Arizona State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Chicana and Chicano StudiesLatino Health Issues

Metaphysical Beliefs

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Items and Their Uses

Why Use a Botanica?

Understanding Your Patient



Many Latinos also use botanicas as a resource for treating metaphysical ailments.  These metaphysical beliefs may appear to be easily explained by a Western biomedical approach, however it is important to understand that many Latinos have their own way of explaining a particular illness and this should be taken into consideration when treating patients.

Supernatural Forces…

Mal aire:  This belief comes from a time when people believed that many types of sickness were caused by “bad air”.  In fact, the term malaria came from this belief because it was thought that bad air or mal aire caused malaria. 

Now, it is believed that bad air affects “children and adults, causing rashes, sore eyes, headaches, pain, cramps, and most commonly, facial twitching and paralysis” (Krajewski 254).  Lunar eclipses are also believed to cause cleft lip or palate.  So, when a woman is pregnant and exposed to a lunar eclipse, she must wear a belt with a set of keys around her stomach until the baby is born to prevent this from happening.

Mal de ojo:  The belief that some illnesses are caused by “evil eye”.  If someone is looked at by someone with “strong vision”, they may fall ill with symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, insomnia, aches and pains, excessive crying, fever, and headaches.  The traditional treatment is to have the person who caused the illness touch the person who fell ill in order to break the evil bond.  Some people may go to a botanica and seek the help of a folk healer as well.  The folk healer may rub a raw, unbroken egg over the affected person’s head, break it open, and place the egg in a bowl under the victim’s head to draw out the evil spirit.

Emotions as cause for disease...

Mal de susto:  This is usually when a person experiences a traumatic event or witnesses a traumatic event — “Susto” meaning “fright”.

Espanto:  This is similar to Susto, except the “fright” is due to supernatural causes. 

Both of these illnesses have symptoms including anorexia, insomnia, hallucinations, weakness, and painful sensations.  They are treated by seeing a folk healer who heals the body with herbs, prayers, and other items while trying to get the lost spirit to reenter the victim’s body. 


Empacho:  Meaning “blockage”, it is believed that undigested food is causing a blockage in the abdomen which causes swelling.  Symptoms include, loss of appetite, upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea.  It is sometimes treated by rubbing the stomach and pinching the skin on the back along the spine to release the undigested food.  A tea is also given to cleanse the digestive tract.

You can also find more information on these illnesses by seeing Malestares Hispanos (in Spanish).


Accessibility | Privacy | ASU Disclaimer This site was created by Jessica Blair in fulfillment of requirements for the course CSS 335: Latino Health Issues taught by Dr. Szkupinski Quiroga at Arizona State University, Spring 2007.