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.
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!’
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
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.
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.|