Evil Eye in the Mexican and Central American Culture

Belief in the evil eye, or mal de ojo, is a culture bound syndrome in traditional Mexican and Central American culture. According to the superstition, this illness results from the perception that some people possess innate strength, the power to harm those without this advantage. The weak included women, elderly, babies and young children, while men or wealthy and politically influential individuals make up the strong. Moreover, it was strongly feared that when a powerful person stares at a weak individual, the eyes of the strong person drain the power and soul from the weak one regardless of intentions. In these cultures, the condition can also occur when an individual stares at something or someone with admiration. The person observed may become sick and a valued object, unless touched shortly after a person with evil eyes appreciated it, may become broken. Reported afflictions by those the evil eye is intended for comprise of inconsolable crying, fitful sleep, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

There are several reasons as to why the eye symbolizes this distressing occurrence, or culture bound syndrome as defined in lecture. Of the five senses, the eye is most embodied in the brain. “The anatomists explain the eye as the window to the brain; the poet calls the eye the window of the soul” (Berger 2012). The visual communication that occurs between a newborn and its mother has been determined to be critical in the development, both physically and psychologically, of the infant. Additionally, a penetrating stare expresses dominance, control, and forcefulness pressuring the weak individual to divert their eyes from the gaze of a commanding figure.

The traditional cure for mal de ojo in rural Mexico involves the practices of a curandero. A curandero, which are shamans or traditional folk healers, use a raw egg to treat this illness. By passing a raw egg over the inflicted victim the negative power the person with the evil eye possesses is absorbed. The egg is then covered with a straw cross that is to be positioned beneath their head while they slumber.  The next morning the curandero examines the form of the egg by cracking it to determine if their efforts resulted in success for the sufferer. The shape of the yolk can also convey the gender of the enemy. Another exercise recommended to treat the symptoms of this illness and return the soul is for the strong person to move their hand over the forehead of the weakened individual.

The superstition of the evil eye is important in Mexican culture because it explicates how disease is perceived in their culture, that people can becomes victims by the destructive behavior of others. In addition, that fear in their culture may arise from the envy of others.

 

Berger, Allan S. “The Evil Eye–an Ancient Superstition.” Journal of Religion and Health 51.4 (2012): 1098-103.

Gurung, Regan A. R. “Mexican American Medicine: History, Roots, and Key Maladies.” In Multicultural Approaches to Health and Wellness in America. 2014.

“Mal de ojo.” Medical Spanish Culture: http://www.antrho.palomar.edu/medical/med_1.htm

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Anthony Massoll says:

    In my own words I would define culture as a specific group of related, or unrelated factors that can be used to distinguish a certain sample group of people from an entire population by determining which individuals share those same factors of interest. I chose to word my definition so vaguely because of the lectures from this week that state many times how cultures are not bounded or homogenous. I do not think that “mal de ojo” should be considered a culture bound syndrome because I believe it is not limited to a single culture. I also do no believe it should be a CBS because just like PMS has become a common illness in western populations, I believe that ANY culture bound syndrome will continue to afflict all those who are aware of it and perpetuate when in all actuality it seems that it could be easily explained from a biomedical approach. I believe that Evil Eye could be explained as extreme paranoia or anxiety in a modern western culture such as the United States. I also strongly believe that Evil Eye could be classified as a “health-seeking” behavior, one that giving attention to only positively reinforces the sufferer to continue in their absurdity and pandering behavior.

  2. Desirae Jemison says:

    I define “culture” as a specific society way of life, beliefs and views. I think that this definition best defines culture because when I think of culture I think of beliefs. I think that the illness “evil eye” that is found in the Mexican and Central American culture should be regarded as culture bound syndrome because these two cultures consider evil eye superstition to be a sign power and strength which is strictly culture bound. Another reason why I believe this illness to culture bound is based off of the reasons listed in your post, which is the eye being the most embodied in the brain. Some of the advantages of this illness would be that having the illness shows a sign of power, strength, expresses dominance, and control, On the other hand this illness can have disadvantages such as people envying the ones that have evil eye because they don’t possesses the strength and power quality. Another disadvantage would be fear. As you stated in your post it is believed that people that have the evil eye have the power to harm those without this advantage.

    I think that maybe this condition could be explained in a different ethnomedical system or in a different culture by explaining that the eye is the beholder. It is said that through the eye is the gateway to the soul. Having this condition that allows you to look a person in the eye gives you dominance and a form of control in my opinion.

  3. Widad Nasser says:

    I define culture as beliefs and views that depict the way a specific group of people live their life. It distinguishes one group of people from another in a population filled with different cultures. I do believe that the “evil eye” is a culture bound syndrome. To have an illness related to the “evil eye,” you need to believe that that is the reason for your illness. In the Mexican and Central American culture, “mal de ojo” is a sign of evil power or strength, passed on to the week causing illness of some sort. People that have the power to afflict the evil on onto others, is a sign of power and strength. However, the persons being given the “evil eye” become week. Like you stated in your post, the evil eye can be passed by just by stares of admiration. I also agree with the above post, that this culture bound syndrome is not limited to one culture. The “evil eye” is also common in the Middle Eastern cultures. I know this because I too believe in the “evil eye.” In the Western culture, however, the “evil eye” can be seen as a spiritual belief and not a cause for illness. Like Anthony stated, it can be seen as a form of anxiety or paranoia.

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