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Jettatura Madder

Though there is no sure way we can prove the existence of luck as a fundamental force, we can see the effects of phenomena which give luck - and those which take it away.


Named Jettatura from the archaic Italian for ‘the evil eye’, this rare but distinctive species from the genus rubia is an opportunistic parasite, splicing itself into the stems of other shrubs and flowers and causing their roots to prioritise feeding its rapacious needs until, having starved its host, both wither up and die in a tangled embrace. Even before it starts to thrive while the surrounding greenery is choked, the Jettatura Madder is quite noticeable. It shares a similar red colouring to the Japanese Madder which, while not the primary source of the rubia roots which can be processed to create a variety of red dyes sometimes described with the catch-all ‘madder red’, most overtly displays its association to the colour.

Jettatura Madder might, even with its peculiar life-cycle of producing only a couple of barbed buds that latch onto and feed from already-healthy and established plants, have been considered a subspecies of the Japanese Madder if not for some unique markings. Its leaves, already almond-shaped with acute apexes, have two overlaid circles at their centre, giving the impression of an iris and pupil. But this visual similarity to the iconography of the evil eye is, if anything, the plant’s most innocuous feature: Where other Madders can cause birth defects or miscarriages if consumed when pregnant, and have sometimes been used as abortifacients, Jettatura Madder’s toxic influence is a curse of bad luck - the systemic and systematic destruction of its victims’ lives.

The mechanism by which Jettatura Madder brings about this ruin remains the subject of intense investigation and even more speculation. Some argue that there is some unidentified chemical component to the leaf which causes a fundamental psychopharmacological shift, that those who have been poisoned with it are pushed towards self-sabotage and catastrophising, while others suggest explanations that tend more to the mystical. This categorisation of things into either preternatural or supernatural speaks more to the ontologies of those who know of and discuss these things than a phenomenon’s intrinsic quality: Are we creating new questions to be addressed by an established field of study, or beginning to encroach on a wholly distinct school?

For those unfortunates who have - as the victim of malicious intent or by their own careless ignorance - ingested either the leaf or the extract of Jettatura Madder, the root cause of its malignancy is generally of little concern. From the moment the poison is absorbed into their system they live cursed lives: The effects take hold slowly, often beginning with an increase in clumsiness where important or emotionally significant objects are damaged or lost, and can be easily dismissed as the results of a thousand common causes - tiredness or being run down, for example. The creep towards more significant and lasting misfortunes can take months, though the escalation always eventually makes itself known.

The next stage is the onset of external calamities. Initially minor; an important piece of mail is lost in transit, a bus or train is missed or delayed or an ill-timed power cut spoils meat and milk, such setbacks soon become commonplace. Depending on their temperament, some people might even meet these problems with a wry resignation. But even this knowing fatalism seldom lasts long, as the cumulative effects create tensions and stresses that domino from minor crises into personal and professional catastrophes. Loved ones are caught up in endless efforts to mitigate an unyielding storm of difficulties, concern slowly turning into toxic frustration, whilst uncontrollable circumstances lead to mistakes and missteps that damage careers.

The quality of someone’s character can only stave off the inevitable: Eventually, always, the toll becomes too much for some - whether it is the afflicted themselves or those around them - to bear. Lives are reduced, traduced, hollowed out and left lessened by the overbearing oppression of sustained misfortune. While not often fatal, the weight of living with such a curse can reduce quality of life to such an extent that the victims become isolated by choice, afraid to make connections in case their dearth of hope spreads, draining anyone close to them. They eke out subsistence lives, clinging hopelessly to what little they have that fate cannot take from them, acutely aware that any morsel of respite is only ephemeral.

Some victims attempt to... if not cure then at least counteract the effects of the Jettatura Madder, gathering charms, fetishes and talismans that purport to improve one’s fortunes or garner the favour of the ever-capricious fates. For those who know only the results of their changed fate and not its cause, nor the wider world of the impossible things that might be more likely to ameliorate their suffering, such tokens are often useless, at best. More than one such sufferer has come to the end of their life surrounded by collections of their cultures’ charmed objects - four-leafed clovers, scarabs and representations of red bats to name but a few - that would make even the most superstitious of gamblers jealous.

Some, in an irony one would have to be deeply jaded to find effective humour in, even end up with nazar; common charms found originally in Middle Eastern and, later, Eastern European traditions, which are intended specifically to provide protection from the evil eye. Those of a more religious or spiritual bent may make offerings and entreaties to such gods and monsters as they believe can help them, though these routes have not been shown, beyond occasionally anecdotally, to be any more effective than the gathering of the aforementioned trinkets. There is, however, a supposed means by which the curse of the Jettatura Madder can sometimes be passed along; assuming the original victim is callous or desperate enough to force their misery onto another.

In this ritual two Jettatura Madder leaves are moistened, with one carefully adhered to each eye of the originally afflicted. Temporarily blinded, and no doubt in great discomfort, they close their eyes and bind them tightly for eight hours. When the cursed person opens and clears their eyes, it is said that their gaze will pass their chronic absence of luck onto the first face they see. The curse either given to a stranger or, per some reports, someone tricked or imprisoned and forced to be Jettatura Madder’s next victim. Whilst I would not wish such suffering on anyone, I cannot help but feel a swell of revulsion for those who would, rather than hope no-one else need ever experience their pain, attempt to curse someone to suffer as they have.

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