Tradition— Iran

The practice as described by Tara:  “In my family, it’s kind of like Northwestern Iranian tradition.  If someone gets sick, you grab a pencil and an uncooked egg.  You start circling names of people that the sick person has been around in the past week, during the time that they might’ve gotten sick.  Then you put the egg between two coins and put it above the person’s head.  Then you exert pressure on the egg and start saying those people’s names.  When the egg breaks, whoever’s name was said last is who got that person sick.  So what you do is you burn this weed called esfand, and by burning that weed you get rid of the evil eye by clearing the air and getting that person better.”

Tara told me that she learned this technique from her mother when she was growing up in Iran.  Every time that Tara became ill, she would have to go through this process.  She explained that she very much believes in the “evil eye,” and that there are many other examples of traditions that help ward the evil eye off.  Tara also explained that even though it was annoying to have an egg cracked over her head, it was worth it because she believed it would make her feel better.  Tara said that her family continued this practice after they moved to the United States when she was ten years old.

Tara said that she thinks people do this because it gives them a sense of comfort.  Even though most people know that it doesn’t logically work, the practice makes people feel better by doing it.  It’s more of a superstition than a serious belief, as people know it’s irrational but still feel better after doing it.

I think that this practice represents a more modern mix between science and traditional belief.  Because the ill person has to write out the names of people with which they’ve been in contact, the practice recognizes the scientific nature of the spread of contagious diseases (before science people knew that diseases spread from contact, but the act of staying away from people with colds and getting rid of germs is extremely prominent in modern popular culture).  However, the rest of the practice is less rooted in science and rationality.  Because this practice is performed in Iran, an area in which more traditional folk medicine practices are more common (according to Tara, who has lived in both Iran and the United States), this practice demonstrates a balance between science and tradition.

Also, Tara’s analysis of the practice is likely accurate.  Even though people might not necessarily think that the process works, they still feel better doing it rather than not doing it.  It’s much like many common, modern superstitions.  Even if people recognize that they are irrational, they still perform them just in case.