1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Evil Eye

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EVIL EYE. The terror of the arts of "fascination," i.e. that certain persons can bewitch, injure and even kill with a glance, has been and is still very widely spread. The power was not thought to be always maliciously cultivated. It was as often supposed to be involuntary (cf. Deuteronomy xxviii. 54); and a story is told of a Slav who, afflicted with the evil eye, at last blinded himself in order that he might not be the means of injuring his children (Woyciki, Polish Folklore, trans. by Lewenstein, p. 25). Few of the old classic writers fail to refer to the dread power. In Rome the " evil eye " was so well recognized that Pliny states that special laws were enacted against injury to crops by incantation, excantation or fascination. The power was styled βασκανία by the Greeks and fascinatio by the Latins. Children and young animals of all kinds were thought to be specially susceptible. Charms were worn against the evil eye both by man and beast, and in Judges viii. 21 it is thought there is a reference to this custom in the allusion to the " ornaments " on the necks of camels. In classic times the wearing of amulets was universal. They were of three classes: (1) those the intention of which was to attract on to themselves, as the lightning-rod the lightning, the malignant glance; (2) charms hidden in the bosom of the dress; (3) written words from sacred writings. Of these three types the first was most numerous. They were oftenest of a grotesque and generally grossly obscene nature. They were also made in the form of frogs, beetles and so on. But the ancients did not wholly rely on amulets. Spitting was among the Greeks and Romans a most common antidote to the poison of the evil eye. According to Theocritus it is necessary to spit three times into the breast of the person who fears fascination. Gestures, too, often intentionally obscene, were regarded as prophylactics on meeting the dreaded individual. The evil eye was believed to have its impulse in envy, and thus it came to be regarded as unlucky to have any of your possessions praised. Among the Romans, therefore, it was customary when praising anything to add Praefiscini dixerim (Fain Evil! I should say). This custom survives in modern Italy, where in like circumstances is said Si mal occhio non ci fosse (May the evil eye not strike it). The object of these conventional phrases was to prove that the speaker was sincere and had no evil designs in his praise. Though there is no set formula, traces of the custom are found in English rural sayings, e.g. the Somersetshire “I don’t wish ee no harm, so I on’t zay no more.” This is what the Scots call “fore-speaking,” when praise beyond measure is likely to be followed by disease or accident. A Manxman will never say he is very well: he usually admits that he is “middling,” or qualifies his admission of good health by adding “now” or “just now.” The belief led in many countries to the saying, when one heard anybody or anything praised superabundantly, “God preserve him or it.” So in Ireland, to avoid being suspected of having the evil eye, it is advisable when looking at a child to say “God bless it”; and when passing a farm-yard where cows are collected at milking time it is usual for the peasant to say, “The blessing of God be on you and all your labour.” Bacon writes: “It seems some have been so curious as to note that the times when the stroke ... of an envious eye does most hurt are particularly when the party envied is beheld in glory and triumph.”

The powers of the evil eye seem indeed to have been most feared by the prosperous. Its powers are often quoted as almost limitless. Thus one record solemnly declares that in a town of Africa a fascinator called Elzanar killed by his evil art no less than 80 people in two years (W. W. Story, Castle St Angelo, 1877, p. 149). The belief as affecting cattle was universal in the Scottish Highlands as late as the 18th century and still lingers. Thus if a stranger looks admiringly on a cow the peasants still think she will waste away, and they offer the visitor some of her milk to drink in the belief that in this manner the spell is broken. The modern Turks and Arabs also think that their horses and camels are subject to the evil eye. But the people of Italy, especially the Neapolitans, are the best modern instances of implicit believers. The jettatore, as the owner of the evil eye is called, is so feared that at his approach it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that a street will clear: everybody will rush into doorways or up alleys to avoid the dreaded glance. The jettatore di bambini (fascinator of children) is the most dreaded of all. The evil eye is still much feared for horses in India, China, Turkey, Greece and almost everywhere where horses are found. In rural England the pig is of all animals oftenest “overlooked.” While the Italians are perhaps the greatest believers in the evil eye as affecting persons, the superstition is rife in the East. In India the belief is universal. In Bombay the blast of the evil eye is supposed to be a form of spirit-possession. In western India all witches and wizards are said to be evil-eyed. Modern Egyptian mothers thus account for the sickly appearance of their babies. In Turkey passages from the Koran are painted on the outside of houses to save the inmates, and texts as amulets are worn upon the person, or hung upon camels and horses by Arabs, Abyssinians and other peoples. The superstition is universal among savage races.

