The Eyes...Doorways of Perception

Updated: 5 days ago

Eyes as symbols allow a conduit between ourselves and the forces of wonder that surround us. I intend for my beaded eyes to "watch over in love," and to be transmitters of positive energy wherever they find themselves. Eyes can be veils to magical worlds.

-Betsy Youngquist


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History

The concept of evil has been with us as a species since our earliest ideas were placed on stone. Likewise, the eye as a symbol has been around almost as long as man has been expressing. Different cultures and societies have incorporated the eye as a symbol of knowledge, providence , and divine direction. The eye is a powerful symbol representing not only the search for wisdom but also the need for protection from a higher power that watches from above. Regarding the etymology of the word “eye”, it originates from the Germanic word “augon” and the Old English word “eage”.


Many cultures have used the eye as a symbol. In ancient myths, the eye is associated with a higher vision. The eye of Horus symbolized the moon and the eye of Sut symbolized the sun. In India, the Eye of Siva is known as an all-seeing eye. During the Renaissance, the eye was a symbol for magic. In Masonry, the all-seeing eye symbolizes the “sight that annals time and space." In other words, the eye represents “higher clairvoyance”. In the Lodge of the Masons, the eye also symbolizes the “Omniscience of God.” On the American dollar bill, it represents a guiding, protective force.



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The Evil Eye Effect

The evil eye is a “look” or “stare” that is believed to bring bad luck for the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike. The perception of the nature of the phenomenon, its causes, and possible protective measures, varies between tribes and cultures. The evil eye is a talisman that is meant to protect you from these evil spirits.


Plutarch’s scientific explanation stated that the eyes were the chief, if not sole, source of the deadly rays that were supposed to spring up like poisoned darts from the inner recesses of a person possessing the evil eye. It is a curse or legend believed to be cast by this malevolent glare, and usually given to a person when they are unaware.


In Shahih Muslim Book 26, the prophet Muhammad warns about the dangers of the evil eye and says that one must take a bath in order to counteract the effects of the evil eye’s power.


Much as in Classic Greece and Ancient Rome, Islamic culture holds that excessive praise will bring about the ill effects of the evil eye. Thus, instead of praising an adorable child, one is supposed to say that “God has willed” the child’s good lucks, or risk endangering the youth. Ashkenazi Jews also believe that excessive praise causes a vulnerability to the evil eye, and will repeat a Yiddish phrase, "Keyn aynhoreh!" meaning “no evil eye” in order to protect against it.



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Hinduism preaches that the eye is the most powerful point at which the body can give off energy. the Hindus teach that the times of change in life--as in during puberty, marriage, or childbirth--one is most vulnerable to the threat of the evil eye. Hindus believe also that even animals such as the snake are capable of giving one the evil eye. The Hindus believe that, even though men are capable of casting the evil eye, women are the most common sources of the glance. For this reason, in South India women will paint their eyelids black to protect themselves from the evil eye, and to prevent themselves from eyeing another with the look. In fact, the Hindus will offer the “admiring” glancer a bowl of milk to counteract the threat of the evil eye.


In South America, Brazil holds a superstition equivalent to the evil eye known as the “fat eye.” Compliments which are sincere are not feared to cause the evil eye to attack as in other countries, but insincere compliments are thought to put one at risk.


In Europe, the largest source of the evil eye was believed to be witches. Yet those with eye colors which were rare were also seen as powerful possessors of the evil eye look. For instance, Germans feared those with red eyes. In Ireland, those with squinty eyes were feared to be evil eye sorcerers. In Italy, the unibrow was another sign that one would cast an evil eye.


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  • Hebrew Evil Eye – Ayin Ha’ra

  • Turkish Evil Eye – Nazar Boncugu

  • Italian Evil Eye – Mal Occhio

  • Farsi – Bla Band

  • Arabic – Ayin Harsha

  • Scotland – Droch Shuil

  • Spanish – Mal Ojo or El Oja

  • France – Mauvais Oeil

  • Germany – Böser Blick

  • Romans – Oculus Malus


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"The eye is the jewel of the body."

-Henry David Thoreau



The Remedy: The Evil Eye

Many remedies preventative to the glance have already been aforementioned. In some villages, the fur of a bear would be burned to cure the curse. In others, a gypsy would massage the forehead to get rid of the ill effects of the evil eye. In many countries, including Greece, Armenia, and Assyria, it is thought that a pinch on the rear will remedy the curse of the evil eye. In Europe, some Christians have the tradition of creating the sign of the cross with their hands, while at the same time pointing the index and pinky finger toward the source of the evil eye. In Bangladesh, a black dot is drawn on the forehead of children to ward off the evil eye curse. Pretty young women have a secret dot drawn in kohl behind their ears to protect against the evil eye.In addition, the Greeks had many more remedies against the evil eye effect.


A quasi-universal symbol of protection, the evil eye is referred to as μάτι (mati) in Greek. The evil eye amulet originated in Greece, where it was known as an “apotropaic” amulet, meaning that it reflected the powerful harm of the evil look. An evil eye can be a talisman or amulet, designed in the shape of an eye, traditionally in the colors blue or green, that indicate spiritual protection. These talismans or evil eye “repellents” come in different shapes and forms.



