The Celtic Evil Eye and Related Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland

Author: Jacqueline Borsje with a contribution from Fergus Kelly (Studies in the History and Anthropology of Religion #2)

Publisher: Peeters

Published: 2012

ISBN: 978-90-429-2641-7

Pages: 387 including 3 Appendices, bibliography and index.

Synopsis: If looks could kill… They can, according to medieval Irish texts – our richest literary inheritance in a Celtic language. The belief in evel, angry or envious eyes casting harmful glances that destroy their target is widespread. This is the first comprehensive study of ‘the evil eye’ in medieval Ireland. We follow the trail from Balor the fearsome one-eyed giant and other evil-eyed kings to saints casting the evil eye, and many others. This study surveys a fascinating body of Irish literature and also examines the evidence for belief in the evil eye in the daily life of medieval Ireland, where people tried to protect themselves against this purported harm by legislation, rituals, verbal precautions and remedies. Related mythological imagery is tracked down and a lost tale about a doomed king who follows a sinister-eyed woman into the Otherworld is reconstructed on the basis of surviving fragments. The edition and translation of a medieval Irish legal text by Fergus Kelly and two sagas in English translation conclude the volume.

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Review: The aim of this book is to explain the medieval Irish beliefs on the notion of the evil eye. It is made up of six very enjoyable essays. The first essay is an explanation of what the evil eye is, its types, examples of each type from Irish literature and comparisons from other cultures when applicable, and how to ward it off. Essays three to five look at related mythological imagery. They analyze the meaning and function of the evil eye. They discuss the term túathcháech and its symbolism and they draw conclusions from all the motifs discussed. The final essay weaves all the previous essays together to give you the author’s final thoughts on the subject.

Although I enjoyed all the essays my favorite would have to be the first. It sets up the book perfectly giving the reader the background needed to read the rest of the book. The examples given were perfect to back up her divisions of the evil eye and they make understanding it easy.