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I Put a Spell on You: Most Greeks Believe in Evil Eye

The National Herald Archive

A store display of the talisman to protect against the evil eye, the mati. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

ATHENS – Many times when Stella Karavasili has a headache or feels out of sorts, she would call her grandmother on the phone and ask for her to do an incantation called a xematiasma to get rid of it, and the bad energy from the mystical evil eye most Greeks believe is real.

“She would say some words and a prayer and I would feel ok again on the spot. I don’t know, is it something religious, is it just bad energy?” she told The National Herald. “I know that our church believes in it and mentions it. My grandma passed the words on to my father, who knows how to do xematiasma,” she said.

It may be 2018 – when some Greeks still believe in the gods of ancient times – but a study carried out by the Society for Headache and Migraine Patients found the majority of Greeks still believe that the so-called evil eye (“mati”) is responsible for making their head hurt.

The study, which was carried out on a sample of 10,000 people to gauge public awareness of the causes and cures for headaches, found that 60 percent blame their headaches on ill-wishers and 40 percent believe they can be cured with an xematiasma.

Go figure. “There is a prevalence of misguided theories concerning headaches and their cure,” Dr. Dimos Mitsikostas, an Associate Professor of Neurology at Athens University and head of the society, said before World Migraine Day on September 12, Kathimerini reported. “It is important to dispel these prevalent myth and to break certain taboos, like fear of visiting a neurologist.”

“Headaches are discounted by the boss, the romantic partner and often even by the doctor,” Mitsikostas said, explaining how patients suffering from headaches and migraines are often misunderstood. “Most people associate headaches with some psychological factor when they are, in fact, cause by a biological disorder of the brain.”

Most Greeks are having none of the scientific explanations, preferring to think someone put a spell on them, a kind of Greek voodoo perhaps although it's unclear how it can be done.

The evil eye is known to have been a fixture in Greece dating back to at least the 6th century BC, when it commonly appeared on drinking vessels and there are tests, believers say, to detect if you've been afflicted.

One involves putting a drop of olive oil in a glass of water, preferably holy water if you have any hanging around the house. If the drop floats, the test concludes there is no evil eye involved. If the drop sinks, then, gulp, you've had the evil eye cast on you, but don't reach for the aspirin if there's someone who can do the xematiasma for you.

The "healer" silently recites a secret prayer passed over from an older relative of the opposite sex, usually a grandparent although it's unclear if it's so secret how so many people know it although revealing the incantation means you can lose your ability to cure people, supposedly.

“My mother always said she would tell me the words, but she passed away suddenly,” said Karavasili, 41, a hairdresser who said her partner George, a Coast Guard officer, said that his mother also knew the secret to the xematiasma and would make his headaches go away when pain relievers didn't work.

Frosso Ramou, 56, a teacher, said she believes bad energy can be transmitted. “Some people have this way of feeling for others. If you want to be a receiver of bad energy this means it may affect you. You may render things that happen to you to this. But if you are a positive person you may overcome the explanation it’s a bad eye.

Religion also accepts. Most time when you talk about a bad eye someone can admire you and send strong magnetic waves and charges. If you don’t believe in this you may feel you are not affected. It is believed that people with blue eyes can give you the bad eye but you can cross three times and spit three times to make it go away,” she said, but you may want to make sure there's no one near. There are several regional versions of the prayer in question, a common one being: "Holy Virgin, Our Lady, if (insert name of victim here) is suffering of the evil eye, release him/her of it." The word evil has to repeated three times, but make sure you don't say Beetlejuice three times.

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 three times, and emits spitting-like sounds in the air three times, the Greek Ftou! It's unclear whether you can throw in the Na! That's a hand gesture with variations called Moutza that's an insult.

In Greek theology, the evil eye or vaskania is considered harmful for the one whose envy inflicts it on others as well as the sufferer. The Greek Church has an ancient prayer against vaskania from the Megan Hieron Synekdemon book of prayers so there's some options to save yourself.

The evil eye, a glance believed to have the ability to harm those on whom it falls, can come from anyone at any moment, or you can draw it to yourself. The cause can be zealous admiration, envy or even malevolent jealousy, Greek blogger Matt Barrett advised.

Children and women are thought to be particularly susceptible, while in many traditions strangers, malformed or blue-eyed individuals and old women are most often accused of casting the evil eye, he said. In Greece and in Turkey , glass blue eye charms to ward against the evil eye are stillsold. Giannoula, 83, who didn't give her last year, said she knows of this stuff. “It’s Satan’s doing, my child. He puts the jealousy in you. He puts the poison in your heart and you give the kako mati – the evil eye. It can make you sick, it can kill you,” she said.

Being a grandparent, she recommends another way to get rid of the mati someone cast on you. “You have to go to a priest to undo the evil eye, you should not let someone else do it for you. You have to have a blessing read from a priest. Only parents and grandparents can do it for their children,” she said.