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The belief in evil, angry or envious eyes casting destructive glances, was - and is - widespread. With the assistance of a Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), UvA researcher Jacqueline Borsje collected and analysed stories and myths, as well as legislative texts, to search for the meaning of the evil eye.

If looks could kill ... They can, according to medieval Irish texts. The belief in evil, angry or envious eyes casting destructive glances, was - and is - widespread. With the assistance of a Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), UvA researcher Jacqueline Borsje collected and analysed stories and myths, as well as legislative texts, to search for the meaning of the evil eye. In her recently released book The Evil Eye and Related Celtic Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland, she shows how the evil eye played a role in daily life and how people tried to protect themselves with all their might against it.

Borsje has compiled a large collection of texts focused on the evil eye for the first time. The belief that the evil eye can be harmful has been around for more than five thousand years and is very persistent. According to the Irish in medieval times, anyone who admires or envies someone or something is able to cast the evil eye. And all that is desirable can fall under the spell of the evil eye. 'New life', such as babies, young children and young animals were supposed to be particularly vulnerable. To avoid misfortune, people often spoke in guarded terms and metaphors about the evil eye. The study of Borsje sheds light on many of these metaphors.

Publication details

Borsje’s research into the evil eye in medieval Irish texts is collected in the the book The Evil Eye and Related Celtic Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland, which can be ordered via the link below.