Ancient Romans claiming to possess the Evil Eye could be hired to charm enemies. Ancient India revered and feared the phenomenon, as did cultures in the Near East.
For hundreds of years, gypsies were accused of possessing the Evil Eye and were persecuted by many cultures.
The Evil Eye was an especially terrible thing to be accused of in the Middle Ages.
People with epilepsy, those having sneezing fits at the wrong time and place, even some simply caught daydreaming were accused of possessing the Evil Eye and were burned at the stake.
Anything that was deemed out of the ordinary or inappropriate was attributed to the Evil Eye.
But what exactly is the Evil Eye? It’s a stare that can entrance and bewitch, that has the power to steal another’s soul, possibly causing death.
Depending on the culture and time, others could make a person get the Evil Eye, as could the Devil himself. Therefore, penalizing those who had the Evil Eye with death seemed an appropriate response, to keep the Devil and evil away.
Some anthropologists believe that the superstition is based on an observation: the mirrored reflection of one person in another person’s pupils.
The word pupil comes from the Latin word meaning “little doll.”
Seeing a reflection of oneself staring out from someone else’s eyes could easily have led to the belief that one’s soul had been snatched away and placed in that person’s eye.
In order to combat this reflection effect, some folklorists theorize that the Egyptians thought up black eye makeup, for both men and women, to reduce the amount of light reflected in the eye, therefore lowering the chance a person’s reflection could be seen in the pupil.
The other theory, of course, is simply that they worked in the hot desert sun and wanted to keep glare down to a minimum.
There’s no doubt, however, that the English language has been impacted by this superstition.
A number of everyday sayings come from the old and widespread belief in the Evil Eye: “if looks could kill” and “withering glance,” to name two.