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Eyes from Egypt and Beyond – The Tale of Eyes in Different Cultures

If you’re a keen traveller, you probably know how powerful a symbol the eye is for many cultures around the world. During your trips, you may have noticed beady blue glass eyes hanging from doorposts, or blue trinkets, shaped like open palms, on display in  jewellery stores. 

But did you know that these symbols are rooted in thousands of years worth of symbolism and history? Read on to discover the symbolic meaning of these amulets, and follow us in a journey that will take you as far back in time as the Ancient Egypt.

The Eye of Horus

The eye of Horus stone piece

In Ancient Egypt, the Eye of Horus was a symbol of power, health and protection. Horus was an ancient Egyptian sky god, most commonly depicted as a falcon. 

A popular myth narrates that Horus and Seth (the god of disorder, storms and violence) once engaged in a brutal battle, which culminated with the gauging of Horus’s eye. Luckily for all involved, the eye was restored by Hathor – Horus’s wife, and the goddess of joy, feminine love and motherhood. Horus then sacrificed his healed eye to bring his dying father back to life.

As a result of this tale, the eye of Horus has become a synonym of sacrifice, healing, restoration and protection. In modern culture, the eye of Horus is commonly associated with the Eye of Providence (the eye you can see on American one dollar bills), which symbolises the eye of God watching over the US. 

The Eye of Providence is surrounded by two mottos: “Annuit Cœptis” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum”, which translates to “He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings”, and “New Order of the Ages”. Many conspiracy theorists also associate this depiction of the eye with the mysterious secret society called the Illuminati.

The Evil Eye

Glass amulets hung in a tree to protect against the evil eye

Belief in the evil eye dates back to Classic Antiquity. Many cultures believe that the evil eye is a magic curse, which can inflict devastating injury and bad luck. 

Charms, talismans and decorations designed to ward off this malevolence are common in many cultures: Hawaiians know the evil eye as “maka pilau” (rotten eyes), while Italians call it “malocchio”; in Portuguese, its name translates as a poetic “mau-olhado,” which means “the act of giving a filthy look”. 

The traditional anti-evil eye blue amulet originates from Turkey, where it’s called the Nazar Boncuğu. The Nazar Boncuğu is commonly hung in doorways or worn as a pendant; you can even find it on the tailfins of the Turkish airline Fly Air. 

The most common glass amulets that protect owners from the evil eye look like a dark blue teardrop, centered around a light blue eye, and created from an amalgamation of molten glass, iron, copper, water and salt.

The Eye of Fatima

The eye of Fatima palm amulets

The eye of Fatima is a palm-shaped amulet, popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and features a design similar to the evil eye. This charm is common in many religions around the world: Levantine Christians call it the Hand of Mary, while in Islamic cultures it’s called the Hand of Fatima, in honour of one of the daughters of the Prophet Mohammed. 

In Judaism it is referred to as Hamsa, which literally translates to “five”; Jewish people consider the five fingers of the hand as symbolic reminders to use all five senses to praise God.

The hand-shaped amulet is traditionally carved from silver, a metal historically associated with purity and healing. In some cultures, the eye on the charm is painted red with the blood of a sacrificed animal, and hung in the doorway of expectant mothers to boost fertility and ensure healthy pregnancies.

From the deserts of Ancient Egypt to the souks of Istanbul, the eye has become synonymous with protection, healing and good luck. If you’re ever in need of protection, or even a pretty amulet, why not take inspiration from these ancient symbols to help you on your way.