My MIL spent the day with an old friend from Nairobi. When we went to pick her up, we naturally had to stay for tea and falooda — vanilla ice cream heavily loaded with rose water, tapioca, vermicelli, and nuts. Before leaving, I was pulled aside by the old friend, and in hushed Arabic told to put a black mark behind Eryn’s ear. Better yet, tie a black thread around her wrist. She is too precious and there are jealous people in the world.
When I told my MIL what was said, she replied, “Oh just recite Ayatul Kursi and blow on her before you go out.”
I find that now I have a baby, I keep coming across interesting practises, talismans and preventative rituals to protect the very young.
The one most often used for any type of praise, is to say, masha’Allah, or ‘God’s will be done.’ “Wow, that outfit looks killer on you, masha’Allah” “They are really happy together, masha’Allah.” She is too cute, masha’Allah.”
The idea behind this is that positive attributes have been granted by God, and you certainly wouldn’t want them to be taken away in some divine twist of fate. But it’s said with such intensity sometimes, that forgetting to say it can cause people major stress. My mom doesn’t say it (why should she), and I can always see my Muslim family saying it beneath their breath, or looking at her intensely and pronouncing masha’Allah like a talisman with every praise she lavishes upon her granddaughter.
In the same way, Ayatul Kursi, a famous Qur’anic verses which extolls the divine attributes of God, is often recited for protection against evil, sickness, and before bed — presumably to take refuge in God’s protection in case you don’t wake up.
To ward off evil spirits, we were given a silk cloth with Ayatul Kursi written on it, along with a mini Qur’an to place in her bassinet. It reminded me of a Chinese practice of placing a mirror on the windowsill of a baby’s room to scare off any evil spirits who may be lurking around. Though, I can’t remember where I heard of this, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.
And when we first arrived in Kuwait and entered my in-laws’ house with Eryn, a family member took a baked egg shell and circled her several times with it while making supplication. I was treated next, and then I assume the egg shell was was disposed of. Apparently a baked egg shell can take away any evil or ill-intent that was picked up from the outside. A friend told me that the shells are then ground up and buried, or simply flushed down the toilette.
But my favourite talisman is the blue eye — protecting people from Greece to Turkey to Ethiopia. It’s so pretty and makes a great souvenir. A family from Kuwait gave us a baby safety pin with a mini replica soother and blue eye. I gave everyone in my work unit a blue eye, which I picked up when we went to Greece, and a friend gave me one from Egypt. They’re everywhere!
I’m really not a big believer in these practises, especially when you get into talismans and eggs (although, I do cover my bases by saying masha’Allah and I have been known to recite Qur’an and blow on Eryn from time to time. You know. Just in case.) It is wonderful seeing people genuinely concerned for the welfare of my child and passing on obscure and colourful cultural rituals to the next generation.
As for other protective rituals, I’ve heard of El Colacho, Spanish baby jumping, where men dressed as the devil leap over babies lying on mattresses, to remove evil and sin. And the “baby tossing” ritual in Western India practised by both Hindus and Muslims, where babies are dropped from a 50-foot tower and caught on a sheet for good luck.
Any others out there?