Number Seven in the monthly Uppity Women Wednesday Series, started in April, 2014.
Fightin' the fascinatin' evil eye
Two thousand years ago, Greek and Roman folks shared an obsessive fear of the demonic power of the human eye. They called it "fascination." And what tool did they think was potent enough to ward off the evil eye? The fascinus, which was their everyday word for the human penis.
Why was the male sex organ the ancient "solution"? And why did they agonize so much over a surly glance cast their way? I'll tell you - we don't know. We do know they had plenty of genuine worries already: rabid dogs, wars, famine, infection, plagues, pirates, the scary risks of childbirth. Still, they stressed out even more about supernatural matters like oculus fascinus, "the unlucky glance that poisons."
Your average Greek in the street (and his leaders as well) believed that the unaided human eye could inflict injuries or death on animals, humans, vegetation, and even inanimate objects. To cope, they carried out evil-eye fumigation ceremonies, arcane rituals, and "protective" measures year-round, especially in October and November.
Babies were given "protective" teething rings made of coral that had been carved into anatomically correct penile shapes. Since children of all ages were thought to be more susceptible to evil-eye fatalities, they wore these little fascinums of bronze or gold around their necks 24/7. Some of these phalluses had eyes and/or wings to make them even more vigilant! Adults also wore evil-eye charms on their clothing as well as their vehicles, from carts to chariots. Folks of old also added phallic protection to doorways, workplaces, and the family hearth.
Other high-risk targets for "fascination" included baby animals, new brides, generals celebrating military triumphs, and field crops. One of the earliest Roman laws ever passed sought to protect crops from "the enchantment of the fields."
Evil-eye-defeating phalluses still fill museums and ancient sites from Pompeii to Delphi, and continue to shock and awe tourists today. As a result, these visitors tend to read more into the sex lives of the ancients than was probably the case.
Other ancient amulets aimed at thwarting the evil eye also exist today in vast quantities, and are often shaped like animal horns, frogs, or crickets. As any traveler knows, today's favorite is the blue-eye glass bead, still found (and worn) everywhere in Greece, Turkey, and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
Vampire chicks and equal opportunity bogeywomen