Wednesday, 6 July 2011

My Grandmother and the Evil Eye

When I was a kid, maybe seven years old, my grandmother had this ritual she used to perform every Saturday evening. It was meant to remove all the "evil eyes" that were allegedly inflicting themselves on me all week long at school, you see.

So this is what she did:

She would take a handful of mustard seeds and a few dried red chillies, and wave it around my head and body as I sat doing my homework. Then she would go off and burn it.

If it gave off a stink, that meant that the evil spirits were being burned off and it proved that I'd been targeted by envious ill-wishers during the week. If there was no stink (I wonder how she determined that there wasn't a stink because anyone who's burned a dried chilli knows what it smells like) that meant that the next week she'd have to be doubly vigilant, because of course all those evil spirits would be even more anxious to permeate my body.

Then there was the thing about nail-clipping. You shouldn't clip your nails after dark, and you should never, ever, clip them on Saturday. Nor should you have your hair cut on Thursday. Why not? Even she didn't know. But that's what she'd grown up hearing, so that's what she internalised.

I don't mean to say she was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. For her time (she was born in 1908 and lived till 2001) she was extremely liberal, to the extent that she was far more liberal than most members of my dad's generation. And long before she died, she accepted that all the rituals were horseshit. Of course, I'd made a point of deliberately disobeying all those commandments, to her face, years ago, without any ill-effect. She couldn't ignore that, and didn't try.

I still want to know how she smelt those evil spirits in the burning chilli, though.


  1. Bill, I wrote a piece about my grandmother (it's no longer online, but I'll share it with you if you like) - she was a Fundie moonbat who lived in the hinterlands of Virginia and went to a church where the parishioners climbed the stovepipes, rolled in the aisles, drooled and gibbered uncontrollably ('speaking in tongues' is what they call it.)

    She believed in the 'evil eye', also.

    There are a lot of Hooterville-dwelling superstitious Christ-worshipers in the back-country of rural America who believe in 'the touch' and other likeminded-voodoo.

    In retrospect, your grandmother and mine probably had more in common than not.

    Did she chase you with a rolling pin, also?

  2. No, it was my mom who chased me with a brass spoon.

    I'd like to read of your grandmother, Will. The difference is mine wasn't really religious at all; she just couldn't break away from her childhood programming.


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