Saturday, February 6, 2021

Greek Superstitions Meet Modern Times




It’s been a very hectic week, most notably highlighted by a Nor’easter snowstorm bringing record snowfalls to my part of northwestern   New Jersey, including nearly thirty inches (76 cm) to our farm.  That got me to thinking about the last post I’d written following a Nor’easter, so I went off into the files and found it—way back in 2012.

However, it wasn’t about snow. It was about superstitions and how there are no people I know of more superstitious than the Greeks.  


Whatever my reason back then for making that segue from snow to superstitions is lost to me. But as I read through that decade-old post, I was struck by the significant impact today’s mandated and common sense pandemic practices must be having on the truly superstitious.  And not just in Greece, for many Greek superstitions are shared in different forms among other world cultures.


For example, take spitting. Though I don’t consider myself superstitious, permit me a moment to say ftou, ftou, ftou, representing the Greek superstition of spitting three times to chase the devil and misfortune away whenever you talk about bad things.  Such as a generator failing, a roof leaking, or the positive Covid test result we all fear.


So on to some of the basic Greek superstitions, for which I wish to credit the assistance of two websites, The Embassy of Greece and Susie Atsaides.


Without question, the biggie is the Evil Eye.  In fact, many other Greek superstitions are designed to deal with risks presented by the Evil Eye.  It can strike at any time, and is taken very seriously.  Educated, level-headed people believe in it, as does the Greek Orthodox Church (calling it Vaskania), and those with the “gift” for casting it away from those put upon by the Evil Eye are revered.


The process of casting away involves techniques passed down in secret from generation to generation and involves prayers coupled with a lot of yawning by healer and victim.  In these modern days, I’ve seen healers perform the process over cell phones, or respond without any sort of contact with the victim beyond an SMS or email plea for help.   

In a nutshell, the Evil Eye can be put on you, your children, your livestock or your fruit trees by anyone who looks at them with envy and praises them.  Envy is the big villain in this.


The number one defense against the Evil Eye is the little blue eyes or mati sold virtually everywhere in Greece.  Greeks drape them around their necks, wrists, rearview mirrors and in myriads of places in their offices and homes. It is the universal protector. All of which is attributed to the color blue that is said to reflect away evil.  I guess that means the eyes now offered for sale in other, “more fashionable” colors leave you open to being much more than just a fashion victim.


Some Greeks go so far as to say to be aware of blue-eyed people offering compliments, for that could be particularly dangerous.  I wonder if that would deter a Greek from the flattery of a Paul Newman look-alike or the baby blues of a modern day Grace Kelly?  Some how I think they’d simply opt for an extra mati or two and take the risk.:)


Garlic also works to ward off the Evil Eye.  Some carry a clove with them at all times, in their pocket or—as I’ve seen suggested—in their bra.  Garlic, along with onions, is also said to have great healing power if you’re feeling ill—perhaps over losing your shot at Paul and/or Grace to a whiff of your garlic stash.


If you want the evil eye protective quality of the garlic, without the scent, when someone gives you a compliment, mutter skorda (garlic) under your breath and spit on yourself three times. If you want real protection ask the person who gave you the compliment to spit on you too, though that may lead to an immediate reassessment of the person’s original opinion.  A word of caution: some say if a compliment is given to a child in your presence you should spit on the child. Under any circumstances I suggest asking the parents before attempting that kindness, but these days, fugedaboudit.


Another common practice for warding off the Evil Eye is a thorny-spiked cactus close to the front entrance to your home.  Be particularly careful if one is nearby should you choose to spit on someone else’s kid.


Some superstitions offer a conundrum. Bat bones are considered very lucky, but killing a bat (to presumably get the bones) is said to be very bad luck.  [I wonder who’d consider bat bones good luck these days.]

Crows, on the other hand are just bad luck period, as omens of bad news, misfortune, and death.  Guess Poe got it right.:)


If a Greek ever asks you for a knife, never hand it directly Put it on the table and let the other pick it up. Otherwise, superstition holds you two will soon be in a fight.


Another sure fight starter is if two people say the same thing at the same time.  Such as “I love A DEADLY TWIST.”  The only way to avoid an imminent fight is for each to instantly touch whatever red they can find around them (like on the cover of Sleep Well, My Lady, On An Outgoing Tide, or The Satapur Moonstone) and say piase kokkino (touch red).


And never leave your shoes soles up; it’s very bad luck and even an omen of death.  But don’t fear if it should happen to you some day. Just say skorda (remember, it means garlic) and spit three times for good measure and you’ll be fine.


I understand the skorda whisper technique also works to ward off the bad omen of seeing a priest and black cat on the same day.  Some say it whenever they see just the priest.


If you sneeze, that means someone is talking about you and there is a way to figure out whom that is.  Frankly, all I’m interested in knowing at such moments is who has a tissue or Claritin.


Greeks also believe money attracts money, so superstition requires you to never completely empty a purse, pocket, wallet or bank account.  I suspect that one’s being sorely tested these days.


But the superstition that I find most telling about the Greek attitude toward life is how they treat Friday the 13th.  Why ruin an otherwise perfectly good weekend with worries about a Friday of bad luck?  So, they stick in the middle of the workweek. To Greeks, Tuesday the 13th is the bad luck day…possibly settling on a Tuesday for much for the same reason the US uses it as its election day—to keep the bad news away from spoiling a weekend.


Which brings me to the final superstition I want to talk about today.  Salt.  Greeks sprinkle salt in a new house to chase away any lurking evil.  But that’s not the use of salt I find most intriguing.  It is believed that you can get rid of “unwanted human presence” by sprinkling salt behind them.  I think Americans should bear up arms of salt to cast behind a lot of politicians these days.


That’s all folks. Ftou, ftou, ftou.






  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Jackie. It's a mutual admiration society.

  2. A lot of these superstitions are widespread in the Balkans (especially in Romania) - I wonder if the church propagated them, although they run contrary to 'proper, established' religion? Funnily enough, I know Greek scientists who are atheists and profoundly scornful of superstitions, who get in touch on the phone with their mothers when they get a migraine, to ensure they get rid of the evil eye.

    1. I burst out laughing at your comment, Marina. We must know the same people. It's amazing how many otherwise "sound-thinking" people wear a mati and call mama when they sense it's hit them. By the way, I do wear a mati. But it ends there... pftu, pftu, pftu.

  3. I love this post, and also the evil eye is a big thing in India as well. There is very expensive evil eye jewelry that people can buy. Inspired by you, I will tackle South Asian superstitions soon!

    1. I serve on the board of the American Friends of a Greece-based Jewelry museum and it astonishes me how similar designs and symbols are often incorporated into high end fashion that people don't even realize are there, much less (at times) that they are universal. I bet you can find a story in that, Sujata. :)

  4. And thanks for mentioning The Satapur Moonstone! Good luck for me!!

    1. That's the least it deserves! And good luck to us all.

  5. And religious Jewish people also have superstitious practices to war off the evil eye, especially from casting its spell on a baby.
    And by the way, no spitting during the pandemic on oneself or anyone else or even in the air. Those particles travel several feet. So think about spitting; don't do it.

    1. As Sujata and you point out, Kathy, the evil eye is nearly universal. As for Jewish superstitions, there must be a decided Borscht Belt routine on the subject out there somewhere.

  6. Oh, yes, I've seen Jewish comedians do routines on the superstitions about the evil eye.