The Evil Eye

As I write this week’s MMS, I’m stretched out in a luxurious business class seat on a flight to Athens, Greece. It’s the trip of a lifetime for us and Tom’s oldest granddaughter, Abigail, and fulfills a promise made to our 8 (soon to be 9) grand delights (otherwise known as grandchildren) that when they turn 16, we will take them on a special trip to anywhere in the world they would like to go. Abigail chose Greece. Lucky us!

Two things I love to do as personal hobbies are: 1) craft and set a beautifully decorated table for family or guests and 2) plan interesting trips.  We’re not much for chartered itineraries with big tour companies where we must be on someone else’s schedule. Instead, I love researching the history, natural wonders, experiences, and hidden secrets of a new place myself and mapping out an itinerary that avoids the big crowds and long lines as much as possible and leaves time to wander off the well-worn path. I like to orchestrate a plan that fits our pace, interests, and style.

In doing my research for this trip, I came across an article on Greek traditions.  Apparently, one tradition that still holds today, especially with older generations of people in the villages and highlands, is called the “mati.” Believers in the “mati” say that someone who gives you the “evil eye” (stares at you persistently with jealousy, deep envy, or loathing) can give you the “evil eye” or “mati.” Those who are suffering from the mati can get strong headaches, nausea, extreme weakness, or a feeling of heaviness. They also seem to have bad luck or little mishaps, such as being clumsier than usual.

The Mati can wear off on its own, but for some people it is believed to last for days or only terminate when an expert in banishing mati performs an xematiasma, basically an exorcism of the mati. They say intense prayers while performing a little ritual, usually burning a clove on a needle over a cup filled with water. Funny the weird things that stick as traditions over time, isn’t it?  Curiously, people who have blue eyes or were born on Saturday are said to be especially efficient in giving the evil eye to others! As I don’t relish the idea of being someone who curses others with an evil eye, I’m pleased to report that the three of us do not qualify on either count.

It is said that one of the most popular ways to ward off the evil eye is to wear the mati gem, a nazar, which is a blue glass bead with the schematic of an eye and, of course, is sold at tourist stands all over Athens. This is said to represent the eye of God, and thus, when you wear it, the evil spirits are afraid and leave.

The tradition of the mati stood out to me since Greek is such a difficult language to master, and I’m positive there will be one of us saying the wrong thing in the wrong way to the wrong person at some point on this trip. I even learned that to hold all five fingers on your hand out toward someone’s face (as if to say, “Table for five, please”) is akin to shooting someone the middle finger in the U.S.  Jeez, so much to remember!

Luckily, I’m not a superstitious person. But, I do find it interesting that there could be such a strong tradition around the idea that someone else could look at you with jealousy, envy, or loathing and make you feel bad because of it. And yet, if you think about it, this happens all the time. We tend to give away a lot of power to others in terms of how they see us or think about us.

I’m a believer that we actually choose how we will be affected in terms of how others feel about us. I believe that the danger of an ill effect is more likely to impact the one who feels the jealousy or judgment rather than the one on the receiving end. It goes without saying that it would be better to monitor and reduce the amount of jealousy and judgment we feel for others and to remember that, regardless of what others think, we determine our experience at all times.

In any case, I guess it won’t hurt to purchase a mati gem as a Greek souvenir early in the trip. I’m thinking of it as a little bit of trip insurance.

So, here’s to a week ahead, friends and subscribers, where we all judge less, envy nothing, feel confident, and chose our own peaceful experience. And if we get the chance, we’ll break a few plates in your honor while we’re dancing to Greek music in a cute little taverna by the sea. Opa!

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

~ Heraclitus, ancient Greek philosopher


  1. Excellent article. I am not one who likes the evil eye anywhere. I believe the same thing the Greeks do – so I stay away. I would buy a necklace to ward off the bad spirits though. Enjoy Greece and have lots of fun with your grandchild!

  2. Loved the story! It’s always interesting to me how other countries ancient myths are carried on. This one was greatly discussed this last weekend at church. Proverbs 3:31-32 “do not envy the oppressor, And choose none of his ways; For the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord, But his secret counsel is with the upright.” Proverbs 14:30 “A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.” Perhaps I need to go inward since this type of message has appeared twice only a day apart! Thank you Katherine for sharing your stories in philosophical ways. Have a memorable time with the “grand delight”!

  3. My Yiayia (grandmother) had a special prayer she’d say over me when there was no logical explanation for being out of sorts. And it worked.
    Can’t wait to hear all about your trip.

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