Sunday, June 22, 2014

Evil Eye 2: Electric Boogaloo

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” --The book of Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 17, also known as #10 in the ten commandments.

Time for a true confession: I've always kind of thought that commandment ten was kind of a lesser commandment among the ten commandments. I mean, number barely makes the list, right?

I no longer feel that way. Coveting, or what we might call jealousy or envy, inspires some pretty terrible acts. It's what led Cain to kill his brother Abel, in the first murder in the religious canon of the Abramic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

The Evil Eye is a concept found across cultures and in many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam). The basic idea is that jealousy or envy is a real invisible spiritual force, and that it can harm the object of envy or jealousy. One of the traditional remedies for this malevolent force is deflecting compliments. It was believed that compliments drew God's attention to your good fortune, and that upon reflection God might decide you were too blessed, so responding to a compliment about how nice you look with "This old thing? I've had it for ages," could very well be a cultural vestige of a belief in the evil eye.

Another common remedy for the evil eye is the use of protective talismans, such as jewelry or a symbol hung outside of your home.  

I personally find such "protective" items sold in stores, such as jewelry and t-shirts, stylish and visually appealing, but they take on the problem of coveting from the opposite side of the tenth commandment. The commandment aims to protect people from the evils that arise from coveting others by getting everyone to work on their own covetous behavior. It's fair to characterize this as idealistic. After all, Naomi Campbell and Kim Kardashian aren't just using evil eye jewelry to ward off crazy fans and others who might seek to harm them out of jealousy. They don't hesitate to employ a security detail as well. 

If wearing an evil eye bracelet or hanging a hamsa hand symbol on your wall reminds you to keep your own feelings of envy and jealousy in check, great. But wearing jewelry is no substitute for doing real spiritual work.   Working on envy requires a few simple steps. 
  1. Becoming aware of envy. Envy is all around. We envy others and are envied by others. It's a normal impulse, but it's easy to let it get out of hand. 
  2. Practice gratitude. When you start to envy someone else, take a moment to count your blessings and say a prayer of thanksgiving for what you do have.  
  3. Ask for God to heal your own envy. If you have envied others, even if you haven't done anything about it or told anyone, ask God to remove your envy and replace it with gratitude. 
  4. Pray for those whose envy of you is leading them to act to harm you. Ask God to intercede, to provide protection to all parties involved and to heal the relationship.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Evil Eye

Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

Sarah looks upon her servant Hagar, who, like her, has born a child to Sarah's husband Abraham, with envy. This type of envy has long been seen as a powerful malevolent spiritual force, and in many cultures it is referred to as "the evil eye."  These glass talismans, known as "evil eyes," are believed by some to offer protection against the spiritual force of this kind of envy. I don't know about you, but I find them both beautiful and creepy looking. I've been seeing them more and more lately. Michael's crafts currently has an entire section devoted to charms, beads and pendants featuring the evil eye. Do I believe that someone can look on another with envy and, without even intending to, cause harm, but that a piece of glass can prevent such injury? No, of course not. And I think most modern people who wear them do so less because they believe that they offer spiritual protection and more as a fashion statement. Still, there is a lot of ancient wisdom behind the concept of the evil eye. One of the ideas about envy is that it poisons both parties--both the envied and the one who envies. 

I don't think it is possible to go through life without feeling at least a few twinges of envy. I do think that how we respond to our own feelings of envy, and to being envied by others, can help us to improve the quality of our own lives. Giving in to envy can lead to a kind of insanity. In extreme cases it even leads to murder. Learning to be happy with our own lives and decisions and not trying to become an object of envy or to envy others takes real spiritual work. I think churches should help members learn spiritual practices from our own traditions that can help protect us from the very real harmful behaviors that result from giving in to envy and other powerful negative emotions.