Black pupil, light blue iris, white circle, cobalt blue background. The Nazar’s eye, with its characteristic gradient, is omnipresent in Turkey. The popular talisman, which is said to protect against the “evil eye”, looks down on people at almost every corner. It adorns house facades, car mirrors and prams. It is worn as jewelry around the neck, on the arm or on a bunch of keys. Even cows are sometimes given a nazar eye.

The blue eye has long since found favor outside of Türkiye. In the west, the superstitious symbol became a fashion trend a few years ago – since then, the Nazar eye has even appeared as an emoji on cell phone keyboards. While the amulet is mainly used as a decorative object in this country, the belief in the “evil eye” is still widespread in Turkey. Ekmel Gecer, associate professor of social psychology at Marmara University in Istanbul, explains in an interview with the star what he has to do with the myth.

The superstitious amulet has a long tradition in the Orient, going back several thousand years. In Turkish the talisman is called “Nazar Boncuğu”. The word “nazar” comes from Arabic and means “to stare at someone or something” or “to look at,” explains Ekmel Gecer, whose research interests include social and human sciences and cultural psychology. “Boncuk” means “pearl”. The Nazar-Eye is translated as the “Pearl of the Eye”.

In general usage, however, the eye is usually referred to as the “evil eye”, which, according to the expert, “indicates what “Nazar Boncuğu” is used for”: To protect against a curse rooted in envy and resentment and with the “evil eye ” is transmitted. “If you look jealously at something or someone, the look can harm that person or thing,” says the professor. A kind of hypnosis is supposed to take place via the eyes. The malicious gaze can result in injury, illness, minor misfortunes, and endless streaks of bad luck. That’s what popular belief says.

“The belief in the ‘evil eye’ is ancient and pervasive,” states the Encyclopedia Britannica. The exact origin of the myth cannot be determined. “The belief in the negative effects of the ‘evil eye’ is said to have originated in ancient Egypt,” reports Ekmel Gecer. Others hold that the roots of the “evil eye” lie in Mesopotamia. “India and Pakistan also have very similar cultures,” says the professor. Equally unresolved is the question of whether popular belief developed out of a religious and cultural context. “Religion, culture and ethnicity are all mixed up on the subject.”

What is certain is that it is largely a superstition – and that it has spread around the world. Belief in the “evil eye” spans cultures and generations. In ancient Greece and Rome, in Buddhist and Hindu traditions, among indigenous tribes up to modern times, almost every people has its own legend about the “evil eye”.

In Turkey, according to Ekmel Gecer, the tradition of the “evil eye” probably dates back to a time when the people still lived as nomads, a time “before the Turks encountered Islam”. Even then, people would have worn tiny stones around their necks as amulets to protect themselves from evil spirits and “evil eyes”. The nomads are also said to have hung these chains around their horses’ necks to ward off bad energy they might encounter along the way. Over time, the simple stone pendant became the blue eye. A typical “Nazar Boncuğu” talisman is nowadays handmade from colored glass paste.

The Nazar-Eye is meant to reflect the envious gaze of others: “According to the principle of analogy, the source of evil can only be destroyed by its equivalent,” write the scientists Saliha Türkmenoğlu Berkan and Bilgen Tuncer Manzakoğlu in their 2016 publication in the “Turkish Online Journal of Desgin, Art and Communication” published a study on the Nazar eye. Accordingly, the “evil eye” should be distracted by the amulet from the actual recipient. “‘Nazar Boncuğu’ will attract and absorb the bad energy even if the ‘evil eyes’ stare at you for minutes,” Ekmel Gecer explains the popular belief. Those who want to protect themselves from jealous people should carry the Nazar eye with them.

Popular belief also holds that colored (green and especially blue) eyes have more energy. Since there were hardly any people with blue eyes in Turkey for genetic reasons, it was believed that they had extraordinary powers – and that “children should be hidden from those with blue eyes to protect them from evil spirits and looks”, says the professor. On the other hand, the color would also have symbolized “the divine, the infinite”, since blue was considered the sacred color of the sky in ancient Byzantine culture. “Blue gives people a feeling of peace, tranquility, security,” says the expert. The color reflects the contrast that makes “Nazar Boncuğu”: The talisman and its color stand for the “evil eye”, but at the same time for protection against it.

