Here and There in Yucatan/The Evil Eye


We find that in many countries there has been, and there still is, more or less, a belief in the evil effect of certain eyes. The malignant power, supposed to exist, is not said to be due to any particular color, size, or shape of the visual organ. In fact even those who most firmly believe in it do not attribute it to any physical peculiarity, although Boguet affirms that sorcerers have two pupils in one of their eyes, some in both: they mortally bewitch those they look at, and kill them if they keep their eye fixed on them.

In Italy there were sorcerers supposed to devour with a glance the heart of a man. The Egyptians firmly believed in the Evil-Eye, so did the Grecians. In Spain there were people much feared because their eyes could distil poison into those they looked at. One Spaniard, it is reported, had such a powerfully bad eye that he could shatter every pane of glass in a window just by staring at it. Another was employed by the king to gaze on certain criminals condemned to death, for that sufficed to kill them.

The people in Scotland also have a great dread of the Evil-Eye, believing that the look of certain persons produces very unfortunate results, such as turning milk sour, making goats barren, etc. At Plaudern, near Landerneau, in Brittany, if the left eye of a corpse does not close, one of the nearest relations is threatened by death.

In the lovely island of Cozumel we were acquainted with a good old priest supposed to be the unfortunate possessor of an Evil Eye. An old lady, a near neighbor of his, said to us, in a most impressive manner, "When the Señor Cura admires anything it is just as well to give it to him at once, for as sure as you keep it it will die."

Father Rejon was quite grieved about his eye. He often said to us: "I have done all the good in my power to everybody, never refusing to serve the poor because they could not pay me; yet I have an Evil Eye; I do not know how it happens. One day I walked through a yard without glancing to the right or to the left.—Almost immediately a woman came running after me, saying: 'Oh, Señor Cura, you have looked at my pig, and it has just dropped down dead! You must pay me for it; it is worth six dollars.' 'What!' I shouted. 'Maldicion! Go to ——! I have not seen the infernal pig, and you want to make me pay for it!' You see it was enough to make a saint swear," added our mild old friend.

Then he told us another case. "One of my parishioners, who had a very pretty little pig, called on me one day and said: 'I wish to offer my pig to Saint Anthony; you will please celebrate mass, and the pig is yours.' At four o'clock next morning I said the mass, and leaving the pig where it was, sent corn to it every day. When the pig had eaten more than a bushel of grain, and was well fattened, the neighbor paid me another visit. Said he: 'Señor, I will pay you for the corn used, and for the mass, as also for a second one I wish to have celebrated when convenient to you, but I should like to keep my pig.' Of course I had no objection, and told the man I was perfectly satisfied.

"Next morning when I arrived at the church I found a man waiting outside the door with two dollars to pay for the masses. Just as the bells were being rung the owner of the pig rushed up to me. 'Oh, Señor Cura, the pig has swollen; it is dying!' What fault had I? Well, that man did not pay for the corn, and even accepted the two dollars that I offered to return to him.

"On another occasion I wanted to purchase some fowls from an old woman; she didn't care to part with them. I could not oblige her, nor did I wish to, so dismissed the matter from my mind. I chatted with her awhile, then took my leave; before I reached the garden-gate the fowls fell dead in the yard. Then the woman said: 'Ah, señor, your Evil Eye has killed all my birds! Why did I not sell them to you?' What fault had I? The heat of the sun must have killed the birds."

The topic was so evidently painful to the old gentleman that we told him to dismiss it from his mind, and join us in a game of malilla.

A few days later he invited us to go and examine a small ancient building, about a mile from the village. It was ten feet high outside; the interior divided in two rooms, each nine feet long, two wide, and six in height. Three doors led straight through the building, one in each outer wall, the other in the middle; they were twenty inches wide and three feet high.

From one of the outer doorways to that in the division wall there was a pier of solid masonry; on either side of it. an opening led under the room. Making our way below as best we could, we found ourselves surrounded by walls made of hewn stones, each measuring three feet, by twenty inches, by ten inches.

Much lower down there was a senote of limpid water that we did not try to reach, the descent being very precipitous, over smooth boulders. In that senote, fourteen years before, Cura Rejon had found a small cantaro (water-jug), about half the size of those now used by the natives. He kindly gave it to me; it is now in the Museum of Natural History, in Central Park, New York.

At some distance we saw light, reflected on the water, evidently from an opening in the rocky vault. After searching around the house among the thick bushes, we found it. Dr. Le Plongeon, to see within, leaned forward, putting his hand on what he believed was a firm tree-trunk thrown across the hole. The Indian who stood by him said not a word, though the Cura afterwards affirmed that he must have known it was the wild palma cristi, which bears no weight.

The Cura and I were on the other side of the cavity, struggling through the bushes to reach the edge of it, when we heard a sound like dry wood being splintered, followed by silence. The bushes prevented us from seeing anything, and the Indian held his tongue. When we reached the brink Dr. Le Plongeon was making his way out of the pit. The stupid Indian did not even extend his hand to help him up, till the Cura shouted at him. The Doctor had fallen about fifteen feet upon coral rocks, and was very glad to find none of his bones broken, but a little stream of blood immediately dyed the rock on which he had fallen. He bound a handkerchief tightly around his head, saw that, in effect, the water of the senote was shimmering in the distance, illuminated from the hole into which he had fallen, then with some difficulty made his way out.

In spite of the handkerchief, blood was running down his face. Fortunately we had a gourd; I asked the Indian to go under the small house to procure water from the senote. He said it was very difficult to reach, admitting, when urged, that he was afraid of the spirit of the senote. I therefore led the way, the man following unwillingly. He was very tall, but it seemed that I must get the water myself. In hurrying down I narrowly escaped drowning, for my foot slipped and I only saved myself by catching at a projecting stone. Had I fallen I could never have been rescued without ropes. The apathetic Indian afterwards spoke of my danger with the same indifference that he would manifest in giving an account of a day's work. Cura Rejon told him he ought to be flogged.

In spite of all my efforts I could only bring the gourd within a few inches of the water; still that fellow quietly looked at me risking my life, until I drew my revolver and compelled him to fill the gourd: he was exceptionally superstitious.

Dr. Le Plongeon's forehead was cut from the top to the extremity of the eye-brow, disclosing the bone. We bathed it and bound it tight in a moist handkerchief, to check the flow of blood.

Father Rejon was quite upset, and insisted that it was all due to his Evil Eye! that he would give himself up to the authorities as soon as he reached the village. We had difficulty in dissuading him from so doing.

Under a scorching sun we walked back to our thatched cottage. Then I had to play at surgeon. Certainly the patient was much to be pitied in my hands; nor did I like the business. It was a jagged wound; bled for six hours, in spite of perchloride of iron, and refused to close by first intention. After a new skin had formed, I had to cut it to extract splinters that worked their way to the surface, though we believed they had all been washed out.

Cura Rejon, who said he would never forgive himself for having taken us to the senote, one day brought a very peculiar leaf to put on the wound. It is thick and pear-shaped. On one side there is a thin skin that, being peeled off, discloses a resinous substance which causes the leaf to adhere to the skin, drawing the lips of any wound together in a very short time. It irritates the nerves, for at the end of a quarter of an hour, Dr. Le Plongeon had toothache, and a pain under his tongue.

The accident at the senote was added to the list of evils the worthy village priest attributed to his unfortunate eye.

  1. Published in "Harper's Bazar."