In Greece where I live one of the most influential motifs is the Evil Eye, a symbol prevalent not only in Mediterranean cultures but one which is found in several other cultures and religions around the world.
Usually worn as a charm (otherwise called a matiasma) on oneself, it is designed to ward off the evil eye (kako mati) transmitted through any negative emotion of another person such as jealousy, envy, or covetousness. Those most susceptible to kako mati are young children, beautiful girls, pregnant women, and soon-to-be-married individuals. However, it is believed that the evil eye can also be cast on one’s livestock and property.
While kako mati is natural and thus anyone can inadvertently cause it, those more likely to inflict it are elderly spinsters, or people with unusual physical features, including blue eyes or a unibrow.
Symptoms of kako mati are inexplicable headaches, nausea, dizziness, a general feeling of malaise. Despite this, the threat is serious – left unchecked kako mati can be fatal. While it has been incorporated into the Orthodox church – who refer to it as vaskania and offer prayers for its relief – kako mati and the matiasma have a long history in Greece.
One of the earliest pieces of evidence for apotropaic (Greek for something that ‘turns away’) devices in Greece dates back to the early Archaic period (c.700-c.500 BC). This is the motif of the Gorgon’s head (the gorgoneia) where the snake-haired monster Medusa (or Gorgo, one of three Gorgon sisters) whose eyes could turn a person to stone, was defeated by Perseus. He used her severed head to defeat his enemies and then offered it to Athena, who used it as a symbol of power. The Greeks took up the device, but as an apotropaic or protective symbol.
The symbol also appears on temple pediments and drinking vessels (in particular, on kylikes) during the last half of the 6thcentury BC.
In Greece, the evil eye is cast away through the process of ksematiasma, whereby the healer silently recites a secret prayer passed over from an older relative of the opposite sex, usually a grandparent. According to custom, if one is indeed afflicted with the evil eye, both victim and healer then start yawning profusely. The healer then performs the sign of the cross and spits in the air three times.
Blue glass-eye charms are worn on bracelets and necklaces as protection against the real physical harm that some people are believed to exert by means of their eyes alone. The charm, or large eye within the glass bead, works by counteracting and neutralising the threat of the evil eye.
Evil eye charms are also placed in the home, car or office (actually, wherever one feels it necessary) to ward off the evil eye cast by the onlooker.
Traditionally, the evil eye is blue symbolising heaven and the divine. Modern design, however, has inspired the use of many other colours.
You might enjoy this charming explanation of what each evil eye colour symbolises:
The evil eye has often inspired me in my own designs. Specifically, the photograph (below) of these beautiful bowls and vases designed by Sebastian Bergne for GAIA & GINO inspired my evil eye rug design.
My Evil-Eye design is hand-knotted in Nepal using 100% Tibetan wool.
And then I’ve also enjoyed applying it to my tile designs.
But the evil eye just keeps popping up in so much of my artwork.