For a full discussion see Evil Eye by F. T. Elworthy (London, 1895); also W. W. Story, Castle St Angelo and the Evil Eye (1877); E. N. Rolfe and H. Ingleby, Naples in 1888 (1888); Johannes Christian Frommann, Tractatus de fascinatione novus et singularis, &c., &c. (Nuremburg, 1675); R. C. Maclagan, Evil Eye in the Western Highlands (1902).

EVOLUTION. The modern doctrine of evolution or “evolving,” as opposed to that of simple creation, has been defined by Prof. James Sully in the 9th edition of this encyclopaedia as a “natural history of the cosmos including organic beings, expressed in physical terms as a mechanical process.” The following exposition of the historical development of the doctrine is taken from Sully’s article, and for the most part is in his own words.

In the modern doctrine of evolution the cosmic system appears as a natural product of elementary matter and its laws. The various grades of life on our planet are the natural consequences of certain physical processes involved in the gradual transformations of the earth. Conscious life is viewed as conditioned by physical (organic and more especially nervous) processes, and as evolving itself in close correlation with organic evolution. Finally, human development, as exhibited in historical and prehistorical records, is regarded as the highest and most complex result of organic and physical evolution. This modern doctrine of evolution is but an expansion and completion of those physical theories (see below) which opened the history of speculation. It differs from them in being grounded on exact and verified research. As such, moreover, it is a much more limited theory of evolution than the ancient. It does not necessarily concern itself about the question of the infinitude of worlds in space and in time. It is content to explain the origin and course of development of the world, the solar or, at most, the sidereal system which falls under our own observation. It would be difficult to say what branches of science had done most towards the establishment of this doctrine. We must content ourselves by referring to the progress of physical (including chemical) theory, which has led to the great generalization of the conservation of energy; to the discovery of the fundamental chemical identity of the matter of our planet and of other celestial bodies, and of the chemical relations of organic and inorganic bodies; to the advance of astronomical speculation respecting the origin of the solar system, &c.; to the growth of the science of geology which has necessitated the conception of vast and unimaginable periods of time in the past history of our globe, and to the rapid march of the biological sciences which has made us familiar with the simplest types and elements of organism; finally, to the development of the science of anthropology (including comparative psychology, philology, &c.), and to the vast extension and improvement of all branches of historical study.

History of the Idea of Evolution.—The doctrine of evolution in its finished and definite form is a modern product. It required for its formation an amount of scientific knowledge which could only be very gradually acquired. It is vain, therefore, to look for clearly defined and systematic presentations of the idea among ancient writers. On the other hand, nearly all systems of philosophy have discussed the underlying problems. Such questions as the origin of the cosmos as a whole, the production of organic beings and of conscious minds, and the meaning of the observable grades of creation, have from the dawn of speculation occupied men’s minds; and the answers to these questions often imply a vague recognition of the idea of a gradual evolution of things. Accordingly, in tracing the antecedents of the modern philosophic doctrine we shall have to glance at most of the principal systems of cosmology, ancient and modern. Yet since in these systems inquiries into the esse and fieri of the world are rarely distinguished with any precision, it will be necessary to indicate very briefly the general outlines of the system so far as they are necessary for understanding their bearing on the problems of evolution.

Mythological Interpretation.—The problem of the origin of the world was the first to engage man’s speculative activity. Nor was this line of inquiry pursued simply as a step in the more practical problem of man’s final destiny. The order of ideas observable in children suggests the reflection that man began to discuss the “whence” of existence before the “whither.” At first, as in the case of the child, the problem of the genesis of things was conceived anthropomorphically: the question “How did the world arise?” first shaped itself to the human mind under the form “Who made the world?” As long as the problem was conceived in this simple manner there was, of course, no room for the idea of a necessary self-conditioned evolution. Yet the first indistinct germ of such an idea appears to emerge in combination with that of creation in some of the ancient systems of theogony. Thus, for example, in the myth of the ancient Parsees, the gods Ormuzd and Ahriman are said to evolve themselves out of a primordial matter. It may be supposed that these crude fancies embody a dim recognition of the physical forces and objects personified under the forms of deities, and a rude attempt to account for their genesis as a natural