The Tour The Guidebook The Evil Eye

Ask anyone in Khiva about the evil eye and they will generally lower their voices and look over their shoulder before giving you an answer. Seventy years of Soviet scorn for such superstitions has not eradicated the belief in the evil eye, even amongst Russified Khivans.


‘Pouches stuffed with koranic verses and hund around the house to ward off the evil eye’

The concept is not a new one nor is it unique to Khiva or even to Central Asia. It is believed that an evil power exists that finds ways of harming others through the deliberate or unintentional gaze of certain people. Complements or envy are the main way in which the evil eye can be put on someone and in Khiva it is thought that usually old people, particularly women that have ‘hard eyes’ and are able to inflict the evil eye curse.


Sometimes the curse is unwittingly passed on by compliments and praise, whilst other times it is done in spite due to envy of wealth or beauty.
“My wife’s twin sister was killed by the eye, “explains Zafar, a young Russified Khivan. “Her twin was older and stronger and everyone thought that my wife was more likely to die prematurely. Then, when they were two the girls went to a party with their mother. An old woman there kept looking at my wife’s sister and complementing her. The little girl began to cry and that night she became sick for no reason. They took her to the hospital but the doctors could find nothing wrong with her and she died a few hours later. The old woman must have had hard eyes and the evil eye killed my wife’s sister.”

‘Trinagular pouches are hung up over car dash boards with the words ‘okh yol’ written on them which means ‘white road’. A white road is considered lucky.’
The evil eye is kept at bay by hot spicy things like chili peppers


Munjik beads worn as earrings

A munjik bead, cowry shell and camel wool string talisman

Babies are considered to be most at risk from the evil eye and for the first forty days after birth are kept in seclusion and away from visitors as they are still too weak to withstand the eye. The beshik, or cradle is designed to totally cover the baby and to add protection, a knife, bread and an onion are placed under the mattress. These are just some of the ways protecting against the evil eye. The knife is used for its sharpness, the bread is placed there because bread is holy and the onion is considered ‘achik’ or hot, which the evil eye does not, apparently, care for. Usually a triangular cloth charm is hung on the top of the beshik, stuffed with cotton and with verses from the Koran.

Munjik bracelets and talismans are sold in the bazaar

These triangular pouches are also hung up in cars with the words ‘may your road be white’ written on them, to offer protection from bad driving. To protect houses from the evil eye, dried chili peppers are hung beside the front door and some times even a bottle filled with hot spices is hung over the lintel as the ‘achik’ or spiciness is considered to keep the evil eye at bay. The ‘isfand’ herb is also hung up outside houses as this is thought to contain special properties to ward off evil. Inside the house it is common for a string of cloves to be hung near the front door.



The ugly sticks protruding from the Tosh Hauli palace disguise the spleandour within

Sharp sticks, peppers and a bottle of spices all keep the evil eye away from this house under construction

To protect people, charms and amulets are worn. Sometimes these are pieces of paper with koranic verses written on them and stuffed into pouches or even sewn into clothing. More often they are camel wool or munjik beads. Camel wool is thought to protect against the evil eye and a wisp is either pinned onto a piece of clothing, or twisted around a button. The munjik beads are small black and white eye shaped beads which are either worn as bracelets, earrings, attached to clothing with a safety pin or worn around the neck with a cowry shell. These amulets are mainly worn by women and children. Often charms are hidden from public view and seen as a secret weapon against the eye.
Other precautions taken against the evil eye include avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth or beauty, avoiding compliments, especially towards small children, and following any compliment with the phrase, ‘may the eye not strike’.

Crafts people will often create deliberate mistakes in their crafts because only God is perfect and if made too beautiful, the evil eye might strike. Similarly in architecture, rough wooden sticks protrude from Tosh Hauli palace in order to deceive the wondering glance of the evil eye and avoid it seeing the opulent splendour inside the palace walls. Building construction is a vulnerable time for the eye to strike, and often a chicken is slaughtered before building commences to appease any spirits and chili peppers are hung up to keep the eye away.

Burning isfand is a potent form of protection

A tabib with a camel wool charm attached to her lapel

One of the most potent forms of evil eye protection is the isfand herb, which is burnt and wafted around a house to keep evil at bay. However, for particularly vulnerable people, such as pregnant women and babies, charms and isfand are not enough. They are kept either in confinement or inside the house as much as possible to avoid the potential stare of someone with ‘hard eyes’.
Victims of the eye may be helped reportedly by inhaling the smoke from the isfand herb. In serious cases, the victim is said to be saved only by burning a piece of the robe belonging to the person with hard eyes who placed the curse. The local ‘tabib’ or shaman also plays an important role by either providing charms to protect against the evil eye, or casting spells to release someone from the evil eye’s influence. Tabibs can also put the evil eye on someone and are sometimes hired to do just that. Even the most Sovietised Khivan will try and avoid getting on the wrong side of a tabib for fear of the potential repercussions.
Whilst foreign guests to Khiva often do not believe in the evil eye themselves, it is important to remember that many local people do and therefore lavish compliments may not always be well received, particularly towards small children.


Tour Links:

Guidebook Links:

‘Abdullah Khan Madrassah’ ‘Antique Jewellery’
‘Dost Alimjan Madrassah’ ‘Earrings’
‘Emir Tura Madrassah’    
‘Tosh Hauli Palace’    
‘Micha the Camel’