In the early 2000s, my great-aunt performed a holistic healing act on my mother with an egg. My mother, sick and feverish in bed, hadn’t kept food down for days. My grandmother called her sister, my madrina at the time, and asked that she come perform the ritual — “the egg,” as we called it — to treat my mother immediately.1 In our Mexican-American culture, the unbroken egg in conjunction with prayer is “thought to absorb negative forces.”2 This practice was an ancient cleansing act used by a curandero or curandera. These terms are derived from the Spanish verb curar, which means to heal.3 Essentially, a curandero or curandera removes mental, emotional, physical and spiritual illnesses or imbalances.
From the upstairs hallway of our home, I watched my great-aunt prepare for the cleansing. A few candles were lit in the dark, curtained bedroom. She held the egg above my mother’s forehead to make the sign of the cross while repeating the Our Father and Apostles’ Creed prayer. A bottle of holy water and a wooden cross sat on the nightstand. My great-aunt passed the egg down to my mother’s toes, making the sign of the cross on each extremity. The egg was supposed to extract the illness, or ojo. In my family, the Spanish word ojo translates to “negative energy” or “bad luck” in English. I never understood how the ritual healed bodily trauma, but my family’s firm belief in Catholicism and reliance on holistic methods of healing convinced me that my mother’s health would improve to a pain-free state.4
My great-aunt cracked the egg into a glass of water. She instructed that my mother keep the glass under the bed for twenty-four hours, so the yolk could develop and extract the sickness in time. Changes in the yolk, such as strands, bubbles, and cloudy discolorations, indicated that the unwanted energy or illness was removed. Afterward, my great-aunt insisted that my mother dispose of the egg in the toilet. The following evening, the submerged yolk, originally smooth and round, was covered in white strands that clung to the edge of the glass like a spider web. Within days after the ritual, my mother’s health improved exponentially.5
In 2016, my mother had dinner with extended family members whom we hadn’t seen in years. These family members asked about myself and my grandfather, so my mother passed around pictures of the two of us on her iPhone. That night, my grandfather and I were both sick to our stomachs. My mother insisted that these family members somehow gave us ojo, perhaps out of unintentional envy or jealousy. After weeks of rather unexplainable negative experiences between the three of us, my grandfather said that these experiences were no coincidence, and that we should have “the egg” performed. Since my great-aunt was now estranged, my grandfather reached out to an old friend of his.
The woman who answered the door, a short, polite señora with a warm smile and raspy voice, spoke only Spanish.6 She invited us into her home and we sat on leather mahogany couches while she prepared two eggs. Her home looked, felt, and smelled much like my own grandmother’s: comforting, with low ceilings and with aromas of familiar foods and spices. Crosses of all sizes, made of all sorts of textures and colors, dotted her living room wall. On a coffee table were family photographs and a picture of La Virgen de Guadalupe.7 To begin, the woman performed the sign of the cross, just like my great-aunt once did, and recited Spanish prayer while she touched the cool egg to my and my mother’s bodies. She sent us home with the yolks in plastic cups and the same instructions. After removing the eggs from under our beds, we flushed both egg yolks — again webbed with strands that dulled into darker discoloration — and noticed an improvement in our quality of life.
My family’s understanding of this practice performed by strong women is rooted in generational ancestry, Catholicism, and tradition. I assume my great-aunt learned the ritual from her mother, who I’m sure learned the practice from my great-great-grandmother in Mexico, and so on; however, my belief stands that my family relied on traditional healing practices due to lack of conventional healthcare access. Thus, more holistic methods of treatment or remedies were created in the home. For example, my grandparents taught me to apply mustard to soothe burned skin, to swipe Vicks Vapor Rub on my chest and feet to relieve congestion, and to gargle salt water to alleviate a sore throat. Of course, my religious matriarchal ancestors adopted these home remedies as dependable holistic practices to cure sick family members from internal illnesses or imbalances.
Although half of my family attends church weekly, many relatives question why we do not attend religious services on weekends and days such as Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Palm Sunday, among others. The answer: we simply choose not to. In fact, my mother and I do not panic if we happen to consume meat on a Friday evening meal during the forty days of Lent. In a way, we are partial to our faith. I know various friends or acquaintances who have converted to Protestantism or atheism from Catholicism. While we do attempt to follow the obligations of the Roman Catholic church, I am indifferent about whether I want to align with the strict practices of a denomination that might not condone holistic healing practices like “the egg.” For me, the preservation of “the egg” ritual provides a sense of time, culture, language and wisdom through honoring generations of foremothers.
On the other hand, I often feel a conflicting responsibility to preserve this method of healing buoyed by Catholicism despite its values, which I have, over time, come to disagree with. Sex-abuse allegations against priests have skyrocketed, and inadmissable behavior continues even after the release of eight decades worth of names of abusers in Texas, my home state. I admire the culture and history behind the home rituals my family used, but through the church’s political turmoil — and not to mention the modernization of medicine — these practices, much like my faith, have diminished. However, I uphold the indigenous origins of holistic healing and value this form of rehabilitation that descended, through me, into the twenty-first century.
Nonetheless, I see “the egg” as a testament, as a magnet that draws out negative energy. While skeptics might criticize holistic healing in comparison to modern scientific medicine, I’ve read stories that “the egg” has created miracles, like, for example, in Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s personal testimonio.8 In certain instances, sickly family members were up and around after weeks or months of illness; individuals received good news after a streak of negativity; and others recovered from emotional or physical trauma. Nonetheless, while I hesitate to identify with the religion I was baptized and raised with from birth, I cannot deny that “the egg” has ever failed me or my family. Although my opinions or beliefs might change in the future, my faith stands right where I left it: in the heart of my family’s motherland.
- Madrina is a Spanish word that translates to “godmother” in English. Return to text.
- Eliseo Torres, The Folk Healer: The Mexican-American Tradition of Curanderismo (Kingsville, TX: Nieves Press, 1984), 9. Return to text.
- Torres, The Folk Healer, 6. Return to text.
- Josephine Elizabeth Baca, “Some Health Beliefs of the Spanish Speaking,” The American Journal of Nursing 69, no. 10 (1969): 2172. Return to text.
- Torres, The Folk Healer, 5. Return to text.
- The Spanish word señora translates to “lady” or “madam” in English. Return to text.
- The Spanish name La Virgen de Guadalupe translates to “Blessed Virgin Mary” in English. Return to text.
- Stephanie Elizondo Griest, All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017). In English, the Spanish word testimonio translates to “first-person account” of someone who recalls or reflects on facing a form of marginalization or oppression. Return to text.