Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Evil Eye Enthusiasts and New Age Spirituality in the MENA Region

Although amulets like the evil eye and mandalas have been used in the MENA region for centuries and will continue to be used in this way, people must remain mindful and discerning.

Evil Eye Enthusiasts
A tree adorned with “Nazar” eye-shaped amulets, believed to protect against the evil eye, at Goreme Historical National Park in central Turkey’s historical Cappadocia (Kapadokya) region. OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP

Dana Hourany

Feryal, 23, started her online shop on Instagram “Freiacrafts” right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Making jewelry from scratch and working with handmade crafts have always been her passions. A global interest in spiritual artifacts, combined with a health crisis that created fear and uncertainty, made her products invaluable in providing relief and a sense of protection to a large fan base of new-age spirituality, she told Fanack.

She offers crystal stones, incense sticks, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets at her store, which only serves customers in Tunisia. The “nazar” or “evil eye” amulet, which is typically seen in MENA households and marketplaces as a cobalt-blue circle with a pupil at its center, is, according to Feryal, her most popular item.

“In cultures across the region, it is believed to ward off the evil eye, envy, and bad luck,” Feryal told Fanack. “I cater to spiritual trends where people are heading toward a more loving, caring, self-healing trajectory.”

The Tunisian shop owner said it was in high demand and frequently requested prior to the talisman becoming a trend. Additionally, it is sold alongside a mixture of herbs such as sage, and a variety of crystals to provide added protection.

“As well as protecting one’s energy and valuables such as expensive clothes and cars, the nazar amulet is an important part of Tunisian culture and has been passed down from generation to generation,” Feryal noted.

Middle Eastern and North African cultures have long associated the evil eye with mystical protective powers. The amulet, however, has been commercialized worldwide due to global fashion trends and celebrity endorsements, which experts say could undermine its spiritual and cultural origins.

Where does the Nazar come from?

Over the past decade, evil eye imagery has been most frequently used in the fashion industry. Gigi Hadid, who announced the release of her EyeLove line of shoes with the evil eye plastered on the footwear in late 2017, and Kim Kardashian have both been spotted wearing the emblem on numerous occasions.

In Arabic, the evil eye amulet is called “Nazar” which literally means “sight” and has existed for thousands of years. In simpler terms, it is referred to as “the evil eye” since it deflects the gaze of the envious. However, its reputation precedes the recent popularity.

Early records of the evil eye date back to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was believed that people with wealth, fame, or praise faced the greatest dangers. The eyes of the envious are attributed with the power to cause mental and physical illnesses without an apparent reason.

Heliodorus of Emesa in the ancient Greek romance Aethiopica wrote on the topic saying, “When anyone looks at what is excellent with an envious eye he fills the surrounding atmosphere with a pernicious quality, and transmits his own envenomed exhalations into whatever is nearest to him.”

Other theories link it to the Egyptian deity Horus, the god of kingship and the sky. The ceramic piece of the Eye of Horus is turquoise in color, symbolizing the sun’s regenerative powers. Despite the fact that their origins are unknown, the evil eye and the Eye of Horus both have vivid blue hues, with the former having a pale blue pupil and the latter, a deep blue outer layer.

The concept is interpreted variously depending on the culture, though it is particularly common throughout the Mediterranean and West Asia. According to folklorist John Roberts’ 1976 cross-cultural survey, 36 percent of cultures in the Mediterranean, South of Sahara African, East and Southeast Asian believe in the evil eye.

The Prophet Mohammad forbade the use of talismans as an act of idolatry, according to the Qur’an in Surat Yunus 10:106: “Do not invoke besides Allah that which neither benefits you nor harms you, for if you did so then you would be wrongdoers.”
Many Muslims still wear the emblem every day in spite of this.

“Shops, markets, and homes often display this symbol to remind people to say ‘Masha’Allah’ or ‘God has willed’ to avoid emitting negative, envious energy,” Feryal said. “For this reason, I believe it works and I make sure to test it out by wearing it and carrying it around before selling it to people.”

