At some time during you stay in Mexico, and especially if you live here permanently, you may hear the term "limpia de huevo" or in other words a "cleansing by egg". This cleansing is part of the cure for a number of infirmities that can be generally catergorized as either a "mal de ojo", an "espanto", an "empacho", or a "caída de mollera". The first three can relate to anybody but the last one, la "caída de mollera" is related to children under two years of age. I will try to explain them one at a time.
El Mal de Ojo literally means "bad eye," but in a broader sense it is the cross-cultural belief in evil eye. Mal de ojo occurs when someone who is weak, or an infant or a child, is stared at by a person with a piercing glance especially if the stare is a result of jealousy or envy. The stare is said to make the affected person's spirit sick. The symptoms of mal de ojo include headaches, high fever, fretfulness, and in the case of children, weeping and a refusal to eat or sleep.
El Espanto is an illness that can affect anyone at any age. It usually originates when someone receives a sudden fright and is terrified. The person becomes listless and depressed, doesn't want to talk, doesn't want to eat, can't sleep, is feverish, and wants to remain in bed. It is also called "La pérdida de la sombra" or "Loss of the shadow" meaning that a person's shadow, symbolizing his or her soul, has separated from their body. It is said that the person suffers from "tired blood". To hear people talk about it the symptoms of the most serious cases sound like what we might call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" in English. The mildest cases and probably most frequent are children who wake up from a nightmare crying for their mommy, trembling, and bathed in sweat who don't want to go back asleep again.
El Empacho is usually caused by some dietary problem such as a lump of food that sticks to the walls of the intestines or the stomach often caused by a sudden change in infant formula. Other causes of empacho include eating improperly cooked foods or swallowing hard to digest items such as chewing gum. All age groups are potentially susceptible to an empacho with infants being at the highest risk followed by children. Symptoms of an empacho can be bloating, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, and lethargy in general.
La Caída de Mollera is a bit more complicated and can be a very serious matter mainly because it occurs in infants. The Spanish word "mollera" in this case means "fontanelle" in English and it is the diamond shaped area in the front part of the top of the skull in infants where the bones of the skull take up to two years to fully close from the time of birth. A "caída de mollera" is when this area becomes sunken in, due in most cases to dehydration. The dehydration can come from a disease that causes vomiting or dysentery or any number of situations where the tiny body of the infant lacks sufficient fluids. There is sometimes a lot of guilt associated with a caída de mollera and a young mother thinking that it his her fault for handling the baby too roughly or removing the baby's mouth from her breast too rapidly, then takes the baby to a "curandero" or "healer". Some curaderos are quite knowledgeable but there are others who are merely quacks. The bad curandero may turn the baby upside down and hold it by its feet or put his finger in the baby's mouth and push up on the roof of the mouth trying to get the mollera to pop up again. The real culprit, however, is the dehydration and if the baby isn't re-hydrated within a few hours it will die. When this happens there is much shame attached to the mother. Nowadays, thanks to modern education and access to proper medical care this is becoming a thing of the past in Mexico but in some rural areas it can still happen.
Now, this is where the "limpia de huevo" comes in to play. All of the above conditions are candidates for the egg cleansing in conjunction with other treatment. In the case of the first three it is amazingly effective although I would attribute most of the cure if not all, not to the egg, but to love and faith. In the case of children most of the problem usually stems from some kind of stomach ailment. Someone, usually a grandmother, will take an egg (preferably from a black feathered chicken if available) and pass the unbroken egg all over the body of the child while reciting either the Lord's Prayer or the Apostles Creed (whichever is the local custom). Depending upon the specific situation sometimes they will use a bundle of an herb called "epazote" (Dysphania ambrosioides) instead of an egg. Afterward passing the egg over the body they crack open the egg and put it in a glass jar and set it under the bed (same with the epazote) and in the morning the egg will have become darker and one should be able to see one or more bubble-like "ojos" or "eyes". The epazote has no visible changes. The mother or grandmother then takes the egg (or the epazote) away from the house and throws it in a ditch over her shoulder and returns to the house being careful not to look back lest the "mal de ojo" return. In the case of a child having stomach troubles the grandma also gently rubs their tummy with lard or cooking oil in a soothing manner and whispers prayers and lullabies until the child falls asleep. She also gives them a powder called "Estomaquil" mixed with a little water or oil. The Estomaquil is available in all farmacias and is the Mexican variety of "Milk of Magnesia". Yes, the cure does have its superstitious element but in my opinion the common sense, the experience, and the love of the grandma is the real basis for the "cure".
I have a variation of the cure that works the best for me. Instead of the Estomaquil I substitute a wee dram of Jack Daniels (or two or three). Hey! Stop clucking your tongue. It works for me!
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