The Philosophy of the Curandera
We are of the same Body as other people, animals, fish, plants, stone and minerals, the Earth, and all life in the Universe. This body is a manifestation of Spirit. Illness occurs when one does not live in balance with all these manifestations of God. The curandera sees illness in this framework and has the knowledge to guide the client back to balance. Balance can be achieved with help from God, by releasing old wounds, eliminating curses or entities, draining heavy energy from a person, with the help of plant medicine and by the client making restitution and changes.
The imprint of several cultures can be found on curanderismo today, and the curandera/o also adds her own training and passes it on to others. Instead of telling you the usual story of how the Spanish, Catholic or Arabic have impacted this Mayan healing system, I think it is more important to understand why these influences are apparent.
Today, if you look up “curanderismo” on the internet you will still see the belief expressed that it is “rooted in the teachings of the Bible. They have been combined with folk wisdom to produce the beliefs around illness and healing." This is an odd claim after those who perpetrated the Inquisition killed thousands of herbalists as witches.
From the Church’s own accounts of their oppression of indigenous healers we can see why it was necessary for curanderas to hide their culture to avoid punishment from Spanish authorities. A scientist from the Archaeological Institute of America reports that, “Despite Catholic trappings, the rites I witnessed in 1996 were rooted deep in antiquity. In recent years, archaeologists and anthropologists have opened a dialog with those who practice the old ways, and are coming to realize just how much Precolumbian ritual has survived. Considering that 500 years have elapsed since the Spanish Conquest, says Harvard University ethnologist Evon Z. Vogt, I am impressed with the enduring nature of Classic Maya religious concepts and beliefs." He describes an egg limpia taking place in a Catholic church with John the Baptist standing in for Chac, the Mayan Lord of Water.
One example the indigenous culture accepting a disguise to continue their cosmology, is the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Virgin appeared to a native Nahua man named Juan Diego in December 1531 on Tepeyac Hill, north of Mexico City. This vision occurred at the exact site of the ancient shrine dedicated to Tonantzin, the Mayan Earth Goddess. Tonantzin means “Our Sacred Mother” in the Nahuatl language. Indigenous people continue to honor her with the new Christian name.
As the Maya were more adaptable to foreign cultures than the European conquerors were of the Mayan cosmology we find that the Maya simply incorporated many Christian beliefs into their own.
Some anthropologists (including Alberto Villoldo) think that curanderismo goes even further back—to the Indus valley in India. The Indus valley gave birth to the powerful healing techniques of Ayurveda, to which curandersimo has many similarities, in treatment and in language. There exists to this day a tribe of people known as the Naga-Maya. This ancient culture conveys the memory of half of their community leaving the Indian subcontinent thousands of years ago. Perhaps to settle in Mexico? Ancient Sanskrit stone carvings have been found in Yucatan, Mexico.
So interaction with other cultures thousands of years ago is possible. Another reason there are similarities between curanderismo, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, has to do with what it means to be human. One of my teachers used to say that we are luminous beings making a journey through the stars. Those having an ability to see the luminous body of each human are able to observe the vortices known as chakras and the power points that also feed the physical body. This is a universal knowledge which anyone, of any culture can access.
The Practice of Curanderismo
Curanderas only do healing work with the person who requests healing, or that person’s small children. Trying to force change on someone who has not given their permission is not curanderismo—it’s sorcery. Even if that person is an adult child of the client requesting help, an ethical curandera will not work on anyone without their permission. Traditionally the curandera has a commitment not only to her community but to the Earth and all of her children; the plant people, the four-leggeds, the stone people, those who fly and those who crawl.
Ancient cultures understood that we live in a delicate balance with Nature. