Worrying about The Worst and Warding Off The Evil Eye -- Jen Doktorski

A few summers ago, my sister’s family and mine were at the Sundae Times, an ice cream place at the Jersey Shore. It was a muggy, August night and we were eating inside enjoying the coolness of our twisty cones and the air conditioning when a man walked in wearing a heavy black windbreaker and jeans. Nobody else seemed to notice him standing in the corner near the restrooms. He wasn’t there with kids. He wasn’t buying ice cream. He wasn’t doing anything of consequence except looking around. That’s when I jumped into panic mode. I stood up and began nudging the kids to do the same. I was seconds away from having them sprint toward the exit, away from Black Jacket Guy, when the door swung open and in walked our Governor and his family. I’d forgotten his summer residence is not too far from where we vacation. Forgotten his penchant for the ice cream parlor and bakery in our town.
When you’re an anxious person “The Worst Case Scenario” is a movie that plays often in your mind. You’re ready for it. Looking for it. On some level believing that worrying about it, actually keeps The Worst away. I know it’s an exhausting exercise in futility. (I read Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle.”) I also know The Worst is stealthier than the Governor’s security detail; it sneaks up on us, catches off guard, calls us after midnight, boards airplanes undetected.

Most times it’s unpreventable, right? Not if you have a few generations of superstitious Italian women in your corner gifted with their knowledge of the Malocchio – The Evil Eye – and how to remove it. (I believe the literal Italian translation is bad “mal” eye “occhio.”)

I should say here that The Evil Eye isn’t responsible for big stuff like terrorist attacks or the outcomes of major elections. But in some cultures, there’s a belief that The Evil Eye can cause you to feel physically ill – bad headaches or stomach issues usually – or cause you to go through a rough patch where nothing seems to go right. “Someone gave me the eye,” you might find yourself saying. The evil eye is usually bestowed upon you unintentionally by someone who is envious or jealous and takes the form of genuine compliments. The perpetrators are truly unaware of any malice in their hearts or that their kind words will have any negative effect when they tell you they like the highlights in your hair or congratulate you on your new home. That’s why you might hear Italians following a compliment with “God bless you,” especially when bestowing some kind words on a baby. “She’s beautiful, God bless her,” or “Congratulations on your book deal, God bless you.” It’s code for, “I’m not trying to give you the stink eye over here.”

But the world is full of innocent, complimentary people full of envy and unaware of the rule. What can you do about that? Good news. The Malocchio can be prevented and removed.
But how do I prevent in the evil eye you might ask? Well, Italians have a host of charms that can be worn to ward off the ill effects of those who would dare look at you the wrong way. Like the horn, the horn hand, or evil eye charm.

In a pinch, if you find yourself charmless, you can insert your thumb between your index finger and your tall finger and say the phrase “Good eyes take away the bad eyes” three times to yourself. (I guess you could say it out loud too, but that might seem weird.)
So what if despite your efforts you get The Eye anyway? Well, then it’s time to visit an expert. For years this person was my great Aunt Mary. She could perform the ritual of removing The Evil Eye either over the phone or in-person. Sadly she passed without bestowing her gift on the next generation. The secret to removing The Evil Eye can only be passed on to the next female in your family at midnight on Christmas Eve. Lucky for me, when my grandmother was still with us, she was an expert in tracking down relatives with the gift. I called her from work one day when I was going through a particularly rough time both professionally and personally; when every day seemed liked The Worst. “I’m on it she said. Pick me up at five.”

Gram was waiting for me at the curb when I pulled up after work, her handbag in the crook of her arm. “Where are we going?” I asked her when she got in the car. “To see Aunt Connie,” she said. Turns out Aunt Connie was the wife of my grandfather’s brother, Vincent. She’d never met me, but was very willing to help.
When I arrived, she sat me down at the kitchen table and placed a bowl of water in front of me. “First,” she said. “We have to see if you have the Malocchio.” She put a little bit of olive oil in a cup, dipped her finger into the oil, and let some droplets fall into the bowl. She repeated this two more times and I watched as the oil drops scattered. A sign that I did indeed have The Eye. Others will tell you the oil will form the shape of an eye, another sign. If the oil stays lumped together in one circle, you’ve been spared.

She got to work removing The Eye. It involved salt, the sign of the cross, and a series of murmured prayers. The exact details are supposed to be kept a secret unless someone chooses to pass along that knowledge to you at midnight on Christmas Eve.
But if you’re like me, always worried about The Worst and wondering how to prevent some of the small stuff from happening, you might find this link helpful.

Removing The Evil Eye

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ve got some charms I need to order. No, really.


  1. Neat! It's always interesting to learn something important to a particular culture. The way you wrote this put a bit extra into the whole concept. I bet I would have been a bit nervous about black windbreaker dude myself.

  2. This is awesome. Checking the link now...


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