Saturday, December 23, 2006

Evil Eye 

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One of the many pleasures of my job is the fascinating and varied topics my patrons expose me to when asking for my help in research. In my department I only get to do initial, superficial research before I have to send patrons on their way to a subject specialist on another floor, but often if a patron's question intrigues me, I will spend days absorbed in the subject on my own, with, of course, all of the library's vast resources at my fingertips. The history of eunuchs in China, the science of deja vu, sweating sickness, trench art, territorial behavior in sea horses, the Bushwhackers during the U.S. Civil War, susperstitious and ritual behavior in animals - I can think of no happier job than that of a librarian if one has a meandering, catholic curiousity.

The other day I helped a patron get started on a paper about the origins of the evil eye. I thought the evil eye was something only gypsies cast, but in fact every culture seems to possess its own version. The seminal work, Evil Eye: Wet and Dry, by Berkeley ethnologist and folklorist Alan Dundes, reports that the universal, cross culture theme is that the evil eye has a detrimental, sometimes fatal, drying effect on its victim, and that its antidote usually involves water. The evil eye has had a powerful influence on art and society, and one can see it pop up throughout mankind's history. It is even believed that the 10th commandment, thou shall not covet, a word which means to eye enviously, is specifically a mandate against casting the evil eye.

In any case, the belief in the evil eye recognizes the power of looking at someone. I'm sure you have all experienced the sense of being stared at. There are many expressions in English that I can think of right off the bat that acknowledge the power of a stare or look as well: the weight of stares, eyes burning holes, to give a scathing, wounding, dirty, eat shit look, to shoot daggers with ones eyes. Our tax dollars are training operatives to kill goats with stares.

One of the Italian apotropic gestures against the evil eye, especially of the sort that causes impotency, is the mano cornuta. Interestingly, Steve Ditko, the creator of the Spiderman and Dr. Strange comics, has both of the title characters use this gesture: Dr Strange when he casts a spell and Spiderman when he releases silk from his wrist spinnarets to swing from building to building and, I assume, encase villains so he can store them in his web and drain them of their body fluids to drink at his leisure. At least that is what he would do if I wrote the the spider man comics - it would be more true and in keeping with the rest of his acquired arachnid behavior, no? Which reminds me of my new area of interest, so now I'm off to read more about sexual cannibalism in spiders.

Foxy, my dear. You are delicious. We Benacs can't secretly get enough of you. Happy Holidays to you, E, and the resplendent, recumbent Billy of the Bedroom Eyes. If Carmencita were anywhere near, she would surely succumb to his wicked charms.
I dimly remember a series where he did become more spider-like, but not quite to that point ;).

Comic fanboy time:

In the comics Spidy only gets his strength, agility, clinging ability, and "spidy-sense" from the bite. He decides to manufacture the webbing. He was a science nerd till he decided to finally pursue his photography.

So...the webbing isn't natural.
Awesome! Thank you. I was more of a House of Mysteries girl than superhero comics fan, so I don't know much about Spider Man. I guess having Peter Parker manufacture his own mechanical spinarets (web shooters) worked around the embarrassing problem of where they would have sprung from if they were natural - his anus. Although, the Wikipedia entry does say that Peter Parker eventually develops natural spinarets to replace the mechanical ones. They remain on his wrist.
Spider-Man and Dr. Strange do not use the mano cornuta. The mano cornuta does not have the thumb extended (see the Wikipedia entry: "The corna is not to be confused as the sign for "I love you" in American Sign Language, which is made by also extending the thumb"). You may find a couple examples in the comics record of the thumb not extended, but in most (IIRC 90%, especially if Ditko drew it) instances of Spider-Man using his webshooters (including the image you're using in this post) or Doc casting his spells, the thumb is extended.
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