The Evil Eye in Irish Folklore
In pre-modern Ireland, like in many other cultures, the power of the gaze held immense significance. Practices and customs associated with the evil eye were passed down through generations, and many were collected in The School’s Collection in the 1930s.
What is the evil eye in the Irish folk tradition?
In Irish folk traditions, the evil eye was believed to possess an otherworldly power, capable of causing illness, misfortune, and even death.
It was believed that those who possessed the evil eye could knowingly or unknowingly project this baneful magic onto others simply through their gaze. The evil eye could affect many aspects of life including people, livestock, and crops.
This ability is often referred to as “overlooking” or “blinking” in the Duchas records and the terms can be used interchangeably.
In this locality, long ago, it was a common belief, that if people met with any reverses, or suffered any loss of property, the misfortune was due to “the evil-eye,” meaning that some person supposed to have an evil eye “overlooked” their property, and that was considered the reason for the particular piece of ill-luck. If a person with an “evil-eye” took particular notice of any animal, for example, the animal would either do himself an injury or pine away gradually. Usually, the possessors of the “evil eye” were not aware that they had such a particular kind of eye, or were connected with other people’s misfortunes. Duchas.ie
What causes the evil eye?
There are numerous things that could cause someone to be born with the evil eye (people are generally considered to be born with it rather than acquiring it later in life). Some of the reasons recorded are:
- Having the surname Marrinan 1, 2, 3 or Kingfisher4.
- Being born on Whit Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter) 5, 6 or on June 29th 7
- Babies returning to breastfeeding after being weaned 8, 9
- Babies seeing their baptismal towel before it was washed 10
- Your Godparents omitting a word during your baptism 11
Prevention of the evil eye
To protect themselves from the ill effects of being overlooked, people developed customs and rituals, the most popular of which included:
- Waiting to light their fires on May Day so that the evil eye did not take their luck and profit for the coming year 12
- Placing St. Brigid’s crosses around the home (and outhouses) 13, 14
- Nailing a donkey’s shoe to the threshold of the home (this also helped to guard against the Good Neighbors) 15
- For animals, placing a Gauldoron Garragh knot on their back would provide protection 16
- Using red items (usually cloth) to distract the evil eye 17, 18, 19, 20, 21
- Asking God to bless the person or thing being talked about after you suspect an overlooker (a common term for those who possess the evil eye) has spoken about them 22, 23, 24, 25
- Jumping through the flames at midsummer 5
Cures for the evil eye
If all your preventative measures failed, there were several cures that could be tried.
- For a baby born on Whit Sunday or another lucky day, the cure was to place green sod over them three times 4, 6, 8
- A cure commonly used with animals thought to have been overlooked was to write the overlooker’s name (if known) or the entire alphabet (if the overlooker’s name is unknown) onto a piece of paper or other burnable material and burn it under the animal’s nose so that it inhales the smoke 26, 27, 28, 29, 30
- A piece of thatch from the overlooker’s house, or even a piece of their clothing can also be burned under an animal or person’s nose (or burned and then the ashes put into a drink) to cure the evil eye 27, 28, 29
- Water from a place where three townslands meet can cure when sprinkled on the overlooked animal or person, but the person who gets the water must not speak to anyone on their way there and back 30
- Forge water can also be used in the same way 31
While the belief in the evil eye has faded over time, the echoes of these traditions can still be felt in Irish culture today. These records serve as a reminder of the deep-rooted folklore and superstitions that once shaped the lives of the Irish people and can help inform our Irish pagan practices today.