Renée Haynes

Great-granddaughter of T. H. Huxley. Coined the phrase "the boggle threshold". Received B.A. and M.A. degrees in Oxford. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1946, editor of the JSPR from 1970-1981, past vice President and council member. Member of the Alistair Hardy Research Centre and the Churches' Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. Contributed chapters to many books and wrote numerous articles in a variety of publications, including The Christian Parapsychologist, Theta, Parapsychology Review, The International Journal of Parapsychology, Fate, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and many others. Received into the Catholic Church in 1942.

The Evil Eye

 - Renée Haynes -

          IN CONNEXION with psycho-kinesis one ought perhaps to consider the phenomenon known as the Evil Eye. In Italy, where belief in it is still very much alive, it is considered to be of two kinds. With the first, malocchio, I am not concerned here; it is thought to be a voluntary and deliberate piece of ill-wishing, and is probably to be explained in terms of suggestion. The other kind, the jettatura, is very much more interesting. It is conceived as an involuntary power over which its unfortunate possessor has no control, and its effect is to bring bad luck to his neighbours. It used to be thought superstitious to speak of certain people as "unlucky", attracting misfortune to themselves; but it is now intellectually respectable to do so provided that the current verbal fashions are followed and that one uses the term "accident prone". Accident proneness is officially recognized as a risk among factory workers, and industrial psychologists have investigated the subject in some detail. It springs from various unconscious sources, including the need to purge away guilt in self-punishment.

It is not far from the idea of the accident-prone individual to that of the Jonah, the man who makes the boat dangerous, the man whose own personal ill-luck is believed to involve his companions. It is easy to see that, say, an accident-prone worker in an atomic power plant might be an outsize in Jonahs, bringing disaster not only on his work-mates but upon the surrounding countryside.

Now the possessor of jettatura need not himself be accident prone. He projects his accident proneness on his surroundings. He is unlucky by proxy, a Jonah whose misfortunes occur only to those around him, unknowing or unwilling scapegoats in whom his conflicts are worked out. On a journey, it is his friend's luggage, not his own, which falls inexplicably off the dockside into the water. Pots of azaleas carefully arranged on a shelf for a party topple on to somebody else's head when he comes into the room, and so on.

It looks very much as if this sinister misfortune - life is understandably difficult for the man believed to possess the quality of jettatura - were a combination of accident proneness and psycho-kinesis, and thus closely connected with poltergeist activity. Both varieties of phenomena are associated with given individuals. Neither is primarily associated with the conscious mind of those individuals. Both may affect physical objects.

There is room for considerable research in both subjects. It has been claimed that poltergeist phenomena clear up when the conflict in the unconscious mind of the person in whom they are centred is resolved, though not much evidence on the point has been published, partly perhaps for reasons of professional etiquette. In 1942, I was told myself, in circumstantial detail, of an elderly cook around whom poltergeist activity developed at a period of acute war-time tension and who lost several jobs through no fault of her own, because her employers could not stand the strain, let alone the expense, of seeing saucepans float gently off stoves and crockery crash from the table to floor without her touching any of them. She was then given psychiatric treatment for some other condition, and the poltergeist trouble cleared up at the same time. This, however, is purely anecdotal. It would be interesting to know if any systematic records of such cases have been made in England and whether Italian psychiatrists have thought of investigating and treating instances of jettatura on these lines. Those to whom it is attributed are not always peasants living in remote villages; at least one distinguished academic character is said to be afflicted in this way and to be uncomfortably conscious of the fact. Men of intellectual ability might well be willing to co-operate in experiments designed not only to illuminate this condition but to rid them of it.

It would also be interesting to know whether this particular form of the Evil Eye is recognized in other parts of the world as well as Italy and the Near East, or whether it develops particularly easily in people born into those mental and physical climates, just as the peculiar precognitive phenomenon of "false arrival" seems especially prone to develop in Sweden and Finland. In this - which occasionally occurs in England as well, though not nearly so often - all the sounds of a man's coming home, front gate banging, feet running up the steps, key turning in the lock, front door slamming - are unexpectedly "heard", say, an hour, half an hour, twenty minutes, before his actual coming repeats them in every detail, like a delayed echo. It is an alarming experience in countries where it is unfamiliar, and apt to be deceptive to anyone who is cooking; no explanation has been put forward, except under the general heading of telepathy between those involved. I have known three first-hand instances of this. In each the home-coming was of an unpredictable person so vague about time that no expectation could be formed of when he was likely to arrive.


The article above was taken from Renée Haynes's "The Hidden Springs. An Enquiry into Extra-Sensory Perception" (Hollis & Carter, 1961).

Other articles by Renée Haynes

A New Interpretation of Psi Phenomena

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