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The Evil Eye

Featured in many cultures, the Evil Eye is a look directed at some unfortunate person, resulting in bad luck or harm. The poor soul who has been gazed upon must resort to unusual means to remove the curse.

I must admit I’m not sure if the woman is just an intellectual simpleton or a clever charlatan preying on the gullible.  I suspect the former.  In any case, here is the story.  Upon invitation, and for a fee, this peculiar character travels from the Middle East to North America to rid people of the effects of the Evil Eye.  Evil what, you ask?  As featured in many cultures, the Evil Eye is a look directed at some unfortunate person, resulting in bad luck or outright harm.  The perpetrator is usually believed to possess some sort of supernatural power, although in some cultures an envious person may cast the Evil Eye unintentionally.  In either case, the poor soul who has been malevolently gazed upon must resort to some very unusual means to remove the curse.  Such as sending for a witch doctor, for lack of a better term, who comes bearing the necessary tools of the trade: pieces of lead and some metal containers suitable for melting them.   

Here’s the process.  The victim of the evil eye sits on a chair, head covered with a towel.  The witch doctor proceeds to heat up a few pieces of lead in a dish on the stove.  Since lead has a relatively low melting point, it readily liquefies.  The molten metal is then poured into a container filled with cold water held above the victim’s head, hopefully with a steady hand.  Molten lead on the head is certainly not an attractive prospect.  There’s an immediate sizzle as the lead hits the cold water and solidifies into a variety of randomly shaped pieces.  Some of these, with a stretch of the imagination, resemble body parts and are picked out and displayed.  These were supposedly the parts cursed by the evil eye, and their presence in the bowl means the curse has been removed.  Fascinating stuff.  Needless to say, absurd.  And potentially dangerous.   

How do I know about this nonsense?  Because I had a call from an anxious lady who had been subjected to this bunk at the urging of her husband, who believed that her germophobia was the result of being targeted by an Evil Eye.  She thought it was pretty much claptrap but agreed to be “leaded” for the sake of good marital relations.  But all that the ridiculous process accomplished was to increase her phobias.  Now she has something else to worry about.  Could the lead have contaminated her stove so that every time it was now being used, toxic fumes of lead were being wafted into the air?  Not an unreasonable question.  Lead is an insidious toxin and even exposure to small amounts can cause harm.  In this case, though, there was nothing to worry about.  Since the stove had a ceramic top, it was easy to check if any lead had been spilled and solidified.  None could be detected.  The witch doctor may have been in need of some oiling of her mental machinery, but at least she was not sloppy. 

Although not the case in this instance, inhalation of airborne lead can present a very legitimate risk.  Radiator repair workers, for example, who commonly use lead solder, often have elevated blood levels of lead.  So do lead smelter workers, as do their children.  Lead tends to be absorbed by dust particles and contaminated dust is brought home on the skin, clothing, and hair of workers.  It has been estimated that a two-year-old child consumes about 100 mg of household dust a day, and if it is contaminated, that is enough to seriously raise blood lead levels.  Although there is no “safe” level of lead, it is generally believed that there is minimal risk if the level is below 10 micrograms per deciliter.  Many children of smelter workers have been found to have levels in excess of 30, a real concern since lead affects virtually all organs as well as the immune system and the nervous system.  Chronic low-level exposure has been linked with a multitude of problems ranging from anemia and decreased reaction times to increased blood pressure and impaired kidney function.  Studies have associated increasing lead levels with a lower IQ, sometimes even with levels below 10 mcg/dL.  

Since the elimination of leaded gasoline and lead-based paints, blood levels of lead in the general population have been dropping, but lead contamination certainly has not been eliminated.  We still have lead water pipes- brass components in plumbing systems can contain up to seven percent lead- and many old homes with flaking lead paint still present a risk for children.  Lead paint, although illegal, still shows up on some toys, and jewelry trinkets for children sold in vending machines have been found to contain lead.  In one case a child died from swallowing the pendant from such a necklace. 

And there’s yet another way to be poisoned by lead.  Ironically, the victims are people hoping to improve their health.  “Traditional medicine,” common in developing countries, and increasingly so in North America, can be a source of lead encephalopathy, or brain disorder due to lead ingestion.  A survey of the scientific literature reveals a number of fatalities and cases of residual neurological impairment after ingestion of traditional medicines originating in India, China, the Middle East, and Latin America.  Sometimes the lead is due to environmental contamination of the herbs and plants used, sometimes due to contamination during manufacture, and sometimes lead is added on purpose as a supposed therapeutic ingredient.  Incredibly, some lead preparations are applied to children to protect them from being cursed by an Evil Eye.  These poor kids may grow up with a reduced IQ.  Maybe that’s what happened to our witch doctor lady.  And then her IQ was further lowered by her repeated exposure to lead fumes.  So here she is, spreading twaddle, probably without realizing it.


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