Religion has also strengthened popular belief. “When the Turks converted to Islam, they found a similar culture,” reports Ekmel Gecer. “The ‘evil eye’ is real and if anything surpassed divine decree it would be the evil eye,” the Islamic prophet Muhammad is said to have said. The bad energy that can emanate from a look is part of several narrations of the Prophet. Another verse in the Koran calls for seeking refuge in Allah from the harmful influences of the envious.

“I think folk belief and Islam approach the evil eye from different perspectives,” says Ekmel Gecer. “Nazar Boncuğu” or amulets do not exist in Islam. The popular belief is therefore an extended form of the “evil eye” mentioned by Muhammad. ‘This expansion took the form of a superstition that encompasses almost all parts and phases of life,’ explains the professor. The intersection of culture and religion has made the Nazar eye a deeply rooted element of Turkish identity: “When something cultural corresponds to religion or vice versa, it becomes much more powerful.”

To this day, many people in Turkey believe in the “evil eye” from which one must arm oneself. This is shown, for example, by the study by Saliha Türkmenoğlu Berkan and Bilgen Tuncer Manzakoğlu. In a survey conducted by the researchers, 84 percent of the 122 participants confirmed that they believe in the “evil eye”. 72 percent also stated that they protect themselves from the curse. However, only 17.8 percent use the Nazar amulet. The majority (41.8 percent) stated that they ward off the “evil eye” with the help of prayer. Many consider the “evil eye” to be real, but not the protective effect of “Nazar Boncuğu,” affirms Ekmel Gecer.

Nevertheless, the Nazar eye has a high emotional value because it symbolizes culture and tradition. For many people, the talisman is also a way of honoring their ancestors, says the professor. “As a result, some people carry it in their pockets, others use it as part of a larger accessory, and still others hang it on their entryway wall or indoor walls.” Since, according to popular belief, the “evil eye” can strike people anywhere and cause them suffering, the Nazar amulet can be found in many places in everyday life. Those who believe the talisman does have a protective function also sometimes believe that a broken eye — if it falls down and breaks, for example — did its job and successfully absorbed the curse, the expert said.

The belief in the “evil eye” is so ingrained in Turkish culture that it can affect individual behavior in everyday life. In order to avoid the disaster, it is important to behave accordingly, explains the professor. The illustrator Eda Uzunlar describes it as “envy-avoidant behavior” in the “Washington Post”. Since envy is usually triggered by success, wealth or beauty, according to Ekmel Gecer “it is better not to wear such glittering clothes, to be modest and not particularly attractive and to avoid showing off”. One should use less social media – or at least not share everything. “Followers may be jealous of what we post, and this can lead to bad energies coming towards us and harming us,” is probably the most modern version of the old folk belief.

Women who are pregnant or about to get married, as well as animals and children, are considered to be particularly susceptible to the “evil eye”. When hearing compliments (“But you have a sweet child”), it is better to say “Maşallah” (“Allah has willed it”) or “Barakallah” (“Allah’s blessings be upon him/her”) afterwards to prepare yourself to protect against the bad energy that the words may carry, explains the professor. He emphasizes that many people are unaware of the misfortune that an “evil eye” can transport: “They may not have bad intentions, but their energy can cause objects to break and people to get sick, for example.”

Therefore, to be on the safe side, anyone admiring anything extraordinary, beautiful, or amazing should say a prayer. The Nazar eye, on the other hand, has no meaning in religion. Ekmel Gecer does not believe in its protective function either. “Therefore, it is usually a great decorative object,” says the expert. In the study from the Turkish Online Journal of Design, Art and Communication, the talisman is described as “a way of offering best wishes to someone who has a new house, a new car, or is beginning a new chapter in their life.”

Finally, the Nazar eye is also a symbol of “how culture is monetized,” says Ekmel Gecer: “Popular culture is a part of the culture industry and capitalism. Anything with colorful patterns that belongs to old traditions can be easily monetized make.”

In addition, nostalgia and belief in miracles could play a role: “The desire to know the unseen, the desire to see the invisible”. Once you convince people that “Nazar Boncuğu” protects against negative energy, it will definitely sell, according to the professor. This marketing has worked extremely successfully: the black eye has long since conquered a permanent place in popular culture. In Turkey, in Germany – and in the rest of the world.

Quellen: Encyclopedia Britannica, NDR, “Turkish Online Journal of Desgin, Art and Communication”, “Washington Post”