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The Evil Eye

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 11, 2016

Are you superstitious? In Jewish tradition, whenever you are thinking about how well things are going, you must give yourself a “Kinehoreh” (pronounced Kin-ah-HOH-rah) to ward off the evil eye. If you don’t, you are tempting fate to reverse your good fortune.

I’m revising another one of my backlist titles. This is a brief excerpt from Died Blonde, in which you can see how this term is used. Marla is speaking on the phone to her mother:

“Things are going well with Dalton’s daughter, Brianna. I’m finally earning her trust. I don’t care to spoil our relationship.” Kinehoreh, Marla thought to ward off the evil eye.

“If everything is so smooth with Dalton, why aren’t you engaged?”

“He hasn’t asked.”

In the Yiddish dictionary on my bookshelf, it’s spelled “Kain ein horeh” and means No Evil Eye, or “May no evil befall you.” I don’t dare think how lucky I am that I haven’t had a cold in recent times. That’s a sure way to develop a sore throat unless I remember to give myself a Kinehoreh. Recently, I was watching the large screen TV in our air-conditioned family room and thinking how much I enjoy our house and its amenities. Then wham-bam, suddenly Hurricane Matthew is on its way, threatening to disrupt everything. I’d forgotten to say “Kinehoreh.”

My mother and aunt used to say it this way, which our kids think is hilarious: “Kinehoreh, kinehoreh, kinehoreh, poo poo poo.” Don’t ask me where this particular phrase originated. Just keep in mind that if you think things are going well and forget to say “Kinehoreh” or “knock wood” or whatever other phrase you choose, surely you’ll be hit with bad fortune.

Is this superstition? Of course it is. But it also respects the yin-yang of the universe. Be aware that you can say kinehoreh for another person. Let’s say your friend brags about his rise to bestsellerdom. You can say “kinehoreh” in response, so he isn’t cursed with evil.

Belief in the Evil Eye phenomenon crosses many cultures. The evil eye is a malicious glance given to a person to whom one wishes harm. Often the person initiating the curse does so unintentionally and out of envy. Charms, amulets, and talismans can protect against this ill regard. Haven’t you seen these blue glass eyes in gift shops? Supposedly this symbol reflects the evil back to the conjurer. There are also jewelry items called “Hamsa” that show a hand, much with the same meaning.

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Giving yourself a kinehoreh is akin to knocking on wood. Whenever you boast about something or make a favorable observation, you can avoid tempting fate by performing this action or by mentioning the phrase. If you encounter something that might cause bad luck, like crossing paths with a black cat, you can counteract it by touching wood.

Knock on Wood

Early believers felt spirits dwelled in trees. By knocking on wood, you could alert them to help you. A Jewish version dates back to the Inquisition, when Jews gave a coded knock on wooden temple doors in order to enter safely. Again, this belief crosses many cultures just like the Evil Eye. If wood isn’t handy, saying “Touch Wood” or “Knock on Wood” will suffice.

How does this apply to your writing? You may think you’re on top of the world, doing great with your book sales, respected by your comrades, putting out multiple books to critical acclaim. And then suddenly your editor leaves, and you’re orphaned at your publishing house. Your line is cancelled. You’re asked to take a cut in your advance. Now you’re struggling to maintain your status. The lesson here? Be kind to others; never think you’re above anyone else; support your fellow authors; and keep up with the changes in the publishing world. Remember to say Kinehoreh when things are going well.

For more information, see these resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_eye
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knocking_on_wood
http://wordsmith.org/board/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=123624
http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hamsa/
http://www.jewishgiftplace.com/What-is-the-Evil-Eye.html

Are the characters in your story superstitious? What phrase do they say to ward off evil? Or do they scoff at these silly phrases? How about you?

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4 Responses to “The Evil Eye”

  1. marilynlevinson said

    Loved this post, especially the “poo, poo, poo.” Not sure what that’s supposed to add.
    Happy New Year to you and your family, Nancy.

  2. I enjoyed your explanation. My paternal family are practicing Greek Jews so it’s a double whammy in my house between the hand signs against the evil eye, poo pooing, and Catholic ‘god forbid’ knocking on wood. Nothing bad should ever come to pass with all the precautions.

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