Black Magic and Evil Eye

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Magic has probably been practiced since the beginning of recorded history. It evolved out of a need to explain and control an environment that was often hostile and deadly. The world, the sky, the stars and planets, birth, illness, and death were but a few of the many things that puzzled early humans. These must have seemed mysterious and controlled by unknown, powerful forces. Efforts to explain the world's mysteries, and to find ways to control at least some of them, gave rise to many magical practices and rituals to manipulate the weather, the movement of animals, fertility, illness, death, and other seemingly uncontrollable forces. In the process of exploring and explaining their world, people began to evolve a primitive science, which would eventually lead to a greater understanding of astronomy, medicine, chemistry, and other natural sciences.

Over the thousands of years that magic has been evolving it has taken on many different forms, including shamanistic magic, which involves leaving the body and communing with otherworldly spirits and teachers; tribal magic, which is practiced by more primitive cultures to influence spirits associated with the tribal group and to counter evil sorcery directed at them; voodoo, a mix of West African religions, Christianity, and local beliefs present in the West Indies at the time of the slave trade; witchcraft, originated as a synthesis of various folk religious practices and mythologies from the Middle Ages; and Satanism, the worship of the devil.

Magic is practiced in many different forms including thaumaturgy, sympathetic magic, and divination. Thaumaturgy is associated with miracle working that rises above the laws governing the physical nature of reality and is most notably found in such practices as giving blessings, performing magical healing, and in curses designed to bring harm to another. Sympathetic magic is based on the principle of "like producing like." For instance, in voodoo this would take the form of a voodoo doll representing someone whom the user wishes to harm by placing pins into the doll with the expectation of causing pain and/or death to that person. It may also be used to drive away evil by creating a representation of that evil and then doing something to it to destroy or send it away. Divination is yet another form of magical practice in which one seeks to look into the future. Diviners, those who seek to foresee or foretell the future, may use a variety of methods including cards, bones, the entrails of animals, runes, or other devices. Reading one's horoscope is a form of divination that relies on the movement of the stars and planets to guide one's intuition and behaviors in daily life.

Black magic is a type of magic that is often used to bring harm to another person. It is strongly associated with the devil and was thought to be practiced by witches who had made pacts with the devil during the Salem witch trials of 1692. It is used to call forth the powers of darkness and evil in an attempt to control natural forces through the use of spells, incantations, and other means. White magic is the opposite of black magic, and is not thought to cause harm to others. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, however, as both seek to control natural forces and both are thought to have the potential to bring harm, even when the harm is unintended (as in the use of a love charm to control another's feelings). While many people do not believe in black magic, there are also many who do. For believers, either practicing the magic or being the recipient of an evil spell, hex, or other form of harm is very real.

Witchcraft has seen a resurgence in the twentieth century with neo-pagan, Wiccan, and Dianic traditions spreading throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and Australia. Black magic is also still practiced in many traditional cultural groups around the world including the United States, where it may be seen among voodoo practitioners, brujos, and others who practice the black arts. Evil Eye is an old and fairly widespread superstition found in the Mediterranean and Aegean areas as well as among Hispanic population groups in the United States, Mexico, Central, and South America. It goes by many names including mal occhia in Italy, ayin harsha in Arabic cultures, and mal de ojo in Hispanic cultures. It is also known as bad eye, narrow eye, the look, and the wounding eye. A person with this power can cause another person harm merely by looking at them. This belief is felt in some cultures to be tied directly to the heart, and a person with the evil eye is often covetous or jealous of something that belongs to another. It is believed that anyone can have this power, though it is often ascribed more to elderly women. The possessor of the evil eye may not be aware that he or she possesses it, and any harm that is inflicted is usually unintentional. For those who use it intentionally, the evil eye is linked to witchcraft, sorcery, and black magic.

Among Hispanic cultures, mal de ojo is a folk illness caused by evil eye that can cause a child's blood to heat up and can lead to a variety of physical problems, including diarrhea, upset stomach, fever, vomiting, and inconsolable crying. Treatment requires the services of a traditional health practitioner, who may use prayer or other approaches to resolve the illness. Evil eye can be counteracted using a variety of methods and devices, including amulets worn around the neck and certain magical practices and prayers. As with black magic, belief in the evil eye is a problem that is sometimes encountered by modern health practitioners. In such instances the practitioner needs to recognize the patient's beliefs, and possibly include elements of traditional remedies along with modern medical approaches to treat the symptoms. Often, however, belief in such powers can keep people from seeking needed medical attention.

Robert M. Huff

(see also: Cultural Appropriateness; Ethnicity and Health; Faith Healers; Shamanic Healing )


Carroll, R. T. "The Evil Eye." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Available at

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Huff, R., and Kline, M. (1999). Promoting Health in Multicultural Populations: A Handbook for Practitioners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Whitcomb, B. (1999). The Magician's Companion: A Practical and Encyclopedic Guide to Magical and Religious Symbolism. St. Paul, MN: Llwellyn Publications.