Esfand & The Evil Eye

by My Persian Kitchen on July 14, 2010

Esfand, Esphand, or Espand? Which one do you say or write ?!

It is pretty safe to say that Iranians are very superstitious and firmly believe in the “evil eye.”  The concept of “evil eye” is about being the victim of a curse on someone else’s behalf.  Iranians at times tend to be secretive about their achievements or upcoming endeavors simply because they are afraid that someone will bestow them with the evil eye. In fact sometimes you will see people refrain from sharing particular aspects of their lives out of fear of  “cheshm khordan,” literally translated being struck by the eye.

In Iran Esfand is used to fight against the evil eye.  This is a tradition that has been passed down through generations from the days of Zoroastrianism.  The idea is to burn Esfand seeds during which time the seeds make a popping sound, then the smoke that comes from the burning seeds must be circled around one’s head and home. The smoke and the popping sound are said to take away the evil.

The whole concept of the evil eye is something that many cultures believe it. It is fascinating for me to see how other cultures come to terms with the evil eye or superstition. Some people knock on wood, some people knock on their head, others throw salt back over their head, and some wear anti-evil eye accessories.

I have grown up around the whole concept of superstition and evil eye. I think it is so deeply instilled in all of us Persians! I have vivid childhood memories of both my grandmother and my grand-aunt always either burning Esfand or saying  a little prayer anytime people complemented me.  I was extremely close to my grandmother’s sister and the two of us used to have a grand time together.  She always used to tell me to scratch my derrière as soon as I received a complement. This was my grand-aunt’s quickie solution until we could burn some Esfand!

There are people that as considered to have “cheshmeh shoor” which literally translated means salty eye, meaning that they really have an evil eye! I think many Iranians can completely relate to what I am talking about here!

When it comes to superstition and Esfand there is a huge battled that takes place in my brain. It’s a classic example of logic vs.  myth. A perfect example of it is my inner thoughts when a few months ago I received a complement from someone who, shall we say, emits a bit of negative energy.  I had not seen this person in a while and when she saw me she complemented me profusely about how good and radiant my skin looked.

So I went into panic mode. Completely. The back story to this is the fact that as a teenager all the way through my early twenties I used to break out a lot. I used to day dream about having smooth skin. So when “negative vibe person” complemented my skin my Persian mind started racing and the inner thoughts started arguing:

“Oh my God, I am going to break out all over now. I should burn some Esfand when I get home.”

“Oh no you won’t. Calm down, you are over reacting. It’s not a big deal!”

Once I got home from the gathering where I had ran into “negative vibe person” I completely forgot about the whole thing. Sure enough a few days later, much to my horror my face broke out and a few pimples appeared on my face.  Oh the inner dialog went crazy!

“I knew it! I. KNEW. it! Cheshmam zad, that evil woman!”

“OK now! Let’s think about what you have been eating lately.”

“I have eaten nothing bad. She jinxed me!”

“You had almond butter the other day…you always break out after you eat almond butter.”

“That’s true, I do break out when I eat almond butter. I am never going to have it again. EVER!”

“And you have not been drinking as much water in the past few days.”

“Ha! True. Water does make a huge difference. But I am going to burn some Esfand anyway, it’ll make me feel better.”

I know, it’s insane. It’s a totally battle of logic vs. myth.

So you ask, how do you burn Esfand? Well let me show you!

You will need some Esfand seeds first and foremost. In Iran we used to use a small metal basket with a long handle.  This metal spoon and these seeds were brought back for me from Iran a few years back.

I keep my Espand in a container that closes shut and keep it in my kitchen.

The idea is to warm the spoon up until is hot.

Then scoop some Esfand seeds and let them burn.

But frankly speaking, the conventional matter in which the spoon is supposed to work, doesn’t work for me.  So what I do is make a basket out of foil and wrap it around the metal spoon.  The put the whole thing with seeds on the flame. Within a few seconds you hear the seeds popping.

The idea is to allow for the smoke to rise from from the seeds.  I absolutely love the smell of Esfand, it’s so good. At this point you will remove the whole thing from the stove and CAREFULLY circle it around yoru head and whomever is there with you, then take it all over you house and allow the smoke to linger in the air.  While circling the Esfand a prayer is said to keep all that is evil away. The smoke will cleanse you, your family, and home from the evil eye.

As a side note, the idea of circling the metal spoon with the burning seed over my head is not particularly appealing as I am afraid that one of the hot seeds will fall onto my head and my hair will catch on fire. Now that would be the mother of all evil eyes! So I feel much more secure with the foil bundle.

Now be sure that your Esfand doesn’t catch on fire.  This is what happens when you click away with your camera for the money shot!