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The most basic design of the evil eye, prevalent in the Middle East, is a talisman designed with concentric blue and white circles made to symbolize the evil eye, known as the nazar. It is often used on houses, vehicles, and jewelry. Most popularly, one can find it hanging in a glass bead form over the main door or entrance of someone’s home to keep the hearth protected. One of the most powerful examples of the evil eye amulet in the Middle East and Africa is the Hamsa, also known as the “Hand of Fatima.” The hamsa is a hand-shaped symbol with the evil eye on the palm. The hamsa can also be used in interior design or jewelry to ward off the evil eye. The hamsa is also found in Jewish culture, where it is known as the “Hand of God" or the "Hand of Miriam.” The popularity of Kabbalah has revived the hamsa and influenced its presence in design.


In modern times, the idea that too much fame, fortune, success, or praise can bring about one’s downfall, especially in celebrity culture, has reinforced and resurged the notion of the evil eye making it a tremendously popular trend.



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"Shut your eyes and see."

-James Joyce



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In Art

In art, the eye is a popular symbol associated with focus, clarity, vision, prophesy, omniscience, presence, intelligence, perception, observation, awareness, and clairvoyance. Eyes are probably the most important symbolic sensory organ. Eighty per cent of everything we learn is through our sight. It is simply miraculous that when we look at an object, light reflected from the object enters the eyes through the pupil and is focused through the optical components within the eye and then processed and sorted through our minds. The eye of the artist represents this person's mind, their way of thinking. Sensitivity in perception, the choice of what one sees and the thoughts around the observation of the world make that eye change into a specialized eye, an artist's eye. The idea of the false mirror is what the artist wrestles with... the secrets and machinations both seen and unseen...the creativity of the unconscious mind juxtaposed against the world around us as a consciously creative but passively viewable orchestra. All this challenges us to question what we see and what we think we know. Is the subject and corresponding emotion a reflection of what the eye is seeing? Is the eye in fact an opening into another reality? Are we looking at an inner vision, or something else entirely?



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"Look with all your eyes, look."

-Jules Verne



Betsy's Take

Our eyes are how we recognise each other, establish intent and establish benchmarks for empathising with one another. We have evolved to be good at recognising facial tells in each other as highly social beings to predict others’ emotions as a necessary part of our survival. As in real life, eye contact in art helps us to connect with a piece and is often what will catch our attention first, because it is familiar. There are few things harder to portray, as humans are so good at recognizing and reading faces, particularly eyes and when they are missing something or are wrong in some way it is easily sensed. So, when key features of the face particularly the eyes and mouth fail to match the same energy and movements we associate with them, this feeling of unease and wrongness kicks in. Essentially, it can activate our fight or flight response. Capturing the energy that all living things have takes true skill in itself. What balance does it take to create a piece that can bridge that uncanny dividing river successfully?



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It is no easy task to capture the essence of life, to give attitude and spirit in a piece be it human or animal. It will be the first thing we are drawn to when viewing an artwork and one of the first things to come under scrutiny. When we see eyes and faces depicted, we often cannot help but hold the gaze, often in order to decipher meaning in the piece such as the subject’s emotional or a deeper message the artist may be communicating. So much can be communicated in a piece simply by where both the subject’s eyes are focused, and where the viewer’s eyes are being directed.


The image of the teardrop is implemented often in Betsy's work. The liminal nature of tears enables them to serve as a symbolic means of mediation between persons (living or dead), between an individual and society, between the inner world and the outer world, and so forth. Crying is about surrender, acceptance, and submission to the reality of what we are feeling and interpreting. Nothing could be healthier than allowing your feelings to escape the bottle, whatever they are, as they come up- this is the nature of creating art.


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The Eye has always taken symbolic form in Betsy's work, from her very genesis. These eyes bring her work to life and emote the messages in a more personal, emotional way. The embrace of this daring assemblage brings vibrance and contemplative dimension to her work, lending to them "humanity" to communicate experiences of both sadness and joy. In this way, Betsy is able to imbue into the piece her tenant of animism, a belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. The belief that this spiritual essence is in a reciprocal relationship of perception with all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as they are animated and very much alive and experiencing, is shown through Betsy's incorporation of the eyes as materials in all elements of her work. The eyes are the tool that allow her to ask through her artwork, "are we evolving more towards our animal selves or more away from them," and "which direction is a truly heightened state of consciousness?" The eyes make the animal sculptures she beads more recognizable and relatable to us thus reminding us that we are all part of the one spiritual essence that surges through all living things.



When traveling along this direction of meaning, the third eye, yet another interpretation which Betsy often nods to in her works, often symbolizes a state of enlightenment that has deeply personal, spiritual and psychological significance to each viewer of the piece. The third eye embodies your ability to see both the inner and outer worlds associated with reflection, clairvoyance, out-of-body experiences, visions, and precognition. It is this "knowing" that is held in the eyes and communicates outwardly to the viewer the idea of a divine order to the recording of it all.

This Spiritual Eye, a reflection of energy that enters the body constantly from the surrounding universe through the medulla. The Spiritual Eye is not imaginary. It is something one actually sees in meditation, when thoughts are stilled, and when intellect functions on its own higher, intuitive level. This, again, is the process of creating art.