Monday, March 11, 2002

Protection against Evil

By Linda

This article will look at the hand gestures and protective devices associated with evil magic powers in the Wheel of Time world.

Many societies believe that some people have the ability to inflict death, disease or destruction by a glance; that they have the ‘evil eye’. This belief is strongest in the countries around the Mediterranean, but is also found elsewhere, such as in Scotland and Ireland.

The evil eye is regarded as a natural, inborn power, unlike witchcraft or sorcery, but there are divergent traditions as to whether it is under the control of its possessor. Sometimes it is spoken of as a force deliberately projected in a spirit of envious malice; sometimes, as something automatic and unconscious…

In Icelandic sagas there are several mentions of wizards or witches whose glance could blunt weapons, drive men mad, cause any living creature to drop dead, and make the land turn over, so that nothing ever grew there again. Before killing such a wizard, it was necessary to put a bag over his head to guard against the power of his dying glance. As these literary sources are concerned with heroism, possessors of the evil eye are then defeated in combat, not thwarted with amulets.

- Carl Lindahl, John McNamara and John Lindow (eds), Medieval Folklore

Jordan has woven such beliefs about magic and the evil eye into the Wheel of Time world in a few ways.

The channellers themselves can and do inflict death and destruction provided they can see to make their weaves. Like the differing opinions on those with the evil eye, channellers may have the inborn spark, which manifests without control and can cause unintended destruction, or they may have needed to be taught how to use their powers. Much of the populace regards all channelling as negative or potentially so, sometimes with good reason.

Another deadly gaze that features in the books is that of those evil channellers who use the True Power from the Dark One, undetectable by anyone else. Prolonged use of the True Power results in the saa, black flecks that cross the eyes and the field of vision, and ultimately, flames in place of the eyes (and mouth), surely an example of the evil eye.

A ‘minor’ manifestation of something like the evil eye would be the eyeless gaze of a Myrddraal, which causes many people to freeze in fear. Furthermore, some, such as Masema and his followers, regard the yellow-eyed gaze of a Wolfbrother as a manifestation of evil.

Magical evil in the Wheel of Time world can be countered by the weaves of benign channellers, or by jewellery defense system ter’angreal (equivalent to amulets, see below and in the Jewellery section of the Ter'angreal and Allied Items article), and according to the Seanchan, by certain gestures.


In the real world:

certain gestures were thought to ward off evil, notably making ‘horns’ by extending the index and little fingers, the rest being folded; making ‘the fig’, a sexual gesture, by thrusting the thumb between clenched fingers; and (in some countries) extending the hand palm outward. Small metal or bone hands making these gestures were worn as pendants, as were red or silver ‘Neapolitan horns’.

- Carl Lindahl, John McNamara and John Lindow (eds), Medieval Folklore

Such protective objects are amulets. Similar items occur in the series (see below).

The gesture of extended hand with palm outward does not occur in the series (except possibly in The Shadow Rising, Beyond the Stone, when Rand made his odd bow with “left foot advanced, left hand on knee, right hand outstretched palm upward” while requesting to enter Rhuidean), but the horns and fig gestures do occur.

Horns or Corna Gesture

The horns hand gesture, with index and little finger extended and thumb and other two fingers folded, is believed by some to ward off evil. The gesture may be an imitation of a goat’s head, which is commonly associated with the devil. Indeed, some Satanists use this gesture as a representation of Satan (i.e. a symbol of evil rather than protection from evil). The horns gesture is used by neopagans as a sign of the Horned God (Cerunnos, Herne the Hunter, Pan) and as a means of identifying fellow adherents. The counterpart of the horns gesture is the fig sign, see below.

(The gesture may also be a sexual insult in some countries, suggesting to a man that his wife is unfaithful.)

Tuon and Seleucia make the corna sign to ward off bad luck:

She made one of those odd gestures for warding off evil, folding under the middle two fingers and extending the other two stiffly. Selucia did the same.

- Knife of Dreams, A Hell in Maderin

Did the gesture successfully counter Mat’s unlucky action of putting his hat on the table? They were attacked by Darkfriends outside the inn at Maderin but killed all their foes.

The contrasting meanings of the horns gesture in the real world is consistent with the linking of magic and evil in the Wheel of Time world. The attitude of most people to channelling is that such power is regarded as potentially corrupting, if not actually evil. The destruction the Shadow are unleashing with their use of evil magic and the horrors of the Last Battle are likely to reinforce this view.

Crescent of Thumb and Forefinger Gesture

Another gesture used by the Seanchan to ward off any evil or perceived magical threat is made by forming an arc with thumb and forefinger, the others curled tightly (Knife of Dreams, A Manufactory). Faloun, Tylee and Mishima make it:

Tylee's hand seemed frozen in that odd gesture, thumb and forefinger forming a crescent.

- Knife of Dreams, As If the World Were Fog

It may be accompanied by the words “Avert the Shadow”. Tylee and Mishima made this gesture in response to the Dark One’s touches on the Pattern, but also when being near an Aes Sedai and when Perrin said he was prepared to be Healed with the Power.

This gesture is a neopagan one. It represents the crescent moon and invokes the Goddess. Interestingly, both the Mother Goddess and the Horned God (invoked by the horns sign, see above) were revered by the Celts and are linked to the health of the Land and thus to the extensive Arthurian themes of the Wheel of Time series (see Arthurian Myth essay).

There is another sign that is also associated with averting evil in the real world: the fig.

Fig Gesture

The fig sign is a gesture made with the fingers clenched into a fist with the thumb thrust between the middle and index fingers, or, rarely, the middle and ring fingers, partly poking out.

In ancient times this gesture was a fertility and good luck charm designed to ward off evil. However, in some countries of the modern world the gesture is seen as representing the female genitalia and is a great insult meaning ‘screw you/no way!’

(The gesture is also used in a trick played by adults on young children: the adult grabs at the child's nose and forms the fig sign, exclaiming, "I've got your nose!" The partially visible thumb is supposed to be the child's removed nose.)

The fig sign is also used by neopagans as a symbol of the mother goddess and as a means of identifying one another. Its counterpart is the corna sign (see above).

A very similar gesture is used by the Black Ajah to identify each other:

The woman held her hands at her sides, but with thumbs thrust hard between the first two fingers.

- Lord of Chaos, To Heal Again

Like neopagans, the Black Ajah use the sign to identify each other. In the case of the Black Ajah at least, it is made very circumspectly and may vary slightly so that it appears to be in context with the situation and does not arouse suspicions. By making the Black Ajah signal so similar to the fig sign, Jordan has provided an explanation for the disgust and outrage the formerly positive fig gesture often now arouses, and also for the use of the gesture among neopagans.

Not only hand gestures, but also certain objects were also believed to protect against the evil eye.


Amulets or talismans are objects that are or were believed to have magic powers to protect their wearers from misfortune, witchcraft or disease, or to bring good fortune.

Similar objects occur in the Wheel of Time series: the protective jewellery ter’angreal. These may be a single item such as Mat’s medallion, or a whole jewellery defense system, such as Nynaeve’s and Cadsuane’s ornaments. We have seen these ter’angreal keep their wearers alive and well against a variety of evil magical attacks (see Jewellery section of the Ter'angreal and Allied Items article) while others have been injured or killed. The wearers are fortunate indeed to own such protective articles. These ter’angreal may be Jordan’s ‘reverse-engineered’ explanation of the origin of belief in amulets.


Written by Linda, September, 2006

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