The Curse of the Idol’s Eye

24 Jan

The Hope diamond, once the eye of a Hindu god, is the world’s unluckiest gemstone. Suicide, violence and ruin have dogged the footsteps of those who have possessed it. The diamond was purchased by Louis XIV in 1668 from a French trader named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who is believed to have stolen it from the eye socket of an idol in the temple of Rama-sitra, near Mandalay. Tavernier subsequently went bankrupt, sailed for India to try to recoup his fortune, and died en route. The French king had the diamond cut into the shape of a heart, and it was worn by his mistress, Madame de Montespan, who was also involved in the notorious ‘affair of the poisons’, in which a number of old crones who told fortunes provided poisons for killing off unwanted husbands. Black magic was allegedly involved and, though the scandal was suppressed, Madame de Montespan fell from favour and the old women were tried in secret and later burned. Tavernier and the King’s mistress were by no means the only ones, however, to whom the idol’s eye brought misfortune.

The diamond reappeared in London in 1830, but now greatly reduced from its original 112.5 carats to 44.5 carats. It was purchased by the banker Henry Thomas Hope for £18,000 and from then on was known as the Hope diamond. Neither Hope nor any other member of his family is known to have suffered any ill effects from the diamond, that is until it passed into the hands of singer, May Yohe, who married Lord Francis Hope. They were plagued by marital problems and the wife prophesied that the diamond would bring ill luck to all who owned it. She herself died in poverty, blaming the diamond. Lord Francis, in severe financial trouble, sold it in the early 1900s to a French broker, Jacques Colot, who went insane and committed suicide – but not before he sold it to a Russian, Prince Kanitovsi, who lent it to a French actress at the Folies Bergere, then shot her from his box the first night she wore it. He was stabbed to death by revolutionaries. A Greek jeweller, Simon Mantharides, bought the Hope diamond and later fell (or was thrown) over a precipice. The Turkish sultan Abdul Hamid (better known as ‘Abdul the Damned’) bought the jewel in 1908 and was deposed the following year – but only after he went insane. Habib Bey, its next owner, drowned.

The diamond then passed, via the famous French jeweller Pierre Cartier, to the American Edward Beale Maclean, proprietor of the Washington Post. Soon after he purchased it, his mother died and so did two servants in the household. His son, 10 year old Vinson, who had always been heavily protected and watched over, evaded his minder one day and ran out of the house, where he was knocked down and killed by a car. Maclean himself parted from his wife, was involved in the infamous Teapot Dome scandal and ended his life as an insane alcoholic. Evelyn kept the Hope diamond and frequently wore it, dismissing stories about its malign properties. When her daughter committed suicide in 1946, however, it was recalled that Evelyn had worn the diamond on the day of her wedding. After Evelyn’s death a year later, all her jewels were purchased by the New York jeweller Harry Winston for a sum rumoured to be a million dollars. He decided to present it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958, where it has been exhibited for the public’s viewing pleasure ever since. Quite why it has never, in all these centuries, simply been returned to its original owners at the Hindu temple near Mandalay (given that it was stolen in the first place!) I’m not entirely sure…

Sceptics regard the ‘curse of the idol’s eye’ as mythical (rather like the curse of Tutankhamen), pointing out that many of its owners suffered no misfortune. Whether or not scepticism is the right attitude in this case, it may well be rash to dismiss the whole notion of curses as superstition out of hand. T C Lethbridge, of the Psychical Research Society, was convinced that tragedies and unpleasant events can leave behind their ‘imprints’ on the places where they occurred. Lethbridge felt that certain so-called hauntings could be explained in this way as a kind of ‘recording’. This notion of recording lies behind the theory of psychometry, that is the ability of certain people to ‘read’ the history of an object by holding it in their hands. Clairvoyants, for instance, believe that crystals possess this power of absorption to a high degree – hence the popularity of crystal balls. If a curse is merely a kind of negative recording, this may suggest a reason why some people may be affected while others escape unscathed. ‘Sensitives’ are regarded as being unusually receptive to such recordings while other people would not even notice them. If physical objects – like crystals – are sensitive to the vibrations of the human mind, it would also seem to follow that under certain circumstances a ‘curse’ might be imprinted on them deliberately. The ancient Egyptians certainly believed that their tombs could be cursed in this way against robbers. The priests of the temple of Rama-sitra may well have taken the same precaution with the Hope diamond.

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