Greeks believe in Christian Orthodoxy and many Greek customs and practices have developed from religious celebrations and rituals. The Greek view on life in general, as well as a person’s life experiences, is grounded in a belief in fate and destiny expressed as ‘God’s will’. There are terms and practices which tie this sense of fate with faith in the Christian God. Other practices link it to an evil curse or superstition derived from pagan or folk beliefs.
Tihi (Tyche) is a frequently used word meaning ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. It stems from the ancient Greek name of the deity of luck or fortune, Tyche. Greeks often use this word to explain the inexplicable or incomprehensible. It is especially used about marriage, wealth and health. If a person has either a successful marriage or a marriage breakdown, this would be attributed to their good tihi or bad tihi respectively. A person who is seriously ill or who has an incurable disease is said to be experiencing bad tihi.
Mira (Moira) literally means ‘portion’ and refers to one’s destiny in life. Mira is often described as having been ‘written’ at birth for each person, implying that one cannot escape his/her destiny. This belief in the power of destiny, originating at birth, stems from the ancient Greek belief in the female figures (the three Fates or Moirae) who controlled the thread of life of all mortals and immortals.
In modern Greek culture tihi and mira are sometimes used interchangeably. Mira mainly refers to the individual’s life journey, whereas tihi describes a particular event or incident in a person’s life contributing to their destiny (mira).
Mati or ‘the evil eye’ is the belief, dating back to antiquity, that individual misfortune is caused by the envy of another. Greeks refer to envious people as having the ability to cast the evil eye on a person with good fortune (wealth, beauty, good health, or beautiful and successful children) causing them ill-health or some other misfortune. The person who casts the evil eye may do so unintentionally, for example, by staring, gazing, or looking enviously at a person, their possessions, or their children.
The curse of the evil eye is broken though a strict process. The healer recites a secret prayer received from an older relative of the opposite sex, performs the sign of the cross and spits in the air three times. The transmission of the secret prayer/s from one person to another must follow this sequence. According to superstition if the secret prayer/s is indiscriminately passed on then the healer loses his/her ability to cast off the evil eye. For the many Greeks who believe in the power of the evil eye, there are ways to determine whether in fact a person has been affected. When the healer and the affected person yawn as the healing process takes place, and when the healer places drops of olive oil in a glass of water and the olive oil sinks or dissolves in the water, naturally, this wouldn’t occur if there was no evil eye involved.
Spitting lightly three times on the admired or complimented person or object is the most common way for Greeks to prevent casting the curse of the evil eye. This is a very common and encouraged practice. Other ways to ward off the evil eye include wearing a blue bead with an eye painted on it (either on a pin, bracelet, or necklace) and hanging garlic close to the entrance of one’s home.
Many Greek Australians, both elderly immigrants and those born in Australia, believe in the power of the evil eye and continue practices that ward it off . Younger Greek Australians wear jewellery with blue eye beads. At the baptism of their baby children parents may pin a blue eye bead on the child’s clothing to prevent a curse being cast unintentionally by those admiring the young child.
Katara is the Greek word for ‘curse’. Unlike the evil eye katara refers to a deliberate curse resulting in grave misfortune for another person. This word is used to describe a cursed individual, family, or community.
In Greece there are some common superstitions but other superstitions vary between villages. Common superstitious beliefs held by some Greek immigrants include:
• Handing a knife to someone could result in a dispute with that person. Instead the knife is laid down enabling the other person to pick it up.
• Crows are considered to be omens of bad news, in particular, they are an omen for news of death.
• Tuesday the 13th day of the month is considered a day of bad luck and is equivalent to Friday the 13th in Western cultures.
• Shoes turned with the soles facing up are considered a sign of very bad luck. They are promptly turned back, accompanied by some spitting!
• Touching a red-coloured item occurs when two people say the same thing at the same time. This prevents an argument occurring between them.
• Using the same door when entering and leaving someone else’s home avoids bad luck. If you enter through the front door and leave through the back door you could invite bad luck on the inhabitants of the home – especially on a pending marriage proposal.
• Placing money in something new brings good fortune. Throwing coins into someone’s new car will bring safety. Placing money in a newborn’s crib will bring the child good fortune.