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Superstitions Of The Mediterranean Cultures, Their Parallels Within The Culture Of The United States
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Superstitions of the Mediterranean Cultures, their Parallels within the Culture of the United States

It never ceases to amaze me how identical human physiology is yet how complex and versatile our thinking can be. How can a brain consisting of the same parts act and think so differently from one person to another? What amazes me even more is the part of the brain that is so discriminatory in its function i.e. the cerebral cortex. How is it that the cerebral cortex’s perception function in humans of different countries somehow creates cultural, religious, social and political subcultures? Of course, a simple answer is “being determines consciousness.” Does it really?

Having marked my ten-year anniversary of first arriving in this country on August 3, 2011 I realized that although my environment has changed drastically from that of ten years ago I have never really let go of my “old self.” Rather, I have learned to look at my beliefs with the natives’ set of eyes. After all, “you cannot enter your neighbor’s garden with your own declaration!” In this article, I would like to compare and contrast some of the superstitions of the Mediterranean cultures that are practiced under the guise of “scientific” premises within the United States.

I. Evil Eye vs. Positive or Negative Auras.

As a child, I was always accustomed to seeing a plaque with a big blue eye hanging in each and every room of my “beshmartaba” (five-storied building) apartment. The evil eye is the most powerful of superstitions throughout the Mediterranean world, and its power is based on jealousy and evil spirits. It usually consists of a single bead of blue glass set and centered by a blue or black dot. Such an amulet was believed to protect the wearer from the evil eye with bad intentions.

In the absence of “evil eye protection,” I somehow felt intimidated when surrounded by people whose praises and compliments seemed like an “intentional curse.” A few years after I moved to the US my grandmother passed away. Filled deeply with sorrow I visited a therapist who, in one of our sessions introduced me to the concept of “positive” and “negative” auras that are similar to the evil eye concept. Her advice to avoid “negative” people seemed like a good counter-example of an evil eye concept that I was accustomed to. Moreover, a victim of a negative aura even had their medically ascribed symptoms, which were similar to that of a person who was affected by an evil eye.

“ [It] often manifests as the perception of a strange light, an unpleasant smell or confusing thoughts or experiences. Some people experience aura without a subsequent migraine or seizure. ”

Though a negative aura in western mindset does not have a protective omen like an evil eye bead, the chief cure was similar i.e. avoid negative people.

II. Forty-day ritual vs. postpartum period.

Experiencing the pain of childbirth is the “best” trauma a woman goes through because that pain seems short-lived once a mother holds a newborn in her hands. Protecting and caring for that child is a life-long duty. My eldest son was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. I remember vividly how paranoid my late grandmother was in fear of visitors to the house. Mothers and newborn are traditionally required to spend a period of forty days in confinement after childbirth. During this period, a mother and a child usually do not accept visitors from outside except immediate family members. They stay away from household activities and are supposed to have a rehabilitation period through rest and an energy diet. My grandmother once told me, “A woman’s grave is open for forty days following the child’s birth.”

A postnatal period is the American and European version of a “forty day confinement” period observed by a mother and her newborn. The postnatal period is the period beginning immediately after the childbirth and extending for about six weeks. Biologically speaking, it is the time after birth, a time in which the mother's body, including hormone levels and uterus size returns to pre-pregnancy conditions. Lochia is post-partum discharge, containing blood, mucus, and placental tissue and if proper protocol is not followed excessive bleeding can be quite fatal for a mother and as such is similar to the “open grave” concept my grandmother spoke about. The experience of childbirth with my younger son in the U.S. however was quite the opposite. Although window shopping through endless Macy’s departments seemed like a delicate treat compared to that of a forty day “house arrest” with my eldest son, surprisingly, a forty day “home stay” worded as postpartum period was no different. True, no one forewarned me of my grandmother’s “grave analogy,” however, endless visits from lactation “experts,” nurses and phone calls from community care asking if I had a suicidal thoughts was nearly as bad.

III. Silver & sparkle vs. medical ionized bracelets

It was November of 2003 when a postmaster delivered a small box from my grandmother, Amina containing something dangling inside. After few minutes of unfolding an old, faded newspaper that tinted from the sun, I discovered a small cylindrical silver sack decorated with beads that held pieces of papers inscribed with suras2 from the Koran. The belief of the protective power of silver jewelry is quite common in most Mediterranean cultures. First, the beads and decorations on silver jewelry attract and dissolve an evil eye. Second, silver is a symbol of purity in the Islamic world, blessed by the Prophet (pbup3).

The protective power of silver also coincides in the West. According to the Web MD, a reputable online medical website:

“[S]ulfadiazine is bioactive and in sufficient concentration readily kills bacteria in vitro. Silver also kills bacteria in external wounds in living tissue, so physicians use wound dressings containing silver sulfadiazine .......it works by stopping the growth of bacteria that may infect an open wound. This helps to decrease the risk of the bacteria spreading to surrounding skin, or to the blood where it can cause a serious blood infection (sepsis)."

Personally speaking, I came to believe in the protective power of silver when my car once flew to a ditch on a bitter cold day of Minnesota winter. My silver sack, containing a prayer, and hanging from a rear-view mirror, landed on my chest, thus preventing me from being injured. I question why, of all the loose items careening about in the passenger compartment that very item had an affinity to be so close to me when my welfare was in danger? I must admit it was a golden “silver” minute even though I knew that my silver sack was nothing but a panacea, real or imagined, for my distressed emotions following the accident.

IV. Hand of Fatima vs. Biometrics

Hands have long performed many soul-reflecting acts. It can be as a seal of friendship or alliance, for holding tools, feeling the skin of a partner as an attribute of compassion to name a few. The hand is also a symbol and amulet throughout the Mediterranean world. The Hand of Fatima in Islam, the Hand of Miriam or the Hamsa Hand in Judaism contained within a Star of David are popular apostrophic amulets for magical protection from the envious or evil eye. In Jewish families Hamesh hands can be found in the form of ceramic wall plaques in which a hand-lettered Hebrew prayer occupies the center of the palm.

Sure enough the West also has its uses for hands other than bodily functions. Some of the main forms of biometrics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to, fingerprint, face recognition, DNA, palm print and hand geometry. It is not to suggest that the use of hands in biometrics was inspired by the hand amulets, however it is interesting to point out that both superstitious and biometric functions utilize hands in defense of some sort.

There are myriad other Mediterranean superstitions that can be explained within the context of science or the Western mentality, yet it is sufficient to portray a few to describe how complex the human brain is and how different that very brain can be in advocating and interpreting symbols in its surrounding.


Street Talk

Nicely done! informative and interesting.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thank you Lacey!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
Brandon8  

I have been seeing "Mediterranean" everywhere. Maybe it's a sign of something?

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

It is only a sign of "something" if you percieve it to be "anything"

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
jack-o  

interesting article. i moved to turkey three years ago and have been seeing a lot of similarities between turkish and american culture. the similarities are usually of an unthinking nature.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thank you for your comment. I hope you enjoy your stay in Turkey. It is amazing how much, we humans and cultures, for this matter, are alike, just just have to SEE!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Nice work. The essay is very interesting and most informative. Your command of the written English language is improving dramatically.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

This comment coming from the person whom I consider my Dostoyevskiy is very pleasant to hear. Thank you for your precious lessons Mr. Schroeder!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

This article is interesting, informative and well written. Great Job!! 9 out of 10.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thank you Corliss. I had a great teacher like yourself! Thank you.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
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