28 August 2010

The Evil Eye

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!

9 comments:

Gloria said...

Well sometimes old remedies are the best. Right now I'm sleeping with Ivory soap tucked away at my feet in a nylon sock. It's supposed to help cramps. I also bite down on my lower lip when the leg cramps occur. It's supposed to be the pressure point for cramps. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Maybe it's mind over matter, but there have been time when I bit down on my lower lip and the cramp in my leg went away almost immediately. I still seep some yerba buena when I have ailments such as tummy aches, etc. The old stuff is the good stuff. Great post.

bob in exile said...

Superstition abounds in Mexico, they believe in ghosts, UFO's and numerous other things.
I was living in Dallas and a friend of mine who had a Mexican girlfriend said, "My girlfriend dumped me, her brother is a troublemaker and worse of all I loaned them my Stereo and can't get it back, I don't know what to do".
I told him, "Do this, take a garlic and pin a black ribbon to it and leave it in their mailbox, then, at night, make sure no one sees you and form a cross in front of their house with salt"
"What does that mean?" he asked.
I told him, "It doesn't mean anything, but it'll worry them so much they'll go pay a big chunk of money to get the HEX taken off of them."
It's so much fun to play with weak minds.

Leslie Harris de Limon said...

If I had a dime for EVERY time someone warned me not to do this or that, because Hope's mollera would fall, I would be pretty darn rich! (Same with "El mal de ojo".) I heard about running a finger along the roof of the baby's mouth, but I had never heard that the baby had to be held upside down.

El Mal de Ojo...that is why strangers walk up to strangers to touch their baby. A lot of people believe that if they look at a baby and don't touch it, the baby will develop mal de ojo and possibly die.

Now about the empacho. Hubby has two aunts that are self-proclaimed curanderas. The "cure" for the empacho consists of a back massage, which ends with having your skin pulled until it pops, atop every vertebrae. Interesting process.

There's also a cure for "El Espanto" or "Un susto", but it has to be done immediately after the scare. All a person has to do is suck on a candy or eat a piece of bread. (Or so I'm told.) If the person doesn't cure themself of "El Espanto" they will develop liver problems and/or diabetes.

A very informative post, as always!

Saludos y abrazos para ti y Gina.

Leah Flinn said...

I'm with you on the cure having to do more with faith than the mechanics of the remedy itself.

Interesting to read the other comments, the Mal de Ojo is a surprisingly quiet subject around here.

Don Cuevas said...

Mexico Bob; fascinating as usual.

Bob in Exile: I loved that story! :-)

Saludos,
Don Cuevas

Amanda said...

Every time I read your posts I berate myself for not reading them more often. ;) I was just asked last night if I or my family had "tired blood" after moving here and I was so confused. I assumed I was translating what they said wrong, but now I see that she was basically asking if we were depressed. I wonder how many years it will take for these confusions to be less often. I guess at least now I can recall them when I read or hear something like this.

Generic Viagra online said...

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Krystal said...

Funny you should bring up the subject, lol. Hubby and I went to see Machete last week and this was actually in one of the scenes. When Trejo is injured, the gorgeous female attending him cracks an egg under the bed, minus the dish, after she has waved it in the air around his head. I didn't bother to ask Jose to explain so I love to know the story behind it.

olga Gonzalez said...

This really works.. My mom did that this for me in high school she said I Had mal de ojo.. I had fever, fatigue and my hair was thinning. This was happening for about two days. She did the prayer with the egg cracked it in a jar of water and made some small Crosses out of palms to float on the water and the next morning I was good as new and the egg was cooked solid in the jar.. She learned from my grandmother who was a healer too...

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.