The Evil Eye

The Evil Eye

Contrary to most other things attributed to witchcraft, the evil eye was known and feared all over the world. The ancient Romans called it the oculus fascinus; the Greeks knew it as baskania. In Italian, it is malocchio, or la jettatura. Germany calls it b"se blick, in the Netherlands boze oog or boze blik; Spain mal ojo; France mauvais oeil. In far-off India, it is feared as drishtidosham. Old-time Gaelic-speaking Scotland called it chronachaidh, and to the Irish it was droch-shuil.

Witches capable of the evil eye, were called 'eye-biting witches'. Their victims, who pined away or suffered misfortune by reason of this deadly glance, were said to be 'overlooked', 'fascinated', 'eye-blighted'; and one curious English dialect term calls them 'owl-blasted', perhaps from the idea of the owl's staring eyes and its general association with witchcraft.

Against the Evil Eye

As much fear there was for the evil eye, as many gestures and amulets existed to ward it off. Two finger gestures against the Evil Eye are the mano cornuta, or 'making horns', and the mano in fica or 'the fig'. These are very popular in Latin countries, but are fairly well known almost everywhere. The mano cornuta consists of lifting up the first finger and the little finger, while folding the other two fingers and the thumb into the palm. The mano in fica is made by closing all the fingers into a fist, and thrusting the thumb between the first and second fingers. 'The fig' is a synonym for the female genitals. Both these gestures are signs used by witches, as well as being defenses against the evil eye.

Both these gestures are of ancient origin. Ancient Egyptian examples of the mano in fica have been found; and the paintings in Etruscan tombs show dancers holding up their hands in the position of the mano cornuta. The mano in fica was known in Britain too, as the old folk-rhyme shows:
Witchy, witchy, I defy thee!
Four fingers round my thumb,
Let me go quietly by thee.

Dean Ramsay, writing about his schooldays in Yorkshire between 1800 and 1810, told how he and his classmates "used to put one thumb between the first and second finger, pointing it downwards, as to infallible protection against the evil influences of one particularly malevolent and powerful witch".

The Malleus Maleficarum

Page 17: "At the sight of some impurity, such as, for example, a woman during her monthly periods, the eyes will as it were contract a certain impurity."

"Old women, then their disturbed spirit looks through their eyes, for their countenances are most evil and harmful."

"With regard to operations of witchcraft, we find that some of these may be due to mental influence over others, and in some cases such mental influence might be a good one, but it is the motive which makes it evil."

"Charms are of three kinds: the senses are deluded, fascination may bring a certain glamor and a leading astray, there may be a certain fascination cast by the eyes over another person."

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