Rubbing the belly of a pregnant woman to absolve it of “El mal de ojo” or bad energy

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Mexican
Age: 54
Occupation: Health Care Executive
Residence: San Diego
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/18/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Spanish

Main Piece

Informant: This one is weird because strangers can just come up to you and ask to rub your belly. It happened to me. If a woman has an impure thought or is envious when they see a pregnant woman, usually it is about them not being able to have a child, they ask the pregnant woman if they can rub their stomach so that their child doesn’t have “Mal de Ojo” or any bad energy. The Mal De Ojo is between the woman to woman, but the baby is caught in the middle, so they rub the stomach to absolve the baby if that makes sense. I have never seen a man do it, that would be kind of..weird. Oh! And the woman rarely discloses why she rubbed the belly, it is more about absolving their conscience so when it happens you just kind of let them rub it so your baby can get cleansed. It is very odd, it is kind of scary because you find out these women are having bad thoughts about you. It is even scarier to think about the ones who don’t rub the stomachs and just let the bad energy impact the baby.  

Interviewer: Did this ever happen to you?

Informant: One time. The person didn’t even know I was pregnant because I wasn’t showing. I just think she was talking ill of me and found out I was pregnant and rubbed my stomach. She probably thought I was just getting fat haha haha. She was an acquaintance of my ex-husband’s family, so that explains a lot haha. 

Interviewer: Can you explain more about El Mal de Ojo?

Informant: It is interpreted as an evil eye. In the sense of pregnancy the evil is are the ill thoughts of the woman, only she knows why. To try and remedy their conscience they rub the stomach, and disclose if they may “ay no lo quiero dar el mal de ojo, me permites?” (“I don’t want to give the baby the evil eye, may I?”) You do it in an apologetic way, to secure the baby and to get forgiveness for having those bad thoughts. I think its humanity. I think it is an immediate remedy to perhaps absolve an ll thought. People have ill thoughts all of the time- jealousy, comparison. So they do it to apologize in a way, and to save the baby from these ill thoughts, because they don’t deserve that. 

Background:

The informant is my mother, a Mexican woman who is first-generation and the oldest of 3, who was born and raised in San Ysidro,CA  a border town just north of Tijuana, Mexico. Influenced by memories and conversations with her great great grandmother, many of her practices, customs, and beliefs were passed down from her maternal side of Mexican customs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the informant has always felt conflicted about her culture as she wanted to fit in with American customs but wanted to preserve her Mexican heritage and traditions. The informant had her first child when she was 18, and worked her way as a single mother with two kids to attain her Master’s Degree and is now the Executive Vice President at a non-profit health clinic that serves the community she was raised in.

Context

My whole life I have heard of this premonition, and saw it for the first time when my sister was pregnant and a stranger at a store came up to her and asked to rub her stomach. With that story in mind, I asked the informant more about it and she explained. 

Analysis

This is a very interesting form of folk magic, superstition, and protection. At the end of the day, this practice stems from a belief of magic harming the baby just from a glance. However, I think it is interesting that the act of this practice requires someone to admit that they were sending bad energy in the first place. However, as the informant describes it is more to protect the baby who doesn’t deserve to be impacted by that bad energy. This demonstrates the link of witchcraft to women, and is also a form of superstition present in Mexican communities.