My beloved Grandma Rose came to the United States from Italy when she was but a young woman. After living in New York for many years, she relocated with her husband and grown children to the quaint village of Riverside, Illinois. She lived the remainder of her 85 years there in a magnificent red brick house that had been built in the Colonial Revival style with a stately semicircular entrance porch flanked by white Ionic columns.
From its cobwebbed attic filled with dusty old trunks and restless spirits, to its white and black tiled 1940's-styled kitchen that was ever filled with the sweet aroma of Italian seasonings and butter cookies, Grandma Rose's house grew to be a very special place for me as I was growing up. It was there that I attended my first séance, had my first psychic experience, learned about Witchcraft, and was initiated into the Craft by my older cousin Carol, who was a White Witch.
Grandma Rose enjoyed gardening and had a special way with plants. Her talent was what some would call a "green
thumb." The grounds behind her house hosted a beautiful garden filled with roses, vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs.
I have many fond childhood memories of my grandmother's garden, and to me it was quite an enchanted place. Sometimes it seems as though it was only yesterday that I walked barefoot upon its dew-kissed violets and clover on a misty summer morning or smelled the scent of its parsley, basil, and oregano plants, as I lay upon a hammock reading omens in the clouds drifting lazily above.
Fairies and other nature spirits were said to have inhabited Grandma Rose's fragrant and secluded garden. I never actually saw them, but I could always sense their nearby presence whenever I spent time there. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of some tiny sparkling thing moving in my peripheral vision, but as soon as I would turn to look, it would always be gone.
I also remember an old tree near the garden that my friends and I felt was inhabited by some unseen elfin creature (for lack of a better word). They feared that tree and always kept their distance from its grotesquely twisted trunk and branches whenever we'd play in the yard. But, for some reason, I always felt strangely drawn to it and would often tell my secrets to it or place flowers or some of my toys at its base as gifts for the elemental spirit dwelling within.
Grandma's Home Remedies
My grandmother was a wise woman. She knew of the healing powers that herbs possessed and often applied them in her home remedies. Garlic was revered for treating infections, homemade apple cider vinegar for the itching caused by poison ivy, and witch hazel for swellings and inflammations. When my mother was a young girl and was stricken with rheumatic fever, Grandma Rose treated her with a mustard poultice that she called a plaster.
I later learned that mustard seeds possessed not only medicinal value, but magickal ones as well. In the rural regions of the "old country," as my grandmother often called her homeland of Italy, it was a common folk custom to sprinkle black mustard seeds on the windowsills and thresholds of dwellings in order to prevent restless ghosts and evil spirits from gaining entrance.
I was very close to my Grandma Rose when I was growing up. Nearly every afternoon after school let out for the day, my mother would pick me up and we'd drive over to my grandmother's house in Riverside to visit her and help her out with her grocery shopping, household chores, and the preparation of dinner. Crippling arthritis had immobilized both of Grandma Rose's legs, making it both painful and difficult for her to walk or stand for any long length of time. She appreciated the help and greatly enjoyed the company.
Grandma Rose would spend hours upon end talking to my mother about such things as old family recipes, folk remedies, and the "good old days" of her youth spent in far away Italy. Every so often I would overhear her speak of the mal occhio (the evil eye), especially whenever a certain woman who had a reputation as being the neighborhood gossip became the topic of conversation.
I don't know whether or not Grandma Rose actually believed in the powers of the evil eye, but it was a subject that she enjoyed talking about and appeared to be quite well versed in. She said there were people known in Italy as jettatore (individuals who possessed the mal occhio). To cast their curse upon another, all they needed to do was gaze enviously upon that person, often while praising them. In some cases, an angry, venomous stare would be the only thing needed to work the magick.
However, not every jettatore was aware of the fact that he or she possessed the evil eye, and they would often cast it upon their victims involuntarily and without a deliberate malicious intent behind it. There was no explanation why certain people were born with it and others were not, but it was clear that not all persons who were capable of casting it were evil by nature.
Such was the case of Pope Pius IX, who many Italians believed was a jettatore. Although he was not considered to be a malevolent man, the curious fact that unexplained disasters befell a great number of the persons and places blessed by him led many folks to believe that such a thing could not be a mere coincidence. The only acceptable explanation for them was that he possessed the mal occhio.
The Italians have many methods of combating the evil eye. Most are simple ones, such as spitting on the ground, wearing red ribbons, reciting certain passages from the Bible, and making phallic hand gestures. The wearing of a golden charm shaped like a horn and filled with a pinch of sage is another method that is said to be highly effective against the evil eye, and one that continues to remain popular among many Italians. In fact, I have two male relatives on the Italian side of my family who frequently wear such a charm on a gold necklace. While neither of them will readily admit to believing in the power of the evil eye, they evidently feel that it is far better to be safe than to be sorry. And I couldn't agree with them more.
Some methods involve the use of herbs, many of which Grandma Rose grew in her garden and kept in mason jars in her walk-in pantry. Anise seeds could ward off the evil eye by being burned or strewn around the home. The ancient Romans believed that eating rue could give them immunity against the evil eye, while bathing one's eyes with water in which rue had been steeped was supposedly effective in curing those who had already fallen victim to a jettatore's evil glance.
The ritual burning of frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood was, at one time, believed by many magickally-minded individuals to be a highly effective method for diverting the evil eye. These, and other fragrant botanicals, would also be strewn around the home to prevent persons who possessed the evil eye from gaining entry and causing harm. This method was also thought to be a preventative against the evil eye, as well as a means of inducing second sight.
To protect yourself against the malevolent power of the evil eye, wear or carry a mojo bag filled with one or more of the following herbs: angelica, betony leaves, anise (also known as aniseed), castor beans, henna, lady's slipper, lavender (nicknamed "elf leaf" by Pagan folk of centuries past), lime tree twigs, pennyroyal, periwinkle, rue, sage.
"The glances of envy and malice do shoot also subtilly; the eye of the malicious person does really infect and make sick the spirit of the other. " —John Aubrey, 1696.
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