The ‘Mati’: Keeping the Evil Eye away
One of the most recognizable symbols today, besides the cross, is what some people refer to as ‘the evil eye’, or mati in Greek. Often simply a white circle surrounded by another blue circle or background of blue, it comes in many shapes, sizes, and bright colors.
You, yourself, may own one of these on a bracelet, ring, necklace, or even have one pinned on your baby. What does it mean? Where did this symbol come from? Is it a lucky charm or something we should avoid wearing? What does our Greek Orthodox Faith say about it?
Let’s learn more about the mati.
The evil eye
Here’s what Wikipedia said about the mati.
The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a malevolent glare, usually given to a person when they are unaware. Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause misfortune or injury. Talismans created to protect against the evil eye are also frequently called ‘evil eyes’.
The article further explained that belief in the evil eye dates back to Classical antiquity. It is referenced by Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. Some familiar names there.
Belief in the evil eye is prevalent among many cultures, particularly those in the Mediterranean region, as well as in Central and Latin America, and in Africa. The term ‘evil eye’ tends to cause alarm, and people often rush to take protective measures, so they are affected by it. Many cultures have created eye-like symbols used to repel the evil eye, which are a popular choice of souvenir among tourists.
The idea of an evil eye even appears several times in translations of the Old Testament.
Why is the mati blue?
According to Wikipedia, in areas where light-colored eyes are rare, like in Greece, people believed that blue and green eyed people could give mati — intentionally and unintentionally. That’s why the mati we see are blue.
The mati in Greece
In Greece, the mati has been around since at least the 6th century BC, as evidenced by some pottery of the time. Perhaps you’ve experienced mati, and someone has to “heal” you of the curse. This is called xematiasma (ξεμάτιασμα). The healer recites a prayer to take the mati away. People learn to do to xemastiasma typically from a grandparent or older relative of the opposite gender. Some say that if you misuse this or don’t share it correctly, you will lose the power to heal the mati.
The mati and the Greek Orthodox Church
Belief in the curse of the evil eye is recognized within both the secular arena in Greece, as well as the Church. However, a question many of us have is whether wearing a little blue glass mati or any variation of that is recognized by the Greek Orthodox Church as an appropriate amulet.
Writer Alexia Amvrazi, also a contributing writer to WindyCity Greek, wrote an essay about the mati, called, ‘The Eyes Have It: The Evil Eye in Greece’. She said that this issue is one which “the Greek church and folklore are both united and separated”. Alexia added that the Church has recognized “kako mati” (evil eye), since the Faith was established.
“The church calls it Vaskania and has a special prayer made especially to help cure those who have fallen under the curse.”
She also mentioned the symptoms of someone with “kako mati”, which appear to be universally agreed. These include headache and pain. While some believe that wearing a cross is enough to protect you from the evil eye, she cited some priests who said that wearing an evil eye charm “can’t do harm”, but that the Church doesn’t recognize this as a way to protect against it. Apparently, priests do agree that special healing prayers can take the mati away, however they concur that the prayer must only be said by clergy, not lay people.
What do you think?
Do you believe in the mati? Have you had it? Been healed? Are you a healer? Tell us in the comments.
Now, it is up to you. Traditions sometimes run parallel with our Faith but this one seems unclear. The cute jewelry is fun to wear, but if you have a concern, the best thing to do is ask your parish priest for guidance.