They are amulets to protect against the evil eye.
The evil eye?
Oh, yes. Many Greeks believe that a malevolent person can cause bad luck or physical harm just by looking at someone or something, especially if that something is nice, likeable or coveted. For example, if you have a really nice car, I may feel jealous for not having one myself. Therefore, just by looking at your car, my feelings can (intentionally or not) cause harm to it; you may have a flat tyre just a few blocks down the road, or even an accident. Headaches and migraines are usually attributed to the evil eye and exorcised by means of a simple ritual; sometimes, if a person feels the evil influence is too strong, they may go to church and have the priest read a special prayer over them (yes, the Orthodox church accepts evil-eye as a fact).
Thankfully, there is protection in the form of blue beads; those that have the shape of an eye are especially potent. These beads can be worn on oneself as jewellery, or hung on the outside of houses or other possessions, such as cars, etc.
Nobody knows for sure, but there are two theories:
- Blue is a rare eye colour for Greeks; there is a chance that being rare and exotic, blue was considered as more potent than the ordinary brown.
- Bluestone was introduced in the 19th century to fight the devastating vine blight; it is possible that its effectiveness was seen as nothing short of miraculous and therefore it was believed able to ward off other evils, of the non-physical kind. The stone itself was gradually replaced with more aesthetically pleasing beads of the same colour.
The eyes (big and wide) have been used as symbols against evil from antiquity. The best-known example is the eyes painted on the prows of ships. It has been a very old Greek symbol (the hand of Fatima in the Middle East is another well-known symbol that serves the same purpose – warding off evil; cross-pollination between cultures has led to the two being often combined).
In the case of the evil eye, the use of an eye for protection is essentially nothing more than an eye for an eye (their evil eyes against my protective ones).
Evil-eye amulets are not considered enough protection, unless accompanied by a religious symbol, such as a cross or the icon of a saint. They are also often combined with other charms, such as garlic (which keeps evil at bay), red peppers (to burn evil tongues), horse-shoes (for good luck), etc.
Today the evil-eye amulets are immensely popular, mostly because they’re cute and decorative. However, in the back of many buyers’ minds there’s the thought that they may offer some protection too. No harm in having one, eh?