The woman sits across from me, eyes glistening with tears that she doesn’t allow to flow.
While she was not raised within the Mexican culture, she had heard of Curanderismo and its unique interventions that help heal the mind, emotions, spirit, and body.
“I want to heal, I really do, but I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of going from therapist to therapist.”
And so I formally open the curanderismo session with a prayer that is accompanied by the purifying and calming smoke of copal, an aromatic resin that is collected as the life force rises and exudes from within the Bursera tree in Mexico.
Then begins our plática when the client speaks from the deepest part of her heart and I listen with my ears and my heart; hence this word translates more properly as a heart-to-heart talk rather than simply a “talk” or a psychotherapy session.
After prayer, the plática is the foundation of a session.
In a curanderismo clinical setting, this term is used to refer to the part of the healing session where the client is given the opportunity to speak openly and honestly no matter how painful or embarrassing they may feel their circumstances to be.
What is Curanderismo?
Curanderismo is a holistic approach to wellness that has been used in the Americas for hundreds of years.
[ koo-rahn-de-rees-maw; English koo-rahn-duh-riz-moh ]
In Mexico, it is also known as Mexican Traditional Medicine, “medicina del campo,” and traditional folk medicine.
It is not uncommon for people in Mexico to use and seek Curanderismo over western medicine.
It is estimated that in parts of the United States, between 50-75% of Mexican Americans use curanderismo or seek the help of a Curanderismo healer.
Where is Curanderismo Influenced From?
It is usually a synthesis of Mexican indigenous culture and beliefs, and depending on the practitioner’s religious, cultural, and/or tribal background, (known as a curandera if a woman and curandero if a man) it may or may not, also have Catholic, Sephardic, and African influences.
This is why some consider it a blending of traditions, rather than solely Native Mexican medicine or European medicine.
Each curandera/o has a distinctive practice that is most often learned within the context of her family, community, and/or elders and teachers.
What is a Curandera or Curandero?
A Curandera (female) or Curandero (male) is the healer/shaman who performs the healing ritual and/or ceremony.
Although Curandero (and curanderas) will spend years learning the practice, the greatest emphasis is placed on the innate ability of that individual to heal.
It is believed that the ability to heal is a gift (el donI) or spiritual calling and cannot be taught. Healing is a gift from a higher power.
Types of Curanderos and Curanderas
Just like in allopathic (western) medicine, within curanderismo healing there are different specializations although it is common for curandero (and curanderas) to practice and use different specializations:
- Yerbero & Yerberas – are herbalists specializing in botanical healing
- Parteras – midwives (traditionally female)
- Sobadoros & Sobadoras – specialize in massage
- Espiritualistos & Espiritualistas – psychic mediums
- Señor & Señoras – tarot card readers
- Consejero & Consejera – counselor
- Huesero & Huesera – bone setters
How does Curanderismo work?
In curanderismo, it is believed that disease is caused by social, psychological, physical, environmental, and spiritual factors: a disharmony of body, mind, spirit, and nature.
Curandero (and curanderas) will engage and work on the different factors when diagnosing and curing a patient.
Curanderismo does not work on the mind, body, and spirit separately, rather, they work holistically on all aspects at once.
Curanderismo Healing Practices and Rituals
Curandero (and curandera) healers rely on a number of practices, techniques, and rituals to help their patient/healee reestablish balance.
This includes (but is not limited to):
Special Diets – depending on the root of the imbalance, healers may recommend food and drink that is either hot or cold to address the imbalance.
Herbs – prepared as a tincture, salves, ointments, or in a Tea may also be used to address imbalances related to hot and cold imbalances as well as ailments including stomach and intestinal problems, sore muscles, burns, weight loss, cough, acne, and bad breath, to more serious diseases such as arthritis, cancer, HIV and diabetes.
Symbolic acts – Curandero (and curandera) healers will often instruct the healee to engage in a symbolic act that can help re-establish balance and are often included in healing rituals/ceremonies.
Plática – spiritual counseling
Limpias – cleansings, to help clients release the harmful emotional, mental and physical effects of traumatic events
Healing rituals/ceremonies – which can include the use of symbolic items, herbs, plants, or other items that may be associated with trauma, stress, and/or anxiety and often involve the use of prayer.
Along with spiritual counseling which is part of the plática, curanderas use various approaches known as limpias or cleansings, to help clients release the harmful emotional, mental and physical effects of verbal abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and negative self-talk that remains imprinted upon their luminous body affecting their physical, mental, and emotional state.
Egg Limpia Ritual & Other Ceremonies
One ritual that Curandero (and curandera) healers may use is the egg limpia.
Egg limpia is the use of a raw egg in its shell to cleanse and extract energy from the auric field, and a barrida, a sweeping, with a consecrated bundle of plants such as sage, rosemary and rue, so that stagnant energy is released in order to promote good health and a positive mental attitude.
These rituals are known to shift and reconfigure energy patterns within the human energy field, which can be a factor in soul wounds, soul fragmentation, and illness.
Often clients experience profound emotional release from embedded trauma that was experienced in childhood or later in life.
For the first time in many years, they experience the clarity of mind, lightness of heart, and groundedness that comes from finally being fully present in their body.
On this occasion, the abuse my client suffered as a child has affected her life in such a way that although professionally successful she is unable to sustain healthy romantic relationships.
As she continues to speak about her situation, with my spirit eyes, I see a gray-colored sphere of congested energy, right below her breastbone, together with a thick twisted energy braid of swampy dark brown that tethers her heart to her mother, and another dark-colored cord attached to a man about whom she has not yet spoken.
I interpret these images as being of a long-standing issue with her mother which is also connected to her inability to have a healthy romantic relationship.
With some surprise, she confirms my interpretation and acknowledges that she has never been able to confide the sexual abuse by her stepfather to any of her previous therapists, and we continue with other aspects of the session.
After sweeping her body with the egg and plants, and with her permission, my obsidian knife symbolically but effectively severs the braided cords of the tug and pull of power, need, and accusation between her and her mother… she shivers as they are set free of each others’ controlling and unforgiving energies.
Fragrant healing herbs and colorful flowers have been simmering in a pot on my stove, their guardian spirits standing close by, ready to continue helping her release fear, pain, and self-blame as I pour the herbal plant medicine into the bathtub, turning to help the now crying woman sink into the warm prayed over water.
I pray and sing love and forgiveness into her.
I pray and sing her soul into her.
Together we pray in gratitude to Creator and the good healing spirits who are still shaking their gourds and singing, orbs of light dancing around us.
After her healing bath, wrapped in a warm blanket, she sips a cup of hot tea.
We sit in comfortable silence for several minutes before we discuss her “homework” and agree on a follow-up plan to mentor her as she incrementally makes needed changes in a way that will support the work we’ve done together.
NOTE: An herbal cleansing bath is one of the most beautiful, healing, and powerful ways to experience emotional release. Follow this link for detailed instructions on a curanderismo cleansing ritual that you can perform at the next full moon: https://www.curanderismo.org/blog
Learn More About the Author
Grace Alvarez Sesma is a curandera and cultural educator of Kumiai and Yaqui heritage, born in Mexico. Through her curanderismo clinical practice she encourages a thoughtful blending of traditional Indigenous practices with conventional medical interventions as appropriate, in order to address the whole person: body, emotions, mind, relationships, and spirit.