The Evil Eye: The History, Mystery, and Magic of the Quiet Curse, by Antonio Pagliarulo
Weiser Books,157863797X, 256 pages, May 2023
The mysterious power of eyes to psychically touch what they gaze upon is unmistakable to anyone who has felt the uncomfortable sensation of someone staring at them, or has been caught in the act of staring at someone else. Have you ever been paid an insincere compliment accompanied by a look that made your skin crawl because you sensed an undercurrent of jealousy and malice beneath it, and not long afterwards you seemed to have a run of bad luck? If so, you may have felt the sting of the magically weaponized gaze known in Italian as il malocchio, “the Evil Eye.”1
The Evil Eye: The History, Mystery, and Magic of the Quiet Curse by Italian folk magic practitioner Antonio Pagliarulo is a manual on psychic protection that teaches you how to detect, banish, and prevent the malison of the Evil Eye. If you are so inclined, there are even instructions on how to cast the curse yourself as a form of self-defense.2 The book itself, decorated with a radiant gilded eye on the front cover, is a protective amulet, and the author recommends keeping it on your desk or by your bedside.
Raised in the Bronx by southern Italian immigrants, Pagliarulo learned folk magic cures for the Evil Eye from his grandmother when he was a child. When he attended public high school in Manhattan and made friends with people from other cultures, he discovered that the concept of the Evil Eye is a universal belief with ancient roots. It is known as mal de ojo in Spanish, mati in Greek, and ayin hara in Hebrew.3 In ancient Rome, it was called the oculus malus, and phallic amulets were believed to deflect it.4 Belief in the Evil Eye is so ancient that archeological evidence for it dates as far back as the third millennium BCE, to Sumerian apotropaic spells recorded on cuneiform tablets. 5
The Evil Eye is so ubiquitous because anyone can cast this curse, regardless of whether they intend to or not. “The Eye’s point of origin is emotion,” explains Pagliarulo, “and we all experience feelings of envy, greed, and resentment at some point in life.”6 He advises that we watch out in particular for people who are harboring years of resentment, because they pack a lot of festering emotions behind their attacks. As an interesting side note, “Zoroastrians also believe that a menstruating woman can cast the strongest Evil Eye curse.”7 I’ll keep that in mind the next time my uterus is angry.
So, what exactly is this malevolent Evil Eye, and how does one cast it?
“The Evil Eye is a baneful force transmitted through a stare or glance, and it can be delineated in three distinct ways,” Pagliarulo says.8
The first way is through a compliment, laced with envy. Regardless of how kind and sincere the words may sound, the eyes reveal the true underlying feelings of bitterness and jealousy. The second type of attack is obvious because the person won’t hide their contempt behind flattery, and they will often publicly vocalize their malice.9 The third way is unintentional, through being the recipient of excessive praise and adoration. Too much good fortune tempts the Eye to balance the scales by adding the weight of misfortune and sorrow. 10
The way Pagliarulo describes the Eye in the third scenario, it sounds like a malicious and adversarial entity with a consciousness of its own, one that follows a distorted supernatural system of checks and balances. This gave me pause, because I feel that one should be grateful for the good things they experience in life and not hide their happiness out of fear that some invisible force will take it away, especially when success has been hard-earned and well-deserved.
However, the more I think about it, it occurs to me that perhaps excessive praise, especially on the grandiose level that celebrities receive, can generate a malaise of jealousy in the common rabble that coalesces into a malicious entity, as multiple people envy the attention the target is receiving and feed the Eye with their collective negative energies. It’s not surprising that Meghan Markle, who has been vilified by the media and resentful family members ever since her so-called fairy tale wedding to Prince Harry, has been spotted wearing the blue-eyed nazar amulet, one of the most popular and easily recognizable wards against the Evil Eye.11
Pagliarulo assures readers that he does not intend to frighten them into silence. “The key,” Pagliarulo says, “is to create a healthy balance of self-praise and discretion, which is accomplished by being mindful of your speech.”12
One interesting example of using speech to deter the Evil Eye comes from Egypt. An Egyptian man Pagliarulo interviewed said that he would deflect a compliment regarding his good health and thriving business by claiming he had tripped and almost broken his leg that morning, even though this wasn’t true. “What matters is the strategy—by minimizing the compliment, he minimized the potential envy brewing inside the person who offered the compliment,” Pagliarulo says.13
Some common amulets believed to protect one from the Evil Eye include the ancient Egyptian wedjat or udjat (the Eye of Horus), the hamsa, or Hand of Fatima, a hand-shaped amulet with an eye in the center of the palmthe Italian cornicello, or “little horn,” the Cimaruta (cima di ruta means “top of rue” in Italian), which depicts a sprig of rue decorated with a crescent moon, a key, a serpent, and other witchy symbols that ward the Evil Eye while doubling as a lucky charm, and the Turkish nazar, a beautiful pattern of blue and white concentric rings that looks like an eye, which is by far the most popular and seems to be everywhere these days. The nazar amulet is so trendy that many witches display the nazar emoji on their social media profiles.
“Wearing one of these ancient symbols is an act of magic, for it creates a shield of protection around the individual,” Pagliarulo says.14 He encourages the reader to trust their intuition when choosing an amulet, rather than picking one based on religious affiliation or the popularity of use.
After an extensive list of amulets, this book contains methods for diagnosing the Evil Eye and several protection spells that require few supplies and are simple to perform. Most of the spell ingredients can be found in the kitchen, such as olive oil, garlic cloves, bay leaves, and other herbs. One of the easiest spells involves braiding long hair into a basic three-strand brand and securing it with a rubber band or hair tie while reciting an incantation for protection.
Other spells call upon various spirits from different faiths to assist in the removal of the Evil Eye. Many of the workings are derived from the author’s Italian Catholic background and invoke the power of saints, but Pagliarulo also presents rituals from Judaism, Islam, and paganism.
I came to this book as a believer seeking psychic protection, but also with a certain degree of healthy skepticism. I think that when one is too superstitious and paranoid about psychic attack, there is a risk of giving your power away to others through your belief in that superstition. My concern is that a fearful and excessive focus on the potency of the Evil Eye can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and a kind of psychic hypochondria. More often than not, I think there are rational explanations for bad things happening, and not everything is a sign of a curse. However, I also feel that empaths and magically inclined people are more sensitive and susceptible to psychic attacks so it’s a good idea to take magical precautions. As Pagliarulo says: “You can never be too safe.”15
Pagliarulo’s The Evil Eye is a powerful amulet for anyone who wishes to enhance their psychic shields and improve their overall luck and well-being. Even if you have doubts about whether or not the Eye has been cast upon you, these spells are good all-purpose cleansing and protection rituals. While not every bad thing that happens should be blamed on the Evil Eye, one can never be too careful.
Rachel Christina McConnell is a witch, tarot reader, intuitive astrologer, and writing spider. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University in the City of New York. Her short stories have appeared in Dark Moon Lilith Press and Minerva Rising Press’s The Keeping Room. Links to her publications are available here: https://rachelchristinamcconnell.wordpress.com