Saturday, 26 April 2014

Old and New Magic

Old and New Magic

Many Greeks still believe in the Evil Eye

In Greece the most familiar ‘magic’ has to do with the evil eye. You will notice that even today many people try not to show appreciation of another’s beauty, or notice another’s good luck. This is because the evil eye might be attracted to that person and give them a bad time. Rather, they spit at the good thing, in order to trick the evil eye into thinking they did not like it, or envy the other’s good fortune. For instance, people will not say to you, ‘Your child is beautiful,’ rather they will make a spitting noise, ‘tutch, tutch, tutch!’ as if they were spitting at the child.

There are many secret rituals, developed in the past, to get rid of the ‘evil eye’. Fishermen in Greece paint a blue eye on the prow of their boats to ward off the ‘evil eye’, which for fishermen usually means bad storms. Others banish the ‘evil eye’ with secret words and ‘magic’ rituals. I have been told that one way of doing this is to take nine cloves, hold them over a candle, and if one clove fizzes loudly when lit then the spell has been broken. However if none make a fizz the magician will put a water cross on your forehead and cheeks, and then place the cloves in a small cup of water and throw the water over their shoulder. The bad spell will then be broken. A more simple way is to fill a saucer with water and let a drop of oil fall on the surface. If the oil disperses it is not a good sign, so you do another drop until it stays in place on the water.

I once wrote about this to the grandchildren. I wrote,
Maybe you have some stories, or games, that are only shared with a few friends. Maybe you even have a secret code or password that you only use with a couple of friends. In Lemnos there is one very big secret that many people believe, it is about an evil eye. It is such a big a secret that it is hard to get anyone to talk to you about it. But there are some people who may know ways to make sure the eye does not hurt you!’

Magic Spells

'Dear All,
I thought I’d write you a little story today, A Story of Superstitions.

One day as I was leaning out of the window to close the shutters of the bedroom windows when I noticed a neighbour in the street below. I had not seen her for a while so I called out and asked her to come in, if she had time. I went down stairs to meet her in the garden and she said,
‘Kalimera Kiria Julia’. 
‘Kalimera Kiria Vetta’, I replied. 
We were saying ‘Good morning’ to each other in Greek.
‘Ti kanis?’ she then asked me.
‘Kalla efcharisto, kesis?’ I replied.
She was asking me how I was and I was asking if she was OK
We were having some very hot weather and Vetta had seen that my garden was drying up. She knew that I had been worried about my lemon tree as I had shown it to her a few days before. 
‘Poss ine  e lemonia sou?’ 
I laughed and answered in English, 
‘Someone’s put the evil eye on it and it died!’
She looked horrified at my mentioning this word out loud, for then The Eye might hear!
‘It really is my fault. I should not have put fertilizer on the tree in such hot weather. It gave it a big shock. But, in case it was ‘The Eye’, can you tell me if there is something you can do to turn it away?’
‘Let me show you,’ she said in English and led the way into my kitchen. 
She asked me for some cloves and matches. One at a time she picked up a clove with a pin. Then she put a lighted match to the end of each clove in turn. One lit with a spurt of flame. 
‘Kala’, she said,’ all is well. It has gone’
‘Ah,’ I breathed with relief, ‘Now I don’t have to be worried about my orange trees dying too. But you know Vetta that is only a superstition. What we really need is a shower of rain.’
Do you know, that night we had such a shower of rain that it flooded the kitchen, and when I was mopping up all the water I fell over on the slippery floor. The next time I met Vetta I told her the magic had not worked very well, I now had a big bruise on my leg. 
She answered, ‘But, you must thank me for the rain’. 
‘Well, perhaps you did save my orange trees.’ I conceded. ‘Or rather, God’s good rain has.’
However as I limped back into the house I did not feel completely sure that The Eye was not chuckling to itself.

Bye for now. I’ll write again soon. Lots of love. Grandma and Grandpa.’

