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A Warning to All the Thankful

12/27/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

So, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and already many of us are not only thinking about exactly what we're grateful for, but actually saying these things aloud. Well, it's fine to be thankful and all, but I feel duty-bound to warn you: all this talk about gratitude is gonna get you in big trouble!  You could attract the evil eye.

What, exactly is the evil eye? Well, anyone can have one (or two, I suppose), the idea is if you brag about anything (but particularly your children) someone --and not necessarily even an EVIL someone, in other circumstances--will look at you with envy, and therefore take away all that you're grateful for.  The Evil Eye is an old and enduring fear, and it's spread across cultures: in Italy, it's malocchio , in Spanish mal ojo or el ojo, in Farsi, bla band, and in Hebrew it's ayin ha'ra (Yiddish: ayin hora). 

Luckily, the Evil Eye is also a Wandering Eye--easily distracted. There are many ways to create the diversion. So say you're grateful for your beautiful child. Smear a little dirt on her face, or better yet, spit on her three times. Then the Evil Eye won't want her anymore! Or say bad things about her, that works too. Also, hand gestures are effective. In Italy, you can make the "horned hand" or mano cornuto.

There are also preventative amulets. In Turkey, it's a stylized eye --a round piece of cobalt blue glass, with what looks like a sunny-side up egg near the center, with a black spot, or pupil, in the middle of the yolk. It's called nazar boncugu, and you see it everywhere --hanging on walls, dangling from the rearview mirror of cars, on keychains, on jewelery.

I have never worried too much about the evil eye, because my mother has devoted her life to defending me and my brother from it. If anyone has ever said anything nice about us, it sets off an incantation of "kenahora", knocking on wood, and ritualized spitting. My mother also worries about germs so wouldn't actually spit saliva on us.

And for that I am definitely thankful.

Alison Stein Wellner tracks the curious about places, culture and ideas at A Curious Mind. Recent curiosities: fake penises and Pittsburgh, Jewish pirates, dark travel. Oh, and also some thoughts about writing and magazines, because she is a writer, which makes the use of the third-person only slightly less weird.

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