The ‘Evil Eye’ and the Atlantic world

In earlier posts I commented on how the ‘Evil Eye’ beliefs of the ancient Gaelic world were linked to belief in a poisonous force that could affect health, wealth and the outcomes of situations.

The English word ‘Envy’ comes from the introduced Norman-French term ‘En Vie’ which has the literal English meaning ‘In View’. It therefore is a term loaded with the feelings and consequences derived from looking upon things, particularly those that are outside of our possession or influence. The Latin original of ‘En Vie’ – ‘In Vidia’ – gives us the word ‘invidious‘, generally agreed to mean ‘malign jealousy’. These terms represent the main idea underpinning the principle of both ‘witchcraft’ and ‘fairies’ in the folklore of Atlantic northwest Europe:

Fairies were ‘jealous’ of our world and sought to strike a balance with their ‘inverted’ otherworld by stealing away the spiritual substance of what they envied for themselves. ‘Witches’ were jealous humans who sought to do the same – both were seen as active forces taking part in a balancing interplay of force between the mundane world and the otherworld. To the Gael, the ‘Evil Eye’ was more than just a criminal act – it was a fact of nature and part of a scientific worldview that described the apportioning of forces in the universe. In the non-Gaelic Christian world, people were consequently treated in criminal courts and (between the late-medieval and early modern periods) routinely judicially-murdered for being ‘witches’. In the Gaelic/Atlantic world – except in zones of frictional interface (particularly lowland Scotland and the Basque country) – there were comparatively few, if any, ‘witch hunts’.


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