I remember, as a small child, my mother doing a curious thing. She placed a pot of water on the stove to boil, then threw in a handful of lubia as she called them, black-eyed beans. As the pot boiled furiously, several of the beans jumped out, and each time one did my mother called “emshee! emshee!” (go away! go away!) in Arabic. She was, as she explained to me later, removing the evil eye from our house.
The evil eye is both a form of curse, transmitted by look, that is believed by many cultures to cause injury or bad luck for the person at whom it is directed, and also a powerful protective symbol or talisman. As a curse, the evil eye is most commonly attributed to envy, cast unintentionally by looking at or excessively praising a person, particularly a child, for too long. However the term may also refer to a stronger, more intentional curse cast on a victim by the owner of a magical eye. As a protective symbol, the evil or all seeing eye, wards against evil and protects the wearer from harm.
The origin of the evil eye can be traced back at least three thousand years to the region of Sumer in Mesopotamia, but probably has much older origins. Mentioned by over 100 classical scholars including Hesiod and Plato, Plutarch postulated that the evil eye was a manifestation of deadly rays that sprang like darts from the inner recesses of the body. Belief in the evil eye was spread to the east as far as India by Alexander the Great, and to the south and north by the Roman Empire centuries later, and persisted well into the middle ages in England and Celtic parts of Europe.
Today, belief in the evil eye is widespread across the Middle East, West Africa, Central America and Mexico, Central Asia and many parts of Europe, especially the Mediterranean. In Islamic culture, Muhammad stated "the influence of an evil eye is a fact...” while in Judaism the evil eye is mentioned several times in classical texts including the Old Testament. Even today the blue and green eyes of northern Europeans my be regarded with particular suspicion by southern Europeans and Turks, while in Western culture the phrase “to give someone the evil eye” has entered the lexicon of common parlance, even if it only means to stare at a person in anger or disgust.
The Hamsa as jewellery. Photo credit: Linda Heaphy
A belief in the power of amulets and talismans to protect against the evil eye has also evolved over time. Eye-like glass disks, in shades of blue and white, represent the evil eye itself and are common prophylactic talismans in the Middle East, Turkey and the Mediterranean; the eye sees all, preventing the curse from being cast or reflecting maliciousness back onto the caster.
The hamsa is also considered a powerful form of protection and originates with Tanit, patron goddess of the ancient city of Carthage. Although these symbols are very common today in the Middle East, orthodox Muslims consider their use a superstition because Muhammad prohibited the use of talismans as a form of idolatry. Instead, Muslims may supplicate Allah, saying in response to a compliment "Masha'Allah" or "God has willed it”. Many other forms of protection or dismissal exist, not least local customs as evidenced by my own mother’s boiling of black-eyed beans on the stove-top. In the Indian subcontinent a red thread is worn on the wrist or brightly reflective mirror charms are sewn into clothing, hair and jewellery. In Ethiopia, spitting may subvert the inadvertent casting of the evil eye, while in some European countries a simple means of protection is to point the index finger and the little finger towards the supposed source of influence or victim (a gesture I remember well from my own childhood).
Belief in the evil eye, and the means by which to repudiate it, represents an important part of the human psyche - the collective need to understand and control the natural progression of our lives, as they are affected by illness and other seemingly unfair acts of nature, and to maintain in everything a fair and equitable balance.
Koyen, Jeff 2002 The Evil Eye, Fortean Times. Accessed 17th July 2012
Taking no chances: in this Roman mosaic, the eye is pierced by a trident and sword, pecked by a raven, barked at by a dog and attacked by a centipede, scorpion, cat and a snake. A horned dwarf with a gigantic phallus crosses two sticks. Greek annotation "KAI SU" meaning "and you (too)". Antiochia, House of the Evil Eye.
Linda has a Honours degree in Marine Biology and a PhD in Ecology from the University of NSW, Australia. She has travelled extensively and is a passionate writer on subjects as diverse as the role played by women throughout history, tribal communities and their customs, symbology and ethnology, talismans and their history. Occasionally she also writes about her travel experiences, her new life on a 25 acres in the Northern Rivers region of northern Australia and her black miniature poodle Phoenix. She is currently writing her first book on talismans.
In 1989 my father Bernard packed in his house painting business and set off for two years on a backpacking trek to the remotest corners of the world. When he finally arrived in the oasis city of Kashgar, China, he was so impressed with its history that he decided to start a new life collecting and selling exotic goods from all over the world. For 2000 years the legendary city of Kashgar was a melting pot of ideas and a key trading post on the historic Silk Road. It was this unique combination of philosophy and trade that my father wanted to recreate at home.
Starting in markets in 1991, he opened his first store in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 1994. I gave up my own career as a government scientist to join him in 2000 and soon convinced my partner Ian to join us in what was to become the Family Business.
Today our version of Kashgar stocks a hugely diverse range of furniture, rugs, textiles, antiques, handicrafts and jewellery sourced from over twenty different countries including India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Thailand, Burma, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Our collection includes contemporary and tribal silver and gold jewellery, a unique range of headhunting curios, antique Buddhist relics and a collection of one-off necklaces, earrings and bracelets that I design and create myself using the beads and jewellery making techniques of ethnic minorities from around the globe.
Kashgar is a philosophy as well as a store. We are committed to supporting traditional artisans and small village communities by selling authentic handcrafted goods which are personally collected by us. By supporting traditional methods of design and production we hope to encourage local cottage industries which have a low impact on the environment and help ethnic minorities maintain their self-sufficiency into the 21st Century. We are particularly committed to assisting women around the world and to this end have worked with several organisations including the Hua Bin Women's Union of Vietnam, the East Timorese Women's Association and Tikondane in Zambia. Time honoured means of craftsmanship and traditional ways of life are disappearing as people all over the world give up their identity in favour of jeans and T-shirts. We see our trade as a means of staving off the inevitable encroachment of the 21st century, assisting communities to decide for themselves which parts of the western world they wish to incorporate (medicine, education) and which they wish to reject (prostitution, drug production, begging and servitude to warlords). We encourage our customers to think of the handicrafts and artifacts they buy from us as an investment: a piece of history and a way of life that may soon be gone forever.
Kashgar has recently closed its retail outlet and gone completely online.
In the past our pieces appeared in many movies including The Hobbit, Mission Impossible 2, Queen of the Damned, Scooby Doo, Moulin Rouge and Wolverine, and in many televisions series, as well as in plays, commercials and exhibitions. We've found special pieces for individual customers as well as for film sets, event management companies, hotels, businesses, consulates and embassies. The uniqueness of our stock means that we are also very appealing to interior and fashion designers with a taste for the exotic.
There is something for everyone at Kashgar - collectors, the curious, those looking for a special present or for something unique to adorn the home. Most of our items are one-off specialties; other pieces we only stock in small quantities so as to continuously offer a wide and ever-changing range of interesting products. We are also packed with ideas for decorating home and work premises that will challenge your established concepts of design and storage.
Please enjoy - Linda Heaphy
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