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