SIDON, Lebanon: Superstitions that have carried over from past generations are still being observed by people today, mainly the elderly, who feel that certain objects will ward off evil spirits and provide protection.
Popular traditions have described the most common spirits as being invisible to humans, made of fire and either good, evil or neutral.
Believers in such superstitions purchase items from stores that sell perfumes, cosmetics and trinkets used to expel evil spirits and reverse spells. At such shops, referred to as “attars,” storeowners regularly offer advice on which items would best remedy the predicament of the customer.
Hajj Nazih al-Sousi has an attar shop, but he argues that the items he sells are best used for decorating and can’t do any good or harm.
“I spent decades selling everything linked to attars and some customers order strange and bizarre things that I sometimes have to order from local markets,” he says, before jokingly adding: “May God increase the number of the spirits.”
Sousi says customers tell him many stories that he is reluctant to believe. “I eventually sell the customers what they ask for. There are a lot of people who ask for a flying fish, which I sell for LL20,000 to expel evil spirits.”
The flying fish is found in the Mediterranean, and after drying it is often hung in the bedroom of women who have suffered a miscarriage. Miscarriages are believed to be caused by evil spirits.
Malakeh al-Saed had just bought a flying fish. “My daughter in law had a miscarriage and purchasing this fish was necessary because it frightens away the evil spirits. It’s efficient and has been tried by family members. God has created it for this purpose,” he said.
Another item purchased by customers is a dried starfish, which is sold for LL7,000 and hung in households to bring good fortune, happiness or simply for decoration. Jamal Rinno, a local fisherman, said: “I use the starfish at home for decoration; it’s beautiful, natural and has a beautiful color.”
Zofr al-jinn or “azfar al-tayib” are claws that originate from large creatures with many tentacles which fishermen cut off and dry. It is used to evict spirits and the size of the tentacle given is usually according to the type and strength of the evil spirit.
Sousi laughs and jokes with his customers. “I tell them that when you get out of here you should close your eyes for a while so that you can’t see the spirits. It’s a harsh joke but they believe it.”
As for the blue amulets that he sells, Sousi says: “I sell them for decoration; they are hung in the houses and above the doors or inside cars to prevent accidents. The amulets usually have proverbs written on them like ‘may the envious become blind.’”
Mustapha Ibriq, who hangs one of these in his car, said, “It keeps away accidents and I also hang a little shoe at the back of the car to prevent envy.”
Sousi shares the story of how one of his most popular items, the horseshoe, originated. The story says that according to old books there were two fighting tribes and the head of one tribe asked those who don’t want to fight to hang a horseshoe above their doors in order to bring safety. Since then the horseshoe is hung to bring safety and to protect the home from envy, destruction and death. Again, he jokes, “ May God increase the number of the spirits.”
On a more serious note, however, Sousi adds: “Many people believe in the existence of spirits, but these spirits are often better dealt with by holy sayings instead of the items found in my store.”