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To Máti: The Greek Evil Eye

The “máti” (pronounced mah-tee), or “evil eye” (literal translation of the word mati [μάτι] means “eye” in English) is a supernatural belief thought by many throughout Greece and Cyprus to be a sort of curse brought about by being exposed to another individual's negative intentions and emotions, such as anger, jealousy, or unhappiness. It can also be referred to as the "kakó máti" (κακό μάτι). The origins of the máti in Greece can be traced back to ancient times; it was a common theme in Greek literature. Although this belief or at least a similar derivative is present in some form among various cultures, Greeks and the Greek diaspora community take the máti very seriously.

Here’s a practical example: you’ve just gotten all dolled up to attend a gathering - your shoes match your outfit, your hair and makeup look flawless, and you’re feeling great. You enjoy yourself and have a fantastic time at the event, but at the end of the night you start to feel unwell. You may feel dizzy or lethargic or you might get a headache and feel as if you are hungover. You might even experience a suspicious string of bad luck. In simple terms, this is negative energy or bad vibes. Before you know it, you can tell something is not right. You begin to wonder what is going on - you’ve just had a great night! What has happened? Why now? At the event, it's likely that you attracted admiration, and with that you’ve also been given “the máti.” In Greek, this occurrence translates to “you have been eyed” (σε μάτιασαν).

This phenomenon is believed to happen for a variety of reasons:

  • perhaps people were gossiping about you

  • somebody was jealous of you

  • somebody was admiring you

  • somebody associated with you with negative intentions in mind

Interestingly, some parts of Greece also believe that those with green or blue eyes possess the ability to more easily give someone else the máti.

Artwork above in Syros depicts lyrics to the song 'Oloi oi Rembetes tou Ntounia' (All the rembetes [rebetika players] in the world”) by artist Markos Vamvakaris.

What happens if you get the máti?

Typically, nothing major happens to you aside from some bothersome symptoms like lack of energy, headaches, stomachaches, or a hungover feeling. You may experience weakness, stress, tension, a strong desire to sleep, brain fog, unusual negativity, or just plain bad luck. If one or more of the above symptoms occurs suddenly, there is a chance that someone might have given you the máti.

There are some things you can do if you feel you have been cursed. The process of getting rid of the negative energy caused by getting the máti is called ksemátiasma (ξεμάτιασμα). This process varies regionally, but is most commonly a set of rituals involving some sort of chant performed by someone who has the healing power to remove the negative energy. In my husband's family, his aunt possesses this power and knows how to heal someone who has the máti. In some cases, prayers are also recited to help heal the person. It is a common belief that as the negative energy of the máti leaves the afflicted person’s body, that individual, as well as the person performing the rituals, will both begin to yawn. However, watery eyes, crying, or another type of bodily release are also said to signify that the máti is leaving the person’s body.

There is another "test" involving olive oil and water (sometimes holy water) which may be used to determine whether or not the evil eye has left someone. When a drop of olive oil is dropped into a glass or bowl of water, it is believed that if the oil floats then the evil eye has been cast out. Contrarily, if the oil sinks, the evil eye remains. There are other tests involving water and oil which vary by region and tradition.

Máti themed cookies at a baptism.

How can you avoid getting the máti?

According to those who believe in this curse, there are a variety of precautions you can take to avoid the máti:

  • Wearing a special evil eye charm is often believed to help ward off the curse from latching on to you. You will see this charm everywhere in Greece: inside of restaurants, set up as a decoration, on jewelry and accessories, inside of some churches, and in artwork. The eye can be worn as a pendant, keychain, charm, piece of jewelry, or even as part of a manicure (see below)!

Máti manicure, anyone?

  • Garlic - carrying around a garlic clove or hanging some up near the entrance of a home is said to help ward off the máti

  • Spitting - as gross as it sounds, sometimes people do spit on the ground near someone to prevent him or her from getting the máti. This is commonly seen with newborn babies and young children as their family members say the words “ftou ftou” or “ftou sou” (this is a sound that is supposed to symbolize the sound of someone spitting) over the child to protect him or her

  • Throwing salt over your shoulder

The concept of the evil eye also exists in countless other cultures around the world. For example, in Turkey, they use a nazar, a glass amulet believed to protect against the evil eye. Similar to the Greek belief, in Mexico and parts of Central America babies are believed to be more susceptible to the evil eye or mal de ojo and are thus given an amulet bracelet with an eye painted on as protection. In some Jewish cultures, the evil eye is part of the Jewish folk tradition and is even mentioned in some Rabbinic texts. It is common to see people wearing a hamsa or a talisman depicting a hand as protection from the evil eye. So, whether you call it malocchio (Italian), mata jahat (Malay), or máti, I hope you have learned something about this interesting cultural belief.

Whether or not you believe fully in the evil eye, stay safe out there. Ftou, ftou! ;)


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