The Evil Eye and the Meaning of the Blue Bead

Posted by Cengiz Arik on

Shop visitors and friends may be familiar with the big, glassy, blue, eye amulets that hang throughout Import Corner, but we’d suspect that not everyone knows of their significance.  These large blue talismans are more than just lovely decorations, though they are certainly that as well.

In Turkish, we call these eyes Nazar boncuğu, which means “blue bead,” and those who’ve had the good fortune to visit Turkey know that they can be seen on nearly every surface. You’ll see them dangling from rear-view mirrors, adorning school children’s backpacks, pinned to the garments of babies and children, and hanging in doorways of businesses and homes.  Nazar are also given as gifts for many special occasions. For example, they are a gift when friends have just had a baby or moved into a new home, and to foreigners to protect them during their stay in Turkey.

Protective Nazar are not only found in Turkey.  As a legacy of the Turkish Ottoman Empire they can also be found in Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Herzegovina, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Romania, and Syria.

The Nazar is an amulet believed to protect the wearer or property owner from the “evil eye” (kem göz or kem gözler – pl.).  The evil eye refers to a curse that is cast with a malevolent glare, and receiving this evil eye causes great misfortune to its unknowing recipient. Displaying the large, blue, staring eye is meant to turn the malicious gaze back onto the sorcerer who cast it. If the nazar talisman is broken for whatever reason, it is believed that it has served its purpose and protected the person wielding it from the evil eye being cast upon them.

Making the Turkish “eye bead” (göz boncuğu) is a respected master trade that originated in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago. Men learned the craft from their fathers and will sit at blazing hot furnaces to twist, shape, and color the glass with the concentric circles of dark blue, white, light blue, and black. The roots of the few remaining eye bead masters still practicing this tradition today go back to the Arabian artisans of Izmir, on Turkey’s western Aegean coast, during the decline of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century.

The staring blue eye can also be found at the center of the Hamsa hand, a hand-shaped talisman used to ward off the evil eye (much like the Nazar) in West Asia. Hamsa, also spelled khamsa and hamesh, means "five" in Arabic, referring to the fingers of the hand. In Muslim cultures, like that of Turkey, the Hamsa is known as the Hand of Fatima, while Jewish cultures refer to it as the Hand of Miriam, and Christian cultures The Hand of Mary.

Protective motifs similar to the eye and the Hamsa hand are commonly women into tribal kilim rugs as well. Such motifs include a cross (haç) to divide the evil eye into four, a hook (çengel) to destroy the evil eye, or a human eye (göz) to avert the evil eye’s gaze.

To see examples of these motifs in kilim rug patterns, or Nazar and Hamsa talismans, simply ask a friendly shop associate the next time you visit our store.

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