Medusa’s  evil eye

Of course there is power in a glance. Our eyes fall when someone stares, and even when a loved one looks at us we can only hold that look for a short while. So the idea that looks could kill was an obvious one that many tribes have taken seriously. In northern Greece it was an important concept for the shepherds who lived in the Balkan Mountains. The fact that these people had blue eyes maybe why blue eyes are also associated with the idea of an evil being sent with a glance. The blue eyed person is seen by some to offer a more potent glance of evil. Yet at the same time the blue eye, painted on a boat’s side, or worn as an amulet, can ward off evil.

In Greek mythology the story of the Medusa is one that emphasises a belief in the evil eye. After Athena used the sign on her aegis, it also became a sign painted on a shield to take into war and frighten ones enemies. But most people today see links with envy, that if one owns something precious, and frail, the look of envy by another has the potential to destroy this precious thing.

And I found myself believing in the Kalikantzaros

Kalikantzaroi (Greek: Καλλικάντζαρος; sing. Kallikantzaros) are malevolent goblins in Greek folk tradition. They dwell underground but come to the surface during the twelve days of Christmas, from 25 December to 6 January (from the winter solstice for a fortnight during which time the sun ceases its seasonal movement).
From Wikipedia

The Greeks have a belief that all year the kalikantzaroi (the little devils) work to undo the tree of life. Then at Christmas, at the birth of the Christ child, these devils become so incensed they burst out of Hell and roam the earth. They meet their doom on Epiphany, January the sixth. On this day, at the ceremony of the Blessing of The Waters, enough ‘white power’ is unleashed that they’re once again helpless. This is why at this time holy water is carried from the church and sprinkled around the house with sprigs of basil, to keep away their evil influences. Or you can keep a fire lit all night to drive them away.

‘There is no standard appearance of Kalikantzaroi, there are regional differences on their appearance. Some Greeks have imagined them with some animal parts, like hairy bodies, horse legs, or boar tusks, sometimes enormous, other times diminutive. Others see them as humans of small size smelling horribly. They are predominantly male, often with protruding sex characteristics… Many Greeks have imagined them as tall, black, hairy, with burning red eyes, goats' or donkeys' ears, monkeys' arms, tongues that hang and heads that are huge.  Nonetheless, the most common belief is that they are small, black creatures, humanoid apart from their long black tails. Their shape resembles that of a little, black devil. They are, also, mostly blind, speak with a lisp and love to eat frogs, worms] and other small creatures.’
From Wikipedia

One particularity that sets the Kallikantzaroi apart from all other goblins/creatures of the Underworld is that they appear on Earth for only twelve days out of the whole year. Their short duration on earth, as well as the fact that they were not considered purely malevolent creatures but rather impish and stupid, have led to a number of theories about their creation.

From my Book

As Lisa and I cleaned we noted the big adjustment we had to make to the noise level. It seemed to us that the children, who had now gone back to school, often stood in lines in the school yard having shouting matches. Also we were regularly, and not only on Sundays, woken up by church bells that began tolling at seven in the morning. But what most troubled us were the club-goers who returned home at three in the morning on very noisy motorbikes. We’d discovered Greek islands are not quiet places, and since we were working so hard we really did need a good night’s sleep. My immediate answer was to use earplugs to sleep at nights.’ 

And so I found myself calling the local boys on their motorbikes our Kalikantzaros

In Lemnos pavements aren’t the preserve of walkers; in fact, a new pavement is a siren call to all and sundry to fill it up with many kinds of land flotsam and jetsam. So this year, 2006, I told Takis that I was going to the council to complain. ‘There might be a lot of national pride in Greece, but not much civic pride! I’m tired of having to walk on the roads and keep a continuous look out for an aftokineto (car) bowling around the corner at high speed, or having to jump out of the way when a Lemnian kalikantzaros roars past on his motorcycle.’ 


Sirens are some other mythical creatures you’ll come across in Lemnos. There are some lovely statuettes of sirens in the Lemnos museum.

I love the cheeky grin on the faces of these Lemian sirens.

The Sirens were songsters. They lured people to listen to them, even though to listen meant travelling into some very dangerous places. Many sailors where lured by them and became shipwrecked on rocks. But when Orpheus, who was travelling with the Argonauts, played his harp his music was more beautiful than theirs. Thus it was that the sirens realised they had lost their power, and as a result they were changed into rocks.

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