“Mal de Ojo” or “Evil Eye” Outside of the US

The scholarly journal of the week I chose, The Evil Eye-An Ancient Superstition written by Allan S Berger, describes the different implications and elaborations of the ‘superstitious’ evil eye concept among different cultures. The author begins by stating how he first encountered evil eye or mal de occho, as it was referred to in his New York City East Side neighborhood. Berger not only discusses different cultures, but also uses biblical citations where the evil eye is mentioned. Evil Eye is essentially, what a person with certain amounts of malice envy posses and in some cultures, is a sorcerer or a form of witch. I chose to discuss it as a condition outside of the US because it’s prevalence is throughout cultures and originates in Africa, South America, Latin America and other countries outside of the Unites States. Upon finding this notion, I asked my mother what she knew about mal de ojos, and whom it mostly affected. According to her, the holder of an evil eye will look at a child or infant and praise them for their beauty. “ La persona le dice al niño ‘que linda, que linda’ muchas veces o lo complimenta y se llenan de envidia y se convierte en malicia por dentro y se lo transmite al niño,” Translation: “a person says to the kid ‘how pretty, how pretty’ many times or compliments them and fills themselves with envy that turns into malice that is then transmitted to the child.”

The biological dimensions of evil eye involve the kinds of symptoms, treatments, and illnesses that follow the superstition-though calling it a superstition isn’t how I’d like to refer to it. The article, however, mentions that there are “reflections [of] our biological heritage” present in Evil Eye as well. Berger states that there exists a “fundamental idea” related to the repelling of the Evil Eye by using the concepts of wet and dry, because they represent life and good, whereas dryness represents bad. Though the article briefly describes it as such, I see the biological components of the Evil Eye as the effects it has on the body. Because Evil Eye is held by mostly adults, but affects the child, it is hard to call Evil Eye an illness that affects the beholder. The cultural and individual dimensions are more closely intertwined with each other when it comes to the Evil Eye-both in the treatment of it and the illness itself. Culturally, evil eye is represented in different ways. An example of the individual aspect can be seen where Berger writes, “In Italy, if a baby is praised…[and the] mother becomes suspicious. She may …disparage the infant as unhealthy, ill, or retarded.” This is an individual approach to evil eye because the mother is solely taking actions, however, those actions are based on what her culture has taught her of Evil Eye and it’s representations.

Treatment for evil eye or prevention, in a sense, depends on the culture. In India (as referenced in the article), the idea that a child can sometimes be born with an “invisible spirit” may lead the mother to tie one of breast for 40 days, while she feeds him/her with the other. This way, the child doesn’t grow up to become an Evil Eye beholder. However, how can you explain that to a medical doctor? Even more than that, how can the mother of the child afflicted by the person with evil eye, explain to medical doctors why her child is vomiting, constantly sick, uneasy or experiencing sudden headaches without any real cause? That is why, for treatment, within my own culture for example, people resort to the elders or witch specialists within the society. Everyone knows, within their own culture, how to treat the illnesses without the use of medical doctors. Honestly, it’s an aspect that I think is incredibly important regardless of the end results.


Berger, Allan S. 2012. The evil eye–an ancient superstition. Journal of Religion and Health 51, (4) (12): 1098-103,

http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1170574929?accountid=12598 (accessed July 17, 2014).

(Excuse my Spanish. It’s a little shaky)


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Naomi Fleischmann says:

    I believe that culture is the combination of the common practices and beliefs that various groups of people observe and characterize themselves by. I do not believe that “evil eye” should be considered a culture-bound syndrome (CBS) because I do not believe that it is a syndrome in the first place. Evil eye seems to describe an evil person’s personality at best, but it does not seem to describe a specific ailment. The advantage that a culture may have to describing evil eye as a CBS is that it takes the responsibility of being an evil person off of the person in question and onto a mysterious entity. The unfortunate side effect of believing in evil eye is that people who, in most other cultures, would be punished for their evil behaviors are no longer being punished for their choices. In a different culture, I believe that evil eye would be classified as a personality disorder at most, but more likely the person would probably simply be described as a mean person. In the United States, I have a feeling that evil eye would be renamed “bad parenting” since it seems as if children are the common “victims” of evil eye, and I believe that the “malice that is then transmitted to the child” is a side effect of parents allowing their children to believe that they are the center of the world.

  2. Alexis Rife says:

    I believe culture is the bringing together and the collaboration of customs of a group of people with similar beliefs and traditions. It is a set of unwritten rules that can be both like and disliked, but are followed because they are considered a part of life in that area. Culture is everything we cherish, everything we celebrate, everything we know. I think the Evil Eye is a very good example of a culture bound syndrome. It has no proven effects and it must be created through actions. As you stated in your example of the Italian woman being suspicious of praise for her baby, she must have some prior knowledge of this conceived affliction in order for it to take effect. If she had never been taught about Evil Eye, she would not be persuaded into believing that a compliment for her child will lead the child to become unhealthy or ill. An obvious disadvantage would be the estrangement of one’s own child, but I cannot really see any advantages. In this setting, I think a person may turn to a local medicine man, priest, or preacher to remove any “curse” of ill-health placed over the child in question. In a different ethnomedical system, such as ours, the Evil Eye may not take effect simply because there is no belief in it; it would be brushed off and scoffed at.

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