Mal de Ojo

Information about the Informant

My informant is an undergraduate student majoring in Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is half-Columbian and was raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian denomination. This is one of three stories that his mother told him when he was a child.


“I Googled this one too, and this is derived from the Assyrians; it’s really really old. But it’s called, um, “mal de ojo,” which means, like, ‘the evil eye.’ And, um, she [meaning his mother] said that it was–it, like, watches you. And, um, if you have, like, bad thoughts or you…you wish ill will on somebody, um, it knows. So it’s kinda like, um, a way to keep your thoughts, or your conscience clean. Although, you know, as a little kid, you start to feel guilty about thinking about, like, ‘Oh, I hate that other kid,’ or, ‘He just took my cookie,’ or something like that. ‘I hate him; I wish he was dead,’ or something like that. You know, like, ‘Oh god, the Eye is watching me; it knows.'”


This is one of many, many tactics that parents around the world employ to teach their children morality, or at least govern them until they develop a sense of morality. Sigmund Freud himself believed that children do not automatically have a superego, but that for the first few years of children’s lives, they behave not because of internal forces that govern their behavior, but because of external forces. They behave not because they know it’s the right thing to do, but because they fear being caught or being punished. It is only eventually when these external forces are internalized that the children can govern their own behavior when unwatched. Whether or not this is true, it is undeniable that children at a young age follow a different set of moral standards than adults do. This may be why my informant’s mother told him about “mal de ojo” as one of many parents who do. It’s a faux internal way of governing the child’s thinking and teaching him positive ways in which to interact with the world in a space which the parents cannot reach–the mental, private space. Knowing that some entity who, unlike a child’s parents, can hear the child’s thoughts forces the child to re-evaluate the thought that he or she just had and think about whether or not it was a “good” thought to have had.