The evil eye—the power to inflict illness, damage to property, or even death simply by gazing at or praising someone—is among the most pervasive and powerful folk beliefs in the Indo-European and Semitic world. It is also one of the oldest, judging from its appearance in the Bible and in Sumerian texts five thousand years old. Remnants of the superstition persist today when we drink toasts, tip waiters, and bless sneezers. To avert the evil eye, Muslim women wear veils, baseball players avoid mentioning a no-hitter in progress, and traditional Jews say their business or health is "not bad" (rather than "good").
Though by no means universal, the evil eye continues to be a major factor in the behavior of millions of people living in the Mediterranean and Arab countries, as well as among immigrants to the Americas. This widespread superstition has attracted the attention of many scholars, and the twenty-one essays gathered in this book represent research from diverse perspectives: anthropology, classics, folklore studies, ophthalmology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, sociology, and religious studies. Some essays are fascinating reports of beliefs about the evil eye, from India and Iran to Scotland and Slovak-American communities; others analyze the origin, function, and cultural significance of this folk belief from ancient times to the present day. Editor Alan Dundes concludes the volume by proffering a comprehensive theoretical explanation of the evil eye.
Anyone who has ever knocked on wood to ward off misfortune will enjoy this generous sampling of evil eye scholarship, and may never see the world through the same eyes again.