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?