The Evil Eye in Appalachia

As in most places of the world, the Mountaineer is weary of strangers passing through, especially those with blue eyes. A simple compliment on a child or home could result in death or misfortune just as much as an envious glare. It is also believed to affect food, animals, plants and coveted objects. Folks who carry the evil eye and give it to others were talked as having “the pewter eye” like Old Scratch himself. Likewise, someone who’s caught the eye from the former are described as “havin’ the pewter,” or the evil eye as well.

Since Appalachia received alot of immigration during the coal mining boom, the fires of this particular superstition were fanned. Most of those immigrants were Italian and Jewish, and their own lore added to the already present fear of the Eye. Traditions mixed and churned into what we have today: red strings tied to the bed posts or doorknobs, pink coral beads hung in the home, and “hairy bread.”

Some folks were believed to be immune or especially vulnerable to it based on when they were born: those born in January are said to be immune while those born in August or during the Dogs Days are vulnerable; and those born in October where said to be born WITH the pewter eye. While everyone can give the eye with a compliment or a look of envy, some where thought to be carriers of the pewter naturally.

Ways to guard against “the Pewter”

We Mountaineers are crafty and cunning at best, especially the old folk even though most couldn’t read nor write, and the following were used to prevent the misfortune brought by this power as well as to ward it off as well.

  • The Lord’s Prayer said daily.
  • Red string tied by the bed.
  • A bells hung on the door knob or in a tree outside.
  • Carrying a “deer-skinner” or fulgurite caused by lightning striking the soil and melting any silica.
  • A red beet root carried in the left shoe
  • Camphor water rubbed on the door frames of the home
  • Wool sheered from a sheep during the Dog days and kept in a sack in the kitchen.
  • Scatter salt granules on the front porch or in the driveway. This relates to the “Scatter tales” as I call them, where in-numerous grains compel evil spirits to count them until day light.
  • Garlands of garlic and green beans will keep the misfortune out of the home.
  • Kill the first snake you find in the spring and keep its head in a bag hidden in the home. I prefer copperheads or cottonmouths, but any serpent will suffice.
  • Carry a sliver of wood taken from the front right pew in a church and wrapped in red flannel. Front right if your facing out from the “altar.”
  • Wear the color red to keep it off and to also bring good luck. Red ribbons are popular in Appalachia for this and red crosses were embroidered into children’s underwear.
  • Wooden cross hung over the door or bed
  • Horseshoe wrapped in red flannel and hung upside down. They’re hung upside down to dispel all evil influences.
  • When someone gives a compliment and seems envious, or when you feel you’ve tempted the Eye by something said or done, make the sign of the fig with your dominant hand. This is done my making a fist with the thumb between the index and middle finger. Spitting over the left shoulder three times is also recommended.

Do you got the Pewter?

To see if you have the “Pewter Eye”, do the methods below. The best time to do these are when the sign is in the Throat (Taurus).

  • Pour one tablespoon of olive oil into a glass of water and wait. Spit in the water beforehand. If the oil clots together with some spaces in it to make an eye, or if it clings to the rim, you’ve got the eye. If it remains scattered or somewhat separate, you’re fine.
  • Pluck two hairs from the back of the neck and two from the toes. Bind them with sewing twine and burn them. If they burn fine, you don’t have it. But if they “cackle and sit,” you have it.
  • Do an egg cleansing and read the egg. You can see how to do that in one of my first posts. Click here to read more.
  • Other signs that you have the Pewter Eye on you is terrible misfortune in every aspect of your life. No matter how much you try, you’re always taking one step forward and two steps back. The evil eye especially effects one’s financial and love life. To be sure that it’s the evil eye, I recommend you go see a Rootworker. I myself offer these readings as well as the curing of the eye.

Curing the Pewter

*the best time to cure the evil eye is when the sign is in the feet (Pisces).

  • One recipe I will share is to gather seven hairs from the top of the patient’s head and fold them over onto themselves to make a small lock. Hold the lock of hair over a cast iron pot filled with creek water. Pour oil over the lock of hair into the water while praying in the name of the Trinity for the ties and chains of the Devil’s Pewter to be broken. Do this three time in a row, with fresh water. Pour the previous far away from the home. The oil may clot the first couple of times, but when it’s scattered the ailment is cured.
  • Wear or carry a cloth whose fabric was spun on Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve, etc. Lore says it’s protective qualities are better if it was spun by a seven year old girl or the seventh daughter.
  • Bake some bread on Easter or a Sunday with your hair baked into it. Pierce it with three nails while saying Psalms 23. Then take it out and feed it to the ducks and chickens. Better if they’re mallard or frisley.
  • Burn a bundle of 21 black chicken feathers on the front porch. Take up the ashes and carry them for nine days then toss them in the river, over your left shoulder. And don’t look back. Don’t you ever look back!
  • Wear your clothes inside out for nine days.
  • Place a bowl of warm salt water under the bed every night for nine nights to pull the Pewter out.
  • Crawl backwards under a white horse.
  • Wrap up mistletoe into a white handkerchief with nine needles. Boil this until the water turns color. Then simmer it for ten more minutes. Strain and add one cup of this to your bath water for nine days. It’s best down in the early morning before the sunrises and always wash downwards. Pat yourself dry afterwards, don’t rub.

Now don’t just assume you got the eye when you’ve had a bad day. It’s affects can take a while to show, usually a few months to a year or two. But when it hits, you’ll know it. There will be weeks of bad luck, one thing after another going to shit, and anything you try for will rot itself to failure. Best keep those garlands hung up!

<<picture found on Pinterest>>

Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Buck) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable melungeon woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather, also Melungeon, who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia; Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man; and the Conjure Cards deck, all available for order and preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below:

2 thoughts on “The Evil Eye in Appalachia”

    1. Back in the day it was usually thought that eye color was a determinant, but today it’s rarely heard of. In some places folks are still iffy about blue eyed people, but as far as I’ve heard “Pewter eye” wasn’t so much about physical appearance but more the power behind the glare or look of them to others and the effects it could have. Like looking with the Devil’s own eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

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