Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/776

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not confined to the Latin races, but prevails in Persia and China, as well as among the South-China Malays and their East Indian neighbors. In Southern Italy the superstition is almost universal. According to the popular theory, the possessor of an evil-eye can stare his victims into all sorts of afflictions, palsy, rickets, goitre, etc. Nay, his power for evil has hardly any limits whatever, for by the same optical process he can produce death and epidemics—cholera infantum, for instance. And, moreover, such persons are generally conscious of their dreadful talent, and can forbear its exercise, for they manage to connive at their favorites. Evil-eye wizards can be known by their peculiar way of squinting, or by their bushy eyebrows, that conceal the piercing steadiness of their gaze, and orthodox crones lament the decadence of the good old times when such offenders could be brought to justice. According to the myth of the Puranas, the god Siva can blight a whole town with his withering look; and the Indian gods, who often visit earth in the guise of mortals, are sometimes recognized by the rigidness of their gaze: they never wink; to their sleepless eyes space and time are units. Hecate and Medusa had such optics, and the basis of the superstition may possibly be the primitive man's dread of mental superiority, the power of mind over matter, ascribed to the eye, as the mirror of the soul. Captain Burton noticed that the negroes of Soodan are almost unable to meet a white man's gaze, though they quail still more before the fire-eyes of their Semitic neighbors. The Veddahs of Ceylon, too, seem, to dread a Siva in every foreigner.

But the most wide-spread of all superstitions is the belief in portents. In some of its modifications the tendency to ascribe an ominous significance to certain events, and good or bad luck to be auspices of certain times or contingencies, is all but universal. It survives the influence of every other form of superstition. The elder Pliny, who calmly rejects the entire mythological system of his countrymen, admits his belief in the prognostications of the haruspices. The skeptic, Wallenstein, kept two or three professional astrologers. Napoleon the Great was a firm believer in lucky and unlucky days. The Pyrrhonist, Walid, surrounded himself with Egyptian pages on account of the favorable auspices of their nationality. The Marquis d'Argens, the presiding atheist of the Sans-Souci symposia, after shocking even the scoffing king and the king of scoffers by the profanity of his remarks, was apt to turn pale at the discovery of a double peach-stone or the accidental spilling of the salt. French mariners have ceased to vow wax-candles to Our Lady of Brest, but they still dislike to leave a harbor on Friday, or during the progress of a hail-shower. The agnostic Chinamen (for the gospel of Confucius is nothing but a secular code of morals) postpone a journey if they meet a decrepit old woman. Certain dreams impress them so strongly with the dread of impending disaster that even opium-smokers will forego their drug