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Lucky Soap, Chicken Bones & more

The most recent superstitious thing Suegra has brought into the house is this soap. She got this in El Salvador for Carlos.

The soap is supposed to bring you luck in whatever you need luck in, (in our case, dinero.) Carlos said he wasn’t sure he believed in it but proceeded to lather up anyway.

When I laughed at him, Carlos tried rubbing it on me.

“Hey, you better watch where you rub that,” I said.
“Why?”
“Well, I don’t know how it works but what if whichever body part you rub it on is the one that brings in money?” I said.

Carlos stopped rubbing the lucky soap on me after that.

Usually, I try not to laugh at things like this – I try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, but some of them seem very strange and even silly, (though Suegra and Carlos think I have equally weird beliefs sometimes.)

Here are just a few of the beliefs I’ve encountered over the years while living with two Salvadorans.

Voodoo?

I actually prefer the “silly” beliefs because the alternative is disturbing ones like the time I believe she tried to put a curse on me. I will never forget the time Suegra angrily moved out of our house. During that year that we were “disowned” I was cleaning the house and happened upon something which quite frankly kind of freaked me out.

When I dusted the top of the doorbell box high on the wall, I knocked something down. Whatever it was, it clattered to the floor. I reached down to pick it up and knew immediately that Suegra had something to do with it. It was a chicken bone and I really don’t know why she put it there. She may have put it there as a blessing on the house when we were on good terms – or, more likely, she may have put it there as a curse when she left. I still haven’t asked because I don’t want to stir up anything with her.

The reason I suspect Suegra is the one who put the chicken bone up there is because it’s just too strange for there to be any other explanation. After all, I already know some of her other beliefs, and this wouldn’t even be the strangest. For example, I know that there was a woman Carlos was involved with before he came to the United States. Suegra hated this woman and she told Carlos to stay away from her, but he wouldn’t. This is when Suegra became convinced that this woman had cast a spell on him by putting his photo in her underwear.

Luck & Wealth

Speaking of underwear, I mentioned before that she wears her own underwear inside out for luck.

When one of the children accidentally puts their shirt on inside out, Suegra announces that it’s “Día de San Antonio” and this is also good luck.

Rue plants likewise bring good luck.

A lot of her superstitions revolve around attracting good luck/money and discouraging bad luck/loss of money. She chides me for sweeping in the evening, (the household will lose money.)

Magnets, on the other hand, attract luck/money.

Health

Beliefs that don’t fall into the luck/money category, usually fall into the health category. She avoids quick changes in temperature. If she has been using her sewing machine she says her muscles are “hot” and so she won’t reach into the freezer to retrieve anything – (she has me do it instead.)

Carlos is also this way to some degree though he never explained it. When we first got married he’d come home from work and though he loves to be clean, he would always wait awhile before taking a shower – saying he wanted to rest first. Later I realized that this was part of that same belief. And now that I think about it, I wonder if when Carlos’s Mexican co-workers advised him not to have sex with the ceiling fan on, perhaps the hot/cold thinking is also why they believe that.

Other medical issues – “Empacho” is a gastrointestinal problem which Suegra believes can lead to death. She gets very worried about feeling bloated and will do everything from massaging her stomach to brewing various concoctions to cure it.

Sometimes Suegra also complains of having air trapped in the body. I don’t know if this has scientific merit or not. I don’t know if it has a specific name but she’ll say “Tengo aire” before pounding a fist against her back in an attempt to clear it out.

Other oddities

Suegra believes that if you point at a rainbow, you’ll make it disappear. Also, you should not watch a dog relieving itself or it will cause a sty on your eye.

Have you heard of “Tapa Boca” candles, or “Shut up” candles? If someone is gossiping about you, you light it and by the time it burns out, the person will be forced to stop talking about you. There are dozens of other similar candles for every imaginable problem as well.

In the end, living with Carlos and Suegra all these years has caused some of their creencías to rub off on me.

If the palm of my hand becomes itchy, my first thought is that I will soon come into money. And, if my ears are ringing, I assume someone is talking about me so I bite the tip of my tongue.

No matter how angry I get at someone though, I will not hide a chicken bone in their house.

Links:

A blog post about hot/cold beliefs

Empacho

Lately Suegra has been suffering from “empacho” … This illness has always confused and amused me – And Suegra is equally confused as to how it’s possible that gringos don’t believe in it, and usually have never even heard of it.

“Empacho” is a gastrointestinal illness that many people in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America believe can kill you. I decided to interview her about it for anthropological reasons because it doesn’t seem well documented.

Interview below, (in Spanish.)

Note: The use of the word “chibolitas” in Salvadoran Caliche means “little round objects” or “little balls.” (The word has other meanings in other parts of Latin America.)

(If interested in a translation to English, let me know in comments and I’ll see about transcribing it.)

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