The author interprets the etymology of this word as "OddEyes" or "StrangeEyes." The modern meanings of this word include, in addition to "evil eye," even "damage done by the evil eye," "spell," "charm," "enchantment," and "allurement."
Belief in the evil eye is very old. It is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible and references to it appear in cuneiform texts of the Sumerians dated to 3000 BC. That it is even older than this is attested to by the fact that prior to its dispersal by post-Columbian cultural and population movements its area of occurrence was largely coincident with that of Indo-European language. Belief in the Evil Eye extended eastward to India and European Russia, westward to Spain and Portugal and Britain, northward to Scandinavia, and southward into North Africa. The spread of Catholicism brought the belief to north and south America. The spread of Islam brought it into Indonesia. By the later part of the twentieth century, however, belief in the Evil Eye was largely absent from Western Europe. The belief was, however, still very prominent in Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Arabic countries and India.
The origin of the Evil Eye belief is postulated to have originated from a pre-scientific belief that the process of seeing resulted from emanations or rays from the eyes. The modern belief that people can feel when they are being watched is possibly a remnant of such thinking. Motive or causal powers could be easily have been attributed to these supposed emanations as a result of primate biology - the dominant individual will continue with his "forceful gaze" while the submissive individual averts his eyes - an act which could easily be construed as demonstrating the overwhelming and active power contained within the eyes of the dominant individual.
The Evil Eye was believed to be able to cause all manner of illness and misfortune. Most prevalent, however, was the belief that it could cause things to whither away or dry up. Wasting diseases such as tuberculous or unexplained weight loss, the withering of crops or the cessation of lactation in women or cows were commonly attributed to the Evil Eye.
A Canadian researcher, Rena Jeanne Hanchuk, has described a ritual that was a common method of diagnosis or cure for maladies believed to be caused by the Evil Eye. The performance of this ritual was rather common among Ukrainian and Carpatho-Rusyn immigrants in Canada during the early part of the twentieth century so it is not impossible that this ritual was performed even in Irishtown.
"A fascinating medical folk ritual called vylyvaty visk or strakh vylyvaty is known among Ukrainians in Alberta. A loose English translation of the name would be "the pouring forth of wax" or "the pouring forth of fear." During the ceremony, a patient who comes to a healer for help is seated in a chair. A bowl is filled with cold water, and a lump of wax is melted. The healer engages in conversation and asks the patient for his or her symptoms. An incantation is uttered, and the wax is poured into the water over the head of the patient. The solidified wax is taken from the water and turned over, and its shapes are interpreted. This process is typically repeated three times. The ceremony is considered effective in curing fear sickness and numerous other maladies."
A variant of this procedure is still common in Greece with olive oil substituted for the wax.
The concept of the Evil Eye seems to have been in large measure devoid of supernatural connotations among the members of the Carpatho-Rusyn community in America during the 1920's and 30's. It appears that by this time the Evil Eye had been reduced to an insult or act of defiance, much like the display of the American "finger" gesture.