Praise and the evil eye


After two hours in a shuttle from Chisinau to Bucharest, we took a break at a gas station. Just in front of my seat, a woman was holding her 6 months old baby in her arms. We came out of the shuttle, and my wife started speaking with this lady, complementing the wonderful behavior of the child. “Such a nice girl!” she said. “Aren’t you the best child?”

The little girl smiled to my wife and waved her hands erratically. However, the demeanor of her mom changed: “No, stop it!” she said. “Don’t say that, you’ll charm her and she’ll cry! No, I’m not a good girl,” she started saying, as if she was the child herself. “I am bad; I am the worse; I am not good!” And then, trying to avoid to be seen, she took her hand to her behind. There is a Romanian saying, that sounds this way: “Cum nu se deoache fundul meu, asa sa nu se deoache copilul meu!” In English it would be something like this: “As my bottom is not charmed, may it be that my child is not charmed either!”

The lady was referring to the evil eye–a superstitious belief that, in large terms, says that people can cause misfortune to someone else when they look at them with envy or evil thoughts. This does not mean that the lady believed my wife was not well-intended. It was rather a more “Romanian” understanding of “evil eye.” In this case, the lady was afraid that my wife’s praise may actually take away from the child’s protection, may open her to the mercy of evil forces.

Indeed, traditional cultures from the East seem to believe that pride is the root of all evil. On the one hand, praise may lead to pride. On the other hand, and this was, I think, the case with this mother and her child, where praise is, the devil comes as well. From the mother’s point of view, the child was at the mercy of evil forces. If anyone said something good, these forces, the demons, would hear immediately and come as a legion. The odd reaction of that mother had something to do with this; she did not want to attract possible evil powers.

And, sure enough, when we went back into the shuttle, the child started to cry. Of course, it may have been because she had too many clothes on her (Romanians are famous for overdressing their children), as my wife and I thought. Or she may have been tired; or her teeth were coming out. But her mom did not think of any of these reasons. For her, the child was attacked. So, between her “shh, shh, shh, shh” sounds, she said from time to time, “Dear child, the Lord with you!”

Was the child attacked by evil forces? What do I know about this? But what I know is that before we talked about it, the child was silent; once we brought this fact into the light, once we stated it and gave it a name, things were disturbed. Even if the child remained silent, things were still disturbed. We talked about it. But was there any need to do so?

Lucian Blaga, a Romanian philosopher and poet, who apparently did not speak before he was four years old, says something like this:

“I do not crush the corolla of the world’s miracles.” Eu nu strivesc corola de minuni a lumii.

Perhaps we did.


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
This entry was posted in Bessarabia, Orthodoxy, Romania. Bookmark the permalink.

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