The term generally signifies the charming or enchanting of
another by the eyes or the looks; to hold or keep in subjection
by charms, by powers of pleasing. It is derived from the Latin
fascinare (enchant). A belief in the power of fascination appears
to have been prevalent in most ages and countries. In ancient
Greece and Rome there is the example of Theocritus’s wish
that an old woman might be with him to avert this danger by
spitting, and the complaint of Menalcas (in Virgil) that some
evil eye had fascinated his lambs.
The Romans, with their usual passion for increasing the host
of heaven, deified this power of evil, and enrolled a god, ‘‘Fascinus’’
among their objects of worship. Although he was a
numen (presiding spirit), the celebration of his rites was entrusted
to the vestal virgins, and his phallic attribute was suspended
around the necks of children and from the triumphal chariots.
Lucretius, in Of Natural Witchcraft for Love, states
‘‘But as there is fascination and witchcraft by malicious and
angry eyes unto displeasure, so are there witching aspects tending
contrariwise to love, or, at the least, to the procuring of
good will and liking. For if the fascination or witchcraft be
brought to pass or provoked by the desire, by the wishing or
coveting any beautiful shape or favour, the venom is strained
through the eyes, though it be from afar, and the imagination
of a beautiful form resteth in the heart of the lover, and kindleth
the fire where it is afflicted. And because the most delicate,
sweet and tender blood of the beloved doth there wander,
his countenance is there represented, shining in his own blood,
and cannot there be quiet, and is so haled from thence, that the
blood of him that is wounded, reboundeth, and slippeth into
the wounder.’’
Vairus, prior of the Benedictine Convent of Ste. Sophia in
Benevento, published a treatise, De Fascino, in 1589. In it he
first points to whole nations that have been reported to possess
the power of fascination. The idolatrous ‘‘Biarbi’’ and ‘‘Hamaxobii,’’
on the authority of Olaus Magnus, are represented as
‘‘most deeply versed in the art of fascinating men, so that by
witchcraft of the eyes, or words, or of aught else [a very useful
latitude of expression] they so compel men that they are no
longer free, nor of sane understanding, and often are reduced
to extreme emaciation, and perish by a wasting disease.’’
He then proceeds to similar marvels concerning animals
‘‘Wolves, if they see a man first, deprive him of all power of
speech; a fact yet earlier from Theocritus. The shadow of the
hyaena produces the same effect upon a dog; and this sagacious
wild beast is so well acquainted with its own virtue, that whenever
it finds dog or man sleeping, its first care is to stretch its
length by the side of the slumberer, and thus ascertain his comparative
magnitude with its own. If itself be larger of the two,
then it is able to afflict its prey with madness, and it fearlessly
begins to nibble his hands or paws (whichever they may be) to
prevent resistance; if it be smaller, it quietly runs away.’’
In the tenth chapter of the First Book of Vairus the author inquires,
‘‘An aliqui se fascinare possint’’ a question that is decided
in the affirmative by the example of the Basilisk of Narcissus,
and of one less known, though equally unfortunate, Eutelis.
In the twelfth chapter Vairus states that the more wicked a person
is, the better he is adapted to exercise evil fascination. This
book offers two cautions ‘‘Let no servant ever hire himself to
a squinting master, and let jewellers be cautious to whose
hands, or rather eyes, they intrust their choicest wares.’’
Additionally, Vairus stresses that all those individuals who
are immoderately praised, especially behind their backs, persons
of fair complexion and of handsome face or figure, particularly
children, are most exposed to fascination. This notion
probably arose from such children attracting more attention
from strangers than others less indebted to nature. It was an
impression of his own personal beauty that induced Polyphemus
to put into practice the spitting charm that Cotattaris had
taught him.
In The Second Book of Varius, after disputing against ‘‘natural’’
fascination, which he treats as visionary, Vairus concludes
that all fascination is an evil power, attained by tacit or open
compact with the devil.
