The ‘Evil Eye’ of Turkey

The Nazar Boncuğu charm (or Evil Eye Bead) is an “eye”, often set on a blue background. It stares back at the world to ward off the evil spirits and keep you safe from harm. It is one of the most common items of decoration in any Turkish home, in any car, or on any person. The story goes: There was once a village by the sea and one day found on its shores was a massive rock that no one could move or break apart. One of the villagers was known to have the ‘evil eye’ and when he came down to the sea and had a look at the rock, he commented with awe at its impossible size. As soon as he spoke, the giant rock split in two with a thundering crack. Now, when things go badly, when a prized possession disappears, when a newborn baby becomes sick, when someone dies unexpectedly, it is said that “nazar” has touched him or her. The Turkish word “nazar” comes from Arabic for “eye” or “look.” In fact, in Turkey most people fear it as an inadvertent ill-effect caused by envy and many believe the risk of the evil eye is most prevalent when things are going great. Too much good fortune? Something’s bound to go wrong. Call me paranoid and a pessimist, but I myself often get a little nervous when everything seems to be going my way. It may be construed as a twisted form of humility, but you don’t jinx good fortune by pointing it out. It’s a form of fighting fire with fire, an eye for an evil eye. Often wrongly translated to English as the evil eye itself, it is actually a “benevolent eye” fending off the evil one. Its purpose is to reflect the dark powers of an envious glance. The amulet is typically round and made of glass fashioned with blue and white concentric circles made to look like a wide open eye. Why the colour blue? Turkey is in a dry part of the world, where water is precious, with water things prosper and grow, and without it, things shrivel and die. The colour blue reminds people of fresh, cool water. And if a nazar boncuğu ever cracks or shatters, this means it has just absorbed a rather powerful bit of the evil eye and scared off an evil spirit. It should be replaced immediately!   Evil eye beads come in all shapes and sizes: pendants, earrings, key chains, wall hangings, pins, shot glasses, ash trays, I’ve seen them all. Bracelets often have a whole series of tiny glass evil eye beads worked into them. Sometimes the amulets are worked into the foundations of new buildings.  Most homes and shops have one displayed somewhere, when someone in Turkey moves in to a new apartment or house, it’s likely that one or more of their friends will give them an evil eye as a house warming present. And they’ll hang it next to the doorway of their house or even on a bedroom wall. And there it will stay. For years; for decades. Keeping away the bad things in life. Or so everyone hopes.

Though many Turks may shrug it off with a smile, there aren’t too many cribs of newborn babies that don’t have one of the protective blue eyes displayed. Mothers will attach a small bead on a safety pin to a child’s clothes or diaper. Why take any chances, right? Tourist shops carry them, streetside vendors may peddle them, and in the Grand Bazaar you can find whole shops dedicated to the nazar boncuğu. They make great gifts, if only for the story of them, and honestly, do you really want to risk falling victim to the evil eye?

To borrow a quote from  Michael Scott – ‘I’m not SUPERstitious, but I am a LITTLEstitious’

What about where you live do you have any special talisman?

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7 thoughts on “The ‘Evil Eye’ of Turkey

  1. you can see the “evil eye” talismans in berlin quite often. guess it is because of the big turkish community. berlin-kreuzberg is known as little istanbul ;D

    i am not a super- nor little-stitious human being, never have been.
    so i am not so aware of talismans etc.
    some people think friday 13 will bring bad luck to them, they really fear it.
    some hotels still “skip” floor 13 … maybe they are just fooling the people by calling floor 13 just floor 14 ;D

    some catholic germans think that wearing a cross will help them through life … is it superstious? is it faith? or maybe a mixture of both?

  2. Yes I think people are only being fooled when house no 13 becomes 12a or 14, same with hotel room no or floor no :) but I do admit to having an ‘evil eye’ hanging in my house and I always pin one to the baby clothes I make :)

  3. “Littlestitious”, I’ll have to remember that. ;-) Those are neat talismans, and a cool story to go along with. I especially like the idea of weaving them into new buildings. I don’t think we have any local talismans around here, at least none that I know of.

  4. Pingback: I Have My Eye On You: The Evil Eye in Antiquity « GraecoMuse

  5. I was given one of these by a turkish man in Fallujah iraq, while serving over there in 2007, I wore it under the pocket flap of my uniform. I truely believe that it protected me, I will never forget the wonderful gift or the faboulous tea we shared at our meeting. I carry it attached to a mini american pocket flag with me wherever i go. Thank you to the wonderful Turkish person who shared this belief with me, I am forever grateful. I have given these as gifts to many others in the years that followed with the story behind it. It is wonderful to see it shared here.

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