The Evil Eye
Should you be feeling fine one minute and dreadful for no apparent reason the next; or should you suddenly start yawning continuously; or have a splitting headache, in Greece you won't be considered foolish or insane if you simply assume it's an evil eye curse.
The evil eye, a glance believed to have the ability to harm those on whom it falls, can come from anyone at any moment. The cause can be zealous admiration, envy or even malevolent jealousy. Children and women are thought to be particularly susceptible, while in many traditions strangers, or blue-eyed individuals and old women are most often accused of casting the evil eye.
Belief in the evil eye is ancient and widespread; it occurred in ancient Greece and Rome, and is found in Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian cultures, being particularly prevalent today in the Mediterranean and Aegean.
The 'curse' is usually thought to be unintentional, although it can be deliberate. Some folklorists presume that the evil eye belief is rooted in primate biology (as dominance and submission are expressed by gazing and averting the gaze) and relates to our dislike of and discomfort during staring.
In Greece and especially the islands, including Rhodes; glass blue eye charms to ward against the evil eye are still regularly sold - very often to be pinned on a baby's clothing. A religiously devout as well as superstitious nation as the Greeks are, they will often wear a protective charm, or mataki, as well as the cross, around the neck.
This is an issue over which Greek Church and folklore are both united and separated. They are joined in their belief that the curse of the evil eye exists, but divided in how it can be warded off or tackled.
The Greek Orthodox Church has recognised the evil eye since the establishment of the faith. The church calls it Vaskania (pronounced Vas-ka-nee-a) and has a special prayer made especially to help cure those who have fallen under the curse.
As for the prayer that is designed to alleviate the symptoms, the priests were insistent in their belief that it should be done by a member of the church rather than a layman. Common practise in Greek society has it that people are taught the prayer by a priest and will use it themselves to 'treat' cursed friends and relatives, sometimes even over the phone. Some believe that for a woman to be able to do the prayer she must be taught it by a man.
Cactus and Red Chilli Peppers
No Greek home would be complete with out at least one cactus or pepper plant positioned somewhere near the front entrance. In a big 'Feta' can or garden pot, a cactus with its thorny spikes, takes it place proudly warding off the evil eye from the property. The red peppers are thought to ward off evil and jealous thoughts and one saying when putting the plant at the door front is to say 'burn their jealous eyes.'
The evil repelling powers of garlic is not just for vampires. Greeks believe very much in its power to keep evil away. You will usually find beautiful braids of Garlic, or some huge, one of a kind head, dangling in the entrances of shops, restaurants and homes. It is thought that garlic not only wards off the evil eye but also keeps away evil spirits and demons. It is also common for some folk to carry a clove of it on their persons or in their pocket books. A single clove, head of garlic is the best, but very hard to find.
Greeks spit for a number of superstitious reasons. The most common is to keep evil away from you. For example, if you hear of some one speaking of misfortune or bad news, and fear the possibility of the same thing happening to you, you would spit three times on your own person. A local saying 'spit on yourself' wards off the evil from coming to you. Now I'm not talking about drawing from the depths of your throat... a simple little spray will do. Spit three times and remember...Ptew, ptew ptew
Talismans or 'Filahta' are regularly used in Greece. Most commonly you will see these charms pinned to the backs of small children's and infant's clothing. But you will also find that many of the older people carry them in their pockets and purses or have them discreetly pinned to their clothing too.
There are numerous items that are used for Filahta that are thought to guard you from the Evil Eye. Of course, there are the simple gold crosses or medals of Saints, and evil eyes and beads, but there are also small pieces of cloth sewn into sachets, holding an array of mysterious contents.
These sachets can be filled with pieces of olive branch or basil that have been used by a priest in some ceremony, dirt from the grave of a Saint or maybe burnt candle shavings from a Church altar. Anything can be used for these charms, but the rule is that it has to be something from holy ground or something that has been blessed. Any one item, or a combination is sewn into a very small, triangular sachet and sometimes adorned with beads in the sign of the cross.
Touch Red / Piase Kokkino
It might be considered a form of ESP or maybe just coincidence, but sometimes two people have the same thought and speak the same words at the same time. Take for example two girlfriends going out shopping together and stopping to admire a dress in a window. They both say 'That's Beautiful simultaneously'.
Greeks believe this to be an omen that those two persons will get into a fight and they say together 'Piase Kokkino' or 'Touch Red' to avoid an argument. Both persons have to touch something that's red, right then and there. Any item will do, clothing, food - anything.
Making the sign of the Cross
The cross sign is made in church, before meals and sometimes when paying a compliment in order to ward off the Evil Eye.
When Greeks talk about something terrible that has happened, they might also do the sign. If they pass a church they will also do it, regardless if they are walking or travelling by bus, car or driving a motorbike...
Dried flower wreaths outside the doors
The wreaths are put on the front door on the 1st of May, and supposedly fall off at the end of the summer when they are all dried up. Thus it is a kind of measurement of time, which is believed to be an ancient custom that has survived.
Smoked Cross on the Front Door
After midnight mass on the eve of Easter Sunday, all church goers will have taken a candle with them in order to bring the Holy Light (brought from Jerusalem) back to bless their homes. It is smoked into the front door entrance and is believed to bring good health and luck to the family members.
In ancient Greek mythology, Persephone ate the pomegranate and was reborn every Spring, in ancient Greece, the philosopher-doctor Hippocrates recognized the fruit early on for its unique medicinal qualities, prescribing six pomegranate seeds a day to maintain optimal health, and in ancient tradition, pomegranates symbolized fertility and seduction. The fruit has been mentioned and used in many Greek legends, and in today's modern homes you are guaranteed finding at least one silver pomegranate ornament. The locals believe they bring good luck and fertility to the home and they are very popular gifts to be given to a newly married couple as a wedding gift.