Spirituality in times of crises

During the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers found that over 90 countries searched for the word “prayer” at soaring levels. Two-fourths of U.S. adults reported that their faith had grown stronger as a result of the pandemic, according to a 2020 Pew Research study.

Psychology experts observed that during traumatizing events such as the pandemic, individuals will often turn to prayer, personal reflection, ritual, and spiritual experts for support. As a result of these coping mechanisms, those who suffered during the pandemic feel more grounded in their daily lives.

Hassan Baydoun, a healing practitioner in Lebanon, whose name has been changed for privacy concerns told Fanack that he has noticed a rise in the number of clients who are seeking reconnection with Christianity, Islam, or traditional Eastern well-being practices including reiki, crystal healing, and acupuncture.

He claims that fear of the future, uncertainty, and the need for protection are what motivate people the most. As the situation in Lebanon deteriorated and there were greater medical shortages, in addition to the financial crisis that reduced the availability of dollars and caused the Lebanese lira’s value to plunge, people became more disgruntled and turned to alternative practices seeking solutions.

Baydoun observed that people showed a greater interest in talismans, or objects imbued with protective powers. Qur’anic inscriptions, astrological signs, and religious inscriptions are found on the Islamic talismans. Several Muslims believe that objects inscribed with the word Allah (God) have the power to protect those who read, touch, or see them.

“The evil eye amulet is the most popular talisman and the fakest,” Baydoun said. “None of these talismans work, and they only deceive people’s minds and bodies through the placebo effect.”

Such amulets can deceive people and put them in great emotional hardship, particularly if they come from a trusted religious or spiritual figure, he adds.

“As a result of their position of power, the person who recommends these amulets is easily able to manipulate people for monetary gain. When the people see that their situation isn’t improving, their faith in God will be weakened and their trust in the world will be broken,” Baydoun noted.

He claims to have deceived people by telling them they were possessed by jinns or that evil eyes were attacking them in order to test their beliefs. These false claims were quickly embraced by the victims out of fear.

“The problem with unregulated spiritual trends is that practitioners can lie to people since clients – and out of vulnerability – may not be able to distinguish between regular life force energy, that is, the natural energy flowing through the body during reiki, for example, and the sensation of jinn, a spirit usually considered evil, within them,” he said.

“I simply try to spread the necessary awareness and reassure them that they’re not possessed by any evil entity,” he continued.

A journey back to the center

According to Lebanese reiki healing practitioner Marlene Ghorayeb, the pandemic lockdowns allowed people a chance to confront difficult feelings they would otherwise have ignored in their fast-paced life.

“People grew curious of physical manifestations such as illnesses that were rooted in the spiritual and the psychological and wanted to seek answers in response to the chaos,” Ghorayeb told Fanack.

Many astrology websites witnessed increases in traffic in 2021, including Dazed Digital, which saw a 22 percent rise in traffic from horoscope-related searches compared to the previous quarter.

Amethyst, rose quartz, and tourmaline markets reportedly swamped the diamond markets, Bloomberg reported. Astrology-related books also soared in numbers. Additionally, the month of August saw a significant rise in the publication of books about astrology.

According to Ghorayeb, individuals turned to new-age spiritual practices out of fear and a desire to transform their negative experiences into a favorable consequence. But this also made them more open to marketing ploys and transient global trends.

“People would indiscriminately adopt and carry around evil eye amulets, flowers of life, and mandalas as popular fads for aesthetic reasons,” Ghorayeb explained. “Not performing the essential investigation into their function and history runs the risk of depriving these century-old symbols of their importance and erasing their meaning.”

Ghorayeb and Baydoun contend that people must research all spiritual practices to avoid being taken advantage of by con artists and profit-driven practitioners, especially in this digital age where social media marketing is more sophisticated than ever.
Although amulets like the evil eye and mandalas have been used in the MENA region for centuries and will continue to be used in this way, Ghorayeb and Baydoun assert that people must remain mindful and discerning.

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