A second writer on this matter is John Lazarus Gutierrez, a
Spanish physician who may be believed to be equally well qualified
for the consideration of mystery. His Opusculum de Fascino
appeared in 1653. Of his own experience he does not say
much, but in his Dubium he cites an account of a servant who
could bring down a falcon from her highest flight by steadily
looking at her. He also cites two other wonders the first of a
man in Guadalazara who was in the habit of breaking mirrors
into minute fragments solely by looking at them; the second,
of another in Ocana, who killed horses and even children by
the contagion of his eyes.
From Jerome Cardan, Gutierrez extracted the following
symptoms by which a physician determined that his patient was
fascinated loss of color; heavy and melancholy eyes, either
overflowing with tears or unnaturally dry; frequent sighs and
lowness of spirits; watchfulness; bad dreams; and falling away
of flesh. The patient was also diagnosed as fascinated if a coral
or jacinth worn by him lost its color, or if a ring made from the
hoof of an ass, when put on his finger, grew too big for him
after a few days. According to the same writer, the Persians used
to determine the sort of fascination under which the patient labored
by binding a clean linen cloth around his head, letting
it dry there, and analyzing any spots that arose on it.
But the most curious fact stated by Gutierrez is that the
Spanish children in his time wore amulets against fascination,
somewhat resembling those in use among the Romans. The son
of Gutierrez himself wore one of these; it was a cross of jet,
(agavache) and it was believed that it would split if regarded by
evil eyes, thus transferring venom from the child to itself. The
amulet worn by the Gutierrez boy did split one day while a person
was steadfastly looking at him; in justice to Gutierrez it
must be added that he attributed the occurrence to some accidental
cause. He expressed his conviction that the same thing
would have happened under any other circumstances.
Throughout his volume, indeed, Gutierrez uses all his reasoning
to explode the superstition.
A third similar work is that of John Christian Frommann, a
physician of Saxe-Coburg, who published his Tractatus de Fascinatione
in 1675. Frommann quotes Theocritus, who claimed
that children in unwashed baby linen were easily subject to fascination,
as was any beauty who employed two lady’s maids to
dress her hair; moreover, all those who lay in bed very late in
the morning, especially if they wore nightcaps; all who broke
their fast on cheese or peas; and all children who, having been
once weaned, were brought back to the breast would, even
against their will, be gifted with the power of fascinating both
men and beasts.
In order to ascertain whether a child was fascinated, three
oak apples could be dropped into a basin of water under its cradle,
the person who dropped them observing the strictest silence.
If the apples floated the child was free, if they sank it was
affected. In another test a slice of bread was cut with a knife
marked with three crosses, and both the bread and the knife
were left on the child’s pillow for a night; if marks of rust appeared
in the morning, the child was fascinated. Some also believed
that if on licking a child’s forehead with the tongue a salt
taste was perceived, it was proof of fascination.
Protection Against Fascination
The following remedies against fascination rest upon the authority
either of Vairus or Frommann, or both, and several may
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Fascination
be traced to Pliny an invocation of Nemesis; the root of the
Satyrios orchis; the skin of a hyena’s forehead; the kernel of the
fruit of a palm tree; Alyssum (madwort) hung up anywhere in
the house; the stone Catochites; spitting on the right shoe before
it was put on; hyssop; lilies; fumigations; sprinklings; necklaces
of jacinth, sapphire, or carbuncle; washings in river water, provided
silence be kept; licking a child’s forehead, first upward,
next across, and lastly up again, and then spitting behind its
back; sweeping the child’s face with the bough of a pine tree;
laying the child on the ground, covered with a linen cloth, and
then sprinkling it with earth in the form of a cross; laying turf
from a boy’s grave under a boy’s pillow, from a girl’s under a
girl’s; silently placing near a child the clothes in which it was
baptized; if, as is sometimes the case, a child appears to derive
no benefit from washing, taking three scrapings from the plaster
of each of the four walls of its bedroom, and sprinkling them
on its linen; three ‘‘lavements’’ of three spoonfuls of milk; giving
in a drink the ashes of a rope with which a man has been
hanged; drawing water silently, and throwing a lighted candle
into it in the name of the Holy Trinity, then washing the patient’s
legs in this water, and throwing the remainder behind
his or her back in the form of a cross; hanging up the key of
the house over the child’s cradle; laying on the child crumbs of
bread, a lock with the bolt shut, a looking-glass, or some coral
washed in the font in which it was baptized; and hanging round
the child’s neck fennel seeds, or bread and cheese.
Vairus states that huntsmen, as a protection against fascination,
used to split an oak plant and pass themselves and their
dogs between it. As amulets against love fascination, he recommends
a sprinkling with the dust in which a mule had rolled itself;
a bone which may be found in the right side of a toad; or
the liver of a chameleon.
Some instances of more recent belief in fascination than
those referred to above may be found collected in John Brand’s
Popular Antiquities (1849). Such belief was prevalent among the
inhabitants of the western islands of Scotland, who used nuts
called Molluca beans as amulets against fascination. James Dallaway,
in his Constantinople Ancient and Modern (1797), remarks
that ‘‘Nothing can exceed the superstition of the Turks respecting
the evil eye of an enemy or infidel. Passages from the Koran
are painted on the outside of the houses, globes of glass are suspended
from the ceiling, and a part of the superfluous comparison
of their horses is designed to attract attention and divert
a sinister influence.’’
Martin Antoine Del Rio wrote a short notice of fascination,
which he divided into ‘‘Poetica seu Vulgaris,’’ that resulting
from obscure physical causes, which he treated as fabulous;
‘‘Philosophica,’’ which he considered to be contagion; and
‘‘Magica,’’ to which he heartily assented.
The Evil Eye
A belief in the destructive power of human vision was once
widespread, and the power was called ‘‘casting the evil eye’’ or
‘‘overlooking.’’ Individuals with eyes of a different color from
others in their community, or with such defects as a squint or
cataracts were suspected of causing harm by overlooking. People
believed this could affect animals, individuals, or objects
and result in illness, poverty, injury, death, or other evils. During
the great witch-hunting manias, hundreds of individuals
were burned after being accused of causing injury through casting
the evil eye.
The evil was believed to be averted by countercharms, amulets,
or ritual actions. Making an image of the person believed
to be overlooking and sticking pins into it was one way of removing
the evil eye. Another method was to go out at night and
collect nine toads, which had to be tied together with string and
buried in a hole. As the toads languished, so the person casting
the evil eye would pine away and die. An ancient remedy was
to make gestures having a sexual connotation. It is possible that
the veil worn by the bride in European marriage was originally
a protection against the malice of the evil eye.
The term fascination has also been used in reference to the
more hypnotic aspect of the practice of mesmerism or animal
magnetism in order to induce a trance. The operator gazes
steadily into the subject’s eyes for five or ten minutes. It is possible,
however, that trance is induced more by the subject’s concentration
upon the eyes of the operator than by any mysterious
power from the operator’s eyes, since trance can be
induced by having the subject stare fixedly at a bright object.
Fascination is also evident among animals and reptiles, as in
the often quoted instance of a snake fascinating a bird.
Psychic Force and Vision
Psychical researchers have often claimed that there is a psychic
force exerted by human vision, and some psychics are believed
to have influenced objects at a distance by gazing at
them. Various instruments have been devised to demonstrate
this claimed psychic force, exerted by willpower, by proximity
of the hands, or by vision (see biometer of Baraduc; De Tromelin
cylinder; sthenometer). One of the most interesting instruments
of this kind was developed by British physician
Charles Russ, described by him in an article in the British medical
journal the Lancet (July 3, 1931) as ‘‘an instrument which is
set in motion by vision.’’
Brand, John. Popular Antiquities. 1849. Reprint, London J.
R. Smith, 1870.
Dallway, James. Constantinople Ancient and Modern. N.p.,