My true love and I recently returned from an amazing trip to England. It was really a splendid place to go on a honeymoon for two people who love strange, old things. The countryside was beautiful, and the food was actually ok, but what really struck us was the incredible museums.
We have great museums in the US, sure, but I saw more magical charms, cursed objects, and curiosities in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, than I have seen anywhere else, book or real life. I think my favorite things (other than the witch's spirit trapped in a bottle) were the cabinets of charms. One really struck me though, and that was the Cimaruta:
There were two whole cabinets of these silver charms. Sprigs of rue with various keys, moons, hearts, serpents or other objects incorporated into their branches. Upon further investigation, I found out these were called Cimaruta (sprig of rue in Old Italian) and are a remnant of Old Italian folk magic and protection from the evil eye, or Mal'occhio.
They were a form of apotropaic magic, a common, if not the dominant, type of protection magic used world wide in folk charms. This charm is based around the magic of the plant Rue, and is so interesting to me because it is a charm made of charms.
Interestingly, the Evil Eye belief is not universal. It has been documented though, for over 5000 years, originating in ancient Sumer. Geographically, the belief is tied culturally to the Semites and Indo-Europeans. It is tied to envy, hence why in some of these areas to lavish attention or praise on a child is looked down upon.
The Evil Eye is not always cast intentionally as well. It can happen by accident without any intention from the caster. The act of being in envy of another is enough to "overlook" them, and bring upon them illness, misfortune or even death. Understanding the ease at which someone could curse another may also be why there are so many, and such a variety of, charms to protect oneself from such malevolence.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) in itself is an interesting plant as well. In the Middle Ages it was hung in doorways and seens as a protection against plague. The plant was also an ingredient in ‘four thieves vinegar’, used by the perhaps legendary four French thieves who liked to steal from the bodies of plague victims.
The plant’s uses for protection and healing were so strong in the collective mind that when a rumour broke out in 1760 that plague had appeared at a London hospital, the price of Rue on the markets shot up. It was used as a strewing herb to protect against infection and keep fleas at bay."Rue the day" is also an expression based in the practice of throwing Rue at an enemy while cursing them.
An interesting thing about the Cimaruta is that it incorporates both Christian and Pagan symbolism, making a very good example of a folk talisman, as it is made with what's at hand. Some depict a heart, which is taken to represent the bleeding heart of Christ. Many have said that the usual three branches depicted in most Cimaruta are also evident of the three faces of the Goddess, Diana, which mirror the moon cycles. Maiden, Mother, Crone. Waxing, Full, Waning.
Raven Grimassi has written an amazing piece going into some more depth on the Cimaruta, so please check it out if you want to dig a little deeper:(Stregheria)He has an excellent website, and has written many books for those interested in the Stregheria, or Witchcraft, of Italy.
The Evil Eye by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, 
Pendell, Dale. Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path.San Fransisco 2005.
Witching and Bitching in Western NC.
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