|"Mal de Ojo" - "The Curse of the Eye" or "The Evil Eye"|
I guess to start, I should explain that the title of this post is a translation - an exaggerated translation - of a phrase in Spanish is very difficult into English, primarily because the idea is so foreign to English-speaking cultures.
Let me start with a story. One day, a month or two after my first son was born, we went to visit her cousin. My wife went upstairs immediately to use the washroom, and her cousin noticed that the baby was fussing.
"I think he got hot in the street. Do you clean him?" she asked as I tried to calm the baby down.
"Well, yes," I explained, thinking that I understood the question. "At least once a day, and sometimes more often when it's really hot."
"Do you clean him?"
"Usually my wife does," I continued. "Sometimes I just take him into the shower."
"No - that's not what I mean. Do you clean him - I mean, with an egg?"
I obviously looked confused, so she explained. "Do you clean him from 'mal del ojo,' using an egg? Sometimes when a baby is in the street, they get 'mal de ojo,' and it heats their blood up. You have to clean them with an egg to take it away and calm them down."
Now I remembered: "I don't because I don't know how. I have to get someone else to do it." I had vaguely heard of the idea before
So, she proceeded to take an egg out of her cupboard, rub the baby's body and head with it. She then cracked it into cup of water, examined the water, and discarded it. He had calmed down by that point, so, the antidote had worked.
Later, my wife explained in more detail. From what I understand, "mal del ojo," occurs when somebody sees another person - especially a child - has the desire to touch that child, and refrains from doing so, thus leaving themselves with a sort of anxiety. (In Mexico it is common enough just to touch a child which they think is cute, adorable, etc. It is also common to touch the belly of a pregnant woman; in both cases, it doesn't matter if you know the other person or not.) This "anxiety" causes the child that they saw to get "mal de ojo." ("Anxiety" is not the best translation, but the concept as a whole kind of lacks words that work well in English, since we don't have anything like this idea.)
"Mal de ojo" manifests itself - again, from my limited understanding - as kind of a feverish sickness that leaves the child hot, uncomfortable and whiny. So, when children enter a home off the street, and are hot and cranky, it is almost 100% certain that someone had a desire to touch them, and didn't. (Personally, I suspect the heat of the Mexican sun, combined with the mountain of blankets that people put on their infants at any time of year has much more to do with it, but what do I know.) You can usually identify who/when it was, because you remember someone looking at the child. If the person who "cleanses" the child with an egg is the same person who had the desire to touch them, it works better. The child can also be cleaned by other methods, including sweaty clothes - I've never actually seen anyone do this, but I've heard and read about it.
When you crack the egg into water, the white leaves a "tail" streaming upwards; this tail contains the "mal" or "evil" from the mishap, indicating that it has been drawn out of the child. This is what my wife's cousin was looking for.
|A bracelet with a "deer's eye" to ward off "mal de ojo"|
You can also protect a child against "mal de ojo" by means of a red bracelet with a seed called a "deer's eye" on it.
I'm not a superstitious person, so I don't believe this really happens. My wife, who is also not superstitious, generally, was actually convinced by her relatives to buy a bracelet and keep it on our child for a few months.
Many Mexicans, however, don't even see this as a superstition; it's simply a fact of what happens, and how you have to deal with it. I once brought it up in an English class I was teaching, in which the theme was "superstitions," and several students were surprised that I lumped this together with four-leafed clovers and broken mirrors in credibility; everybody knew about it, much better than me, but no one had named it when we were listing superstitions. Needless to say, by no means do all Mexicans believe in it. There are plenty of non-superstitious and skeptical Mexicans. There is a definite link to social class, but I have come across some surprising exceptions.
On the other hand, who am I say that it's not true? Maybe in some sense beyond my understanding it actually does happen. Who knows.
Translation notes: The exaggerated translation for the title (together with the Eye of Sauron image from The Lord of the Rings) was meant to catch your attention, but the only other translation I've seen "Evil Eye," normally means something else in English, so I can't really think of a better way to translate it anyway. The more correct translation for "limpiar" in this case would be "cleanse" and not "clean;" but since it is the same word in Spanish, which caused part of my confusion, I translated it with "clean."
(By the way, the first time I heard about "mal de ojo" I couldn't help but to imagine the Eye of Sauron. No real connection, just my imagination.)
I don't really have any other posts about superstitions, but I have a few about religion, which is not really related, but something else to read.
(Update Feb 24, 2011: I just put up a post about Saint Death, a similarly wide-spread superstition with an almost cult-like following. See Saint Death - A Uniquely Mexican (and Strange) Phenomenon)