Evil Eyes All Around!

In ancient legend, it is believed that the evil eye was the biggest threat to someone who accepted praise for something beyond what they truly deserved. That person would become “so swollen with pride” that doom would come from the evil eye in the form of incurable illnesses. Society thought that “gods were punishing those who had become too proud of their own achievements” and would restore the balance of humanity by destroying their ego.

DisplayWhile the legend has changed some over the years, it is still told in many societies. Some believe that there are three types of evil eyes – the first is unconscious evil eyes. These harm people and things without intending to. The second type intends to harm. The third one is an unseen, hidden evil that is the most formidable one out of the three. While the classic, traditional evil eye amulet is a cobalt blue evil eye bead with white and turquoise circles in the middle, they can also come in different colors that supposedly offer protection in more specific areas like health and love. Glass eye beads are generally blue because cobalt and turquoise blues are thought to be the most defensive colors against the bad luck that results from the negative attention or jealousy of others. The bead will often be shiny in order to “reflect back the evil” from the wearer. It is believed that not only do the evil eyes protect the wearer from ill, but they also encourage positive thinking–basically protecting you from your own negativity!

Bracelet

Even though the beautiful, blue eye beads are typically seen alone in jewelry, they can also be paired with the hand of Hamsa. The Hamsa hand is a hand with (usually) two thumbs and three fingers pointing downwards. With blue glass eye beads made of striking cobalt blue, vivid reds, lemon yellows or pure white glass with black center dots strung on red cord, evil thoughts are thought to quickly evaporate before their purposeful stare. “Hamsa” is an Arabic word (خمسة), which means five (referring to the fingers of the hand). In Jewish culture, the hamsa is called the Hand of Miriam; in Muslim culture, the Hand of Fatima, in the name of Mohammed’s daughter.

Evil Eye The hamsa is usually worn as a charm, but also appears either directly painted on walls or as a plaque. Additionally, it is hung over doors and windows much like a horseshoe. When received as a gift, if one does not believe in the evil eye entirely, it works as a “hand of friendship” by connecting two people together (typically in jewelry form). There are plenty of shops selling glass evil eye beads for tourists across the Middle East, as they are usually uncommon for Westernized citizens to be wearing. However, they are making an appearance on various clothing, jewelry, and even makeup/nail art here in America. I have seen various drawings of hamsas in buildings around Ohio University’s campus and, lately, as a popular tattoo choice. They range from simple to complex designs and I love how accepted they’ve become. Now that I know what these symbols stand for and why they are cherished, I have a much bigger appreciation for them. (And now I really want to own one!)

The myth of the evil eye seems to make a lot of sense in our current world. When you think about it, the idea that too much fame, money or praise can bring about one’s downfall is prevalent all over pop culture in America, which reinforces the idea of the evil eye. Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, etc. are prime examples of celebrities that fall into this category. Pop culture has been filled with celebrities that are not the best role models and it makes a negative precedent for the rest of society. I think we could benefit from taking a page from the evil eye legend.

Protected

I personally love the concept and design of the evil eye! I think it’s a simple, yet powerfully symbolic way to tie yourself to a religion (similarly to a cross for Christianity), but also to a culture or relationship. It is also something a esthetically beautiful that I am drawn into every time I see them. What do you think? Would you buy an evil eye or hamsa talisman? Do you think the symbol will continue to evolve with the societies that use them?

References: BellaOnline, Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, Jewish Gift Place, EvilEyeStore, Sahra Design

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Expression through Henna

For over five thousand years the art of henna (Arabic) or mehndi (Hindi) has been used as a way of enhancing beauty. Legend has it that Mohammad used henna to dye his beard and that the henna flower was the Prophet’s favorite. The plant has since been associated with positive magic and “provides a link to an ancient age full of good and bad spirits.” It holds a place in religious, magical, and cultural practice.

Arabic Henna

Enough though there is some controversy over the creation of henna as a dying agent, the earliest clear evidence of henna application appears on the hair and nails of Egyptian mummies. It is believed that the henna plant, Lawsonia inermis, originated in Persia and is now found throughout parts of Asia and the Middle East. Henna has also been used for medicinal purposes, to dye cloth and leather as well as hair, and to color the manes of horses and fur of other animals.

Feet Henna

In Arab weddings, brides would, and still, participate in a traditional henna ceremony. Henna is a symbol of good luck, health, and sensuality and thus used for marital purposes as well. Typically, the bride’s hands and feet are painted with intricate designs with a paste of dried henna leaves. Black henna is reserved for the soles of feet and hands while red henna is used for the tips of fingers and toes (as seen above). It is carefully applied and needs to dry for long periods of time without being removed, bumped, or otherwise touched; this is when the staining happens. (The longer the paste is left to dry, the darker and deeper the stain will be.) Henna can be used in the actual ceremony as well. What is the religious implication of henna in weddings? As I see it, each culture’s take on henna is different, but the purposes are similar.

Each henna artist usually has a personal recipe and apreferred technique. Some artists will use toothpicks, plastic cones, Henna Handsor tools from henna kits; all of these make the application easier, but require different skill sets. The paste is also made according to the artist’s skill level – if the paste is thicker, then it is harder to apply and if it is thinner, it is easier. The designs range from simple to intricate in every culture, but can have many distinct differences. Arabic henna designs are usually large, floral patterns on the hands and feet. Indian mehndi involves fine, thin lines for lacy, floral and paisley patterns covering entire hands, forearms, feet and shins. African henna patterns are bold, large geometric designs.

Modern day Arab women still use henna for body adornment, but in a more fun 2014-10-14 16.25.46and decorative way. Western societies have also adopted henna as a way to temporarily tattoo oneself (as seen right by the University Program Council at Ohio University) in addition to other methods of self-decoration. What is the cultural implication of henna as used in present day societies? I personally have gone to a party with henna and my friends and I match our henna designs. For me, it’s used as a personal bonding measure between my closest friends. Have you ever tried henna? What’s your favorite design?

                             References: Henna: An Enduring Tradition, Customs of Middle Eastern Makeup and Decoration, HennaArt Connection, Henna, Silk and Stone, Earth Henna