I won’t talk about The Sous Chef’s expression when he first saw me burn Esfand. I know you all can just imagine it…yap…he doesn’t believe in superstition…I am sure he wondered what he was getting himself into by marrying me!

I would love to hear about what the rest of you do when it comes to superstition and evil eye.  Does your mind start racing creatively like mine? What do you do?

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Marietta Mary July 14, 2010 at 11:07 am

I just wear a turquoise amulet from Turkey to ward off the evil eye. It’s worked like a charm for over 40 years.

Erin July 14, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Great post! I tend to believe the more the esfand seeds ‘smoke’ when they burn, the more evil there was to smoke away! Also, when I married into my husband’s family, I thought the evil eye was such a silly thing. Now, I am a believer! We are always ‘dooding’ esfand at our house. I even keep a small jar at my parents house for when we are visiting.

sum July 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm

that is so interesting – i keep learning more and more about the siilarites between persian culture and kashmiri (indian side of kashmir) culture – i knew we already had saffron in common but recently you told about samovars and now about ”esfand” only in kashmiri we pronounce it ”esband”

we have a special container for it – they can be very beautiful and made out of silver – the smell of esband always reminds me of celebrations (like passing exams/graduating parties) or marriages – as it is burned at times of a persons joy to ward off the ”cheshmi badoor” as we call it.

Eric July 14, 2010 at 2:43 pm

My Great Aunt used to say that the more popping of the Esfand seeds, meant that more evil eyes are being thwarted. She used to burn it all the time. She also had this ritual where we had to jump over the burning pan. Not sure that that was all about! I never heard about the scratching of the derriere. That’s hilarious!

Marietta Mary mentioned a turquoise amulet. Years ago, as a child, I was told that the color blue, and the stone turquoise in particular, would ward off the evil eye. After hearing all of that, I swallowed a rock of turquoise in order to have it with me at all times and to always have good fortune. In hindsight, a very bad idea. As an adult, my Mom insists that I wear a blue necklace of Mary from Lourdes. She also keeps a couple of blue vases on her mantel. To dispel the Evil Eye. She tells me about one of her friends that frequently visits; that has an Evil Eye. A good person with no bad intentions, but they have that Eye.

As always, keep up with your excellent site. Best wishes.

Eric

maryam July 14, 2010 at 3:59 pm

I always burn ” Esfand’ in our house and i do believe the evil eye exists.
i remember my grandma saying that burning esfand cleanse the air too.
i remember when i was a child every time we got back home from my uncles’ house my mom used to burne some espand as she believed my uncle’s wife had evil eyes.
I’m not sure if you have heard of the ” cheshm and Nazar” , the blue/turquoise stone, which looks like an eye, that Iranian hang on the wall to dispel the evil eye.

shannon abdollmohammadi July 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I remember my hubby buying esfand after we married. My mother-in-law believes in this ritual more. Interesting.

Kris July 15, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Do you have an english translation of the prayer…we want to start doing it again have not done it since grandmother passed and hubby does not know the prayer in english or farsi…if you have it in farsi that would be great as well..thanks….gave up on Halvah !!!!

My Persian Kitchen July 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Kris, I will ask my mom for it. No way you gave up on the Halvah…noooooo! Mine didn’t come out good enough for your hubby??!!

Sean July 16, 2010 at 12:00 am

The correct name is Sepand; after the fall of Sassanids known as “Esfand”, as arabs couldn’t spell it.

Kimiyo July 19, 2010 at 10:28 am

My boyfriend (who is Persian) brought his own mixture of the seeds, and we burn some every time we BBQ. We don’t have a metal spoon, so we just through in the fire and pray… and I love doing this! I wonder where I can get the spoon, so I don’t have to wait till we BBQ… : )

Bria July 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Oh, I totally believe in the evil eye. Don’t really care if it’s logical or not. LOL! I know what you mean about this concept being deeply ingrained. To that end, I have several evil eye charms around the house, burn incense often to ward off bad vibes, and often wear an evil eye bracelet.

Now I must get my hands on some espand; thanks for the reminder.

I do think that there’s something about people’s energies, intentions, and thoughts that are very powerful.

Yaz November 26, 2010 at 10:04 am

Thank you so much for posting this.

Yes in the Arab world we do this as well. Am a Arab male and I was taught this by my great great grandmother.

She told me every Sunset you will have to carry out this ritual and espcially on WEDNESDAYS. with that we sprinkle salt so this is how we do it ….

Step 1:
with your right hand take some Espand then add sea salt, and make a prayer then breath 3 times on the Espand and sea salt in your right palm.

Step 2:
Sprinkle it on a bed of charcole or hot metal plate and listen to it crackle continue to make a prayer …

Step 3:
if there is no more smoke but you have flames always put it off with cold water

Step 4: when finished you have sprinkle the burnt Espand out side your house and somewhere where no one lays a foot … We always sprinkle it at the fromt garden soil ….

There you have it … :-)

I have had some major experiences and I must admit it has worked one time we did it just on the day of my sister engagement and our crystal chandlier smashed into pieces! what do you think about that??

My Persian Kitchen November 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Yaz, thank you for sharing your Esfand ritual, I loved it. I had a huge smile on my face while I was reading it. The smashed chandelier is classic…perhaps your sister was not meant to marry the man she was getting engaged to??!! :)

vahe h December 27, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Hi, is this the correct saying:
“esfande dune dune, esfande siosee(number 33) dune, cheshme hasudaro koor kon”

My Persian Kitchen December 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Vahe, that sounds mighty familiar!!

minnie February 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm

This is so nice to read. My boyfriend and his sisters burn Esfand whenever the kitchen has been cleaned thoroughly, or if (god forbid!) some glass is broken. I love the smell so much that I like to use esfand each time I clean the kitchen. However it isn’t so easy to come by in London so I need to stop doing this! it is such a lovely and unique fragrance.

Agnes February 19, 2011 at 10:02 am

My mom still tells me to scratch my behind every time
Someone compliments me. I’m not very superstitious and always think
She’s nuts, but I guess it’s a cultural thing.
She also tells me to not compliment babies or children
Because if something bad happens to them, the
Family is gonna claim you had an evil eye.
I’m sorry, but it sounds absurd to me!

Ludia February 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Darn, I was just at the Persian grocery today and could have gotten some “esfand”. I am so looking forward to this practice! Can only help…

GlassPetalSmoke February 19, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I wear a hamsa; more for its beauty than its alleged power against evil eye. I looked up the Esfand prayer and found this on a wiki:

“The spell-prayer goes:
Aspand bla band
Barakati Shah Naqshband
Jashmi heach jashmi khaish
Jashmi dost wa dooshmani bad andish
Be sosa der hamin atashi taze.

English translation:
This is Aspand, it banishes the Evil Eye
The blessing of King Naqshband
Eye of nothing, Eye of relatives
Eye of friends, Eye of enemies
Whoever is bad should burn in this glowing fire.”

Ann Sanderson March 13, 2011 at 5:33 am

Can this be bought in Persian shops in Sydney

My Persian Kitchen March 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Ann, I assume that the Persian stores should have it. :)

Teletarchee March 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

i have some peganum harmala seeds,are they the same as Esfand seeds?

I find waving smoke from these seeds induce tranquility and peace
but they also work as internal medicine,to cleanse the body and spirit.
NOw i wonder if these are the same. :)

thank you.

Kambiz April 1, 2011 at 7:28 am

Hi from Sydney down under Oz…I was brought up in a home with burning smell of Esfand, wild rue and yes they are peganum harmala seeds, all the same…. It is magic! Persians used the Over 4000 years ago, they had the right idea back then, it is a pity not many people know about Esfand these days…..I burnt some this morning: )

Sean May 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

Do you know a website where I could buy some Esfand? I have a friend who is pregnant and her and her husband are getting a new place and I want to give it to them as a gift.

Shamila July 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Hi I have a question, if you could answer it, it would be wonderful. What is the english name for Esfand? Thank You.

hutoxshi July 31, 2011 at 9:21 am

plz exactly what is Espand seeds or Harmala seeds in hindi or gujarati known as n where do we get it in mumbai -bandra) west

My Persian Kitchen July 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

@ Shamila, some know it as Rue Seed.

Mike September 17, 2011 at 1:06 am

You mentioned shattering the chandelier is classic,in response to Yaz’s question.

what happens to me usually,regardless of being in the presence of someone or not,is that a glassy items suddently shatters without a appraent reason,and a few hours later I find myself in bed,ill for a acouple of days.
just yesterday,I was just about to leave my apartment,just turn the key to open the door that I heard a loud smashing sound from bedroom,I rushed back and saw the table lamp shattered to pieces,tookhe tookh shod.and I saw my cat on the other side of the room shocked,as I was.and after a few hours I fell in bed,heavy all over my head&body,resting in the bed now.

it has happened to me before,several times.
does this phenomenon relates to what you’re discussing here(cheshm zadan or khordan)?

has anyone had similar experiences?

My Persian Kitchen September 23, 2011 at 9:24 am

@Mike, could it have been your cat who knocked over the lamp??!!

Mike September 29, 2011 at 2:08 am

Hey Sanam,
I would not imagine that scenario.she is a very polite and prudent cat.she jumps over the tables,crammed with lots of stuff but she wont hit or touch anything.like other day,we got a flower and placed it on a tall table,she wanted to see what is it,so she had a spectacular jump and landed on 10sq cm of space,without hitting anything and was there for around few min,on one position, playing with the flower.
actually the shattered lamp was the only item which was placed on a big box.(110cm length,70cm width,50cm height).
I can not think of the cat knock it down.

since,I wrote you last time,2 more items,got broken,one glass and one plate in someone else hand in my presence,but i didn’t get ill this time.I’m getting some clues,though! its to do with “energy” and “projection” .like when people “project” too much on you(like exaggerated compliments or getting flattered on beauty,or success etc,as with typical persian cases).

stay well,

m

My Persian Kitchen October 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Mike, this is all flat our bizarre!

Nikki October 28, 2011 at 5:46 am

Hi,

Great website, really enjoy reading your posts and trying out your recipes.

I’m partly Iranian-Zoroastrian. Since you mentioned that espand (esfand) goes back to Zoroastrianism, I wanted to say that espand (wild rue) and kondor (frankincense) serve another purpose for Zoroastrians. They were always burned inside houses to kill insects and bacteria, a custom which continues to this today.

There are also special burners, for burning espand & Kondor, which are often placed on Mehrgaan and Norooz spreads. Typically, Mehrgaan & Norooz sofreh in a Zoroastrian household have quite a few different items on them than the ones in a moslem household.

Zoroastrians placed & still do place a great importance on personal hygiene, public health and the prevention of contagious diseases. The Avesta mentions several medicinal herbs including basil, chicory, sweet violet, and peppermint, while Bundahishn cites the names of thirty sacred medicinal plants.

Perhaps, over the centuries this tradition became somewhat modified & reinterpreted as espand warding off ‘evil eye’ or ‘negative energy’. Over the centuries, many Zoroastrian traditions & practices were carried over, but some things were also modified along the way, for different reasons.

Here is more info:

http://www.iransara.info/Iran%20history_of_medicine.htm

Grace December 10, 2011 at 6:57 pm

What does it mean when a parent rubs her daughters face and kisses it ? After someone hugged them?

My Persian Kitchen December 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Grace, I have no idea….

Grace December 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm

While I dont believe that Esfand can ward off the evil eye, I have heard that it possess anti-bacterial properties when burnt. Wikipedia says the same:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esfand_svanta

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmal

Reza December 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Where can i buy an esfand burner? Been looking everywhere. I dont want to go to iran to buy one. lol

My Persian Kitchen December 27, 2011 at 1:18 am

Reza, I have seen them at some Persian stores in Los Angeles. You also do an internet search to see if you can find one.

taranom July 18, 2012 at 1:19 am

hi, your article is well.
good job.
and dear grace is true that esfand can ward off the evil eye.
i have been try it. trust me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

maryam August 14, 2012 at 12:04 am

likee

Lea February 11, 2013 at 7:57 am

Where can I buy these seeds? I live in CT and so far nobody in local stores have heard of Esfand.
Blessings and thank you for this page. Enlightening.

Lea February 12, 2013 at 8:37 am

Where can I buy these seeds? I live in CT and so far nobody in local stores have heard of Esfand.

Tried internet search and cannot locate any..

Blessings and thank you for this page. Enlightening.

Natacha February 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm

I love it! Iam portuguese and are customs and beliefs are pretty much the same there also big about voodo in our culture for evil eye or negitative energy we burn incense(the church kind) and myrhh with frankinsene its smells so wonderful makes you feel light. Also we take saltwater and rosemary baths Its cool to know about other remindes from other ppl i belive that there are ppl out there who have an evil eye!! so the more i know to get rid of it the better!!!!

Mary February 24, 2013 at 11:51 pm

liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike

My Persian Kitchen March 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Lea, you can do a search for Esfand or esphand and sadaf.

miascoolie June 3, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I’m a American married to an Iranian and we had a persian restaurant and my cook taught me all about esfand and the evil eye. Everyday we use to burn esfand and walk all over the restaurant and store. After she left I still burned it, maybe even more. To this day I still burn esphand and even bought myself an evil eye from the Grand Bazaar when we visited last time. I love all the supersitions Iranians have. Also if you need any persian items contact
Shahrzad Food Market
7817 W Sunrise Blvd
Plantation, Florida 33322
(954) 530-7024
Email info@shahrzadmarket.com
Website http://www.shahrzadmarket.com

They ship everywhere.

mahan July 27, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Esfand is called Syrian Rue in English. It has many beneficial properties besides being burnt. It can be purchased online or at your local specialty (sacred/religious) herb shop or most Persian stores. If you are going to use it for burning you might want to add a bit of Golpar (Heracleum persicum/Persian Hogweed) as well.

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