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This is a short account about the connections between the God Horus and the Maltese word ?ares which as a verb means to see, while when used as a noun, means ghost.

Submitted: August 08, 2015

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Submitted: August 08, 2015



The Eye in Maltese & Mediterranean Folklore


The 'eye' is the most efficacious tool to cast spells usually of a malignant nature - a belief that is most prevalent amongst societies living at subsistence level. 

The origin of the belief in the evil eye and the symbolic objects related to, goes back to the Mesopotamian culture of some 3000 B.C. Even in the Bible there is mention of the power of the evil eye. In the Greek world the eye was also seen as a powerful symbol. The same symbol was also very much part of the Phoenician and Egyptian religious beliefs and is known as the Eye of Horus, the latter being an Egyptian deity. In Mediterranean societies, someone with bold and especially blue or strong dark eyes may well be regarded with some apprehension as people may fear him (more often her) as being a person with evil powers.

The eye of the falcon god Horus was equated with the sun and its life giving properties, but also with its withering power of the sun's rays that emit intense heat. This  is why Horus is represented as the falcon god carrying the sun on the top of his head. The falcon is of course the symbol par excellence of the god that sees everything as he flies in the skies. The Pharaohs were identified with Horus when alive, but with Osiris when dead.Horus was also the brother of Seth. It was Seth who according to Egyptian mythology was always feuding with him, and who in a duel tore out an eye of Horus and devoured it. Horus vindicated this and was awarded the sovereignty of Egypt. The god Toth restored the Eye to Horus.

The eye motif which in Egyptian lore was known as Wadjet or Ugiath conveyed health and happiness. It was imported into Malta by the Phoenicians who during their journeys came in contact with Egyptian religious beliefs and adapted them to their own religion. The Phoenicians reached Malta some time in the 8th century B.C.

The eye used to be depicted on amulets which were worn as powerful talismans in numerous societies. The Maltese fishermen today paint the eye on the luzzu fishing boat only as a decorative element, but in olden times it was definitely a symbol that was meant to ward off any ill fate that might befall them while at sea, The tornado at sea was / is a great mishap that the fishermen were / are terrified of.

The causes of numerous malignant happenings in people or in farm animals were / are often attributed to the evil eye cast by someone who may be envious of other people's state of well being or else someone who wishes evil upon others. Farmers possessing cattle, or mothers with young children are very wary of any compliments expressed by strangers or neighbours that are expressed towards them, lest they would be the victims of ill health caused purposefully or unintentionally. The person who gives such compliments may easily fall under suspicion that it was s/he who cast the "ghajn" (Maltese for the evil /malignant eye). Even in today's modern society, when complimenting a mother for the beautiful baby she has, one would hastily add 'Alla jbierek' ,meaning, 'God bless'; just in case the mother would have any predisposition for superstitious belief in the evil eye. The best antidote for any such unwarranted compliments will be to set a warding off mechanism by immediately forming the 'horned fingers' made up of the little finger and the pointing finger. These are meant to ward off and send back to sender any ill intentions that may harm the person, his beloved or his possessions. 

One aspect of the god Horus that I find of particular interest in Maltese lore is the etymological connection. The word Horus is probably of the same Semitic origin as the word ?ares. This word used in the Maltese language today conveys two meanings: as the verb: to see;  and the semitic name for a ghost or spirit. Maybe the origin stems from the the same origin, that is the ghost was related to the deity (Horus) who was able to "watch" and so observe and supervise all. A similar explanation to this is found in the Phoenician mythological figure of Mot, the god of death. In the Semitic Maltese language Mot would also possess the same phonetics of the Maltese word mewt (pronounced as in English moat) which means death.



Martin Morana

August 2015 ©

© Copyright 2019 Martin Morana. All rights reserved.

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