power of the eye symbol

The evil eye in jewellery

What is the point of evil eye jewellery? Beads in the shape of an eye are a familiar sight all over the world, and it is a shape that goes back at least 3,500 years. What does it represent, and which other forms may eye jewellery take? In this article, I’ll explore how the symbol of the eye appears in jewellery, and what it means.

Let’s start by addressing what the evil eye is…

In essence, the evil eye is nothing else than jealousy or envy. I suppose we can all relate to what that feels like: that moment when you realize someone is jealous of you, or something you have achieved, or something you own, that moment makes the hairs on your arms stand up and your spine tingle. You awkwardly try to divert their attention to something else by changing the topic of your conversation, but the harm has been done. And the thing is, you have seen it in their eyes as well as in their behaviour. That glance, that look, that split second? That was the evil eye being cast at you.

Jealousy may leave us feeling anxious, threatened, insecure or even betrayed – jealousy affects our basic need of feeling safe and valued, so no wonder this feeling has been believed to bring visible and material harm as well. In the Aures Mountains, Algeria, it was reported that with every glance cast a jinn traveled along with it, and that jinn would harm the person or the thing that the glance was directed at. [1]

Evil eye symbolism draws on that looking and staring.

The eye is called ‘ayn al -hasad (‘eye of envy’) or nazar (‘glance, look)’ The concept of envy has been visualized in a symbol that captures it all: the eye. Envy and jealously arise from something you’ve seen, and it is transmitted through glares and glances. The eye represents both aspects: becoming jealous, and showing it.

Incidentally, you may have experienced that openly staring at something or someone for too long is considered inappropriate in many cultures: that is that same act of looking that may make a person feel uneasy. Even if it is not because of jealousy, but out of admiration! Staring too long in either case is inappropriate, and being too vocal about your admiration of someone or something may alert jinn, who are known to turn jealous easily…and we’re back to square one.

The eye is a universal symbol that has been in use since the early civilizations, so it is not unique to Islam only, and it is not unique to one particular country either. The history of the eye can be traced back to the distant past: in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the concept of the evil eye was already known. [2] Eye beads have been found in archaeological excavations across the Mediterranean and throughout Europe.

How and why is the evil eye used in jewellery?

And that brings me to the question how the evil eye is integrated into jewellery, and what its purpose is. Here, I will focus on jewellery in the shape of an eye only. The eye symbol is not just a symbol, putting a shape to that complex, uneasy feeling, but is sometimes also thought of as an entity of its own. And jewellery counteracts that concept of the evil eye through a huge variety of forms, shapes and guises: this blog series highlights many of those amuletic capacities of jewellery. One of those is jewellery in the shape of an actual eye, so let’s look at that next.

What is evil eye jewellery?

Basically, jewellery in the shape of an eye is the first line of defense against such malicious glances. The idea is not that the wearer is casting the evil eye herself, but it works more along the lines of mirroring and deflecting. The moment ‘that’ look is shot in your direction, it will be met with a counter-gaze. That is where jewellery in the form of an actual eye gets its power from. Usually, these will be glass beads in the shape of an eye, but there are a few other forms as well that take the form of an eye. Banded agate for example can be fashioned into eye-beads, and has been used as such for at least two millennia. Cowrie shells may be used as a ‘stand-in’ for an eye too, as they resemble the shape of a half-closed eye. [3]

Are evil eye beads bad, then?

That’s a question I hear a lot. The term ‘evil eye jewellery’ or ‘evil eye beads’ has become so commonplace that we would almost forget that this is a contraption of two different things: the evil eye itself (a bad thing), and the eye symbol that is believed to work against it (a good thing). The eye beads on charm bracelets and necklaces are not evil themselves – they deflect evil. Whether you feel comfortable wearing them is a matter of your own values, but historically, eye beads and eye jewellery are not designed as evil. They serve to counteract evil.

And what about the blue in evil eye jewellery?

Historically, these evil eye beads appear as blue eyes. That is of course related to the cultural importance of the colour blue, to the relative rarity of people with blue eyes around the Mediterranean (‘relative’, mind you – they did and do exist), but also to the limits of technical possibilities in the past. Nowadays, you’ll find eye beads in all colours including yellow, pink, orange or green. These are marketed with nifty sales pitches, promoting various amuletic capacities for every colour: I found pink eye beads plugged as serving ‘love’, but also to ‘neutralize disorder’ or ‘protecting friendships’. Here, it would seem the millennia old eye symbol is now being merged with modern-day interpretations of colours and their perceived powers.

That is a great example of perhaps the oldest amulet symbol in the world still being used and acquiring new meanings today, developing along with the changing needs, spiritual convictions and economic savy of today’s world.

Where can I learn more about evil eye beads and jewellery?

Find out more about the histories behind amulets in the e-course on Amulets and Magic in Jewellery!

Or start by downloading the free e-book on amulets and jewellery here.

More posts on jewellery and amulets? Browse them all here!

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[1] Hilton-Simpson, 1915. Some Algerian superstitions noted among the Shawia Berbers of the Aures Mountains and their nomad neighbours, in: Folklore Vol. 26 No. 3, p. 228.

[2] S. Gunther & D. Pielow (eds) 2018. Geheimnisse der Oberen und Unteren Welt. Magie im Islam zwischen Glaube und Wissenschaft, p. 29.

[3] Hilton-Simpson, 1915. Some Algerian superstitions noted among the Shawia Berbers of the Aures Mountains and their nomad neighbours, in: Folklore Vol. 26 No. 3, p. 229.

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. Her main field of expertise is jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as archaeological and archaeological revival jewellery. She has authored several books on jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Turquoise Mountain Jordan, and many others. She provides consultancy and research on jewellery collections for both museums and private collections, teaches courses and curates exhibitions. She is not involved in the business of buying and selling jewellery, and focuses on research, knowledge production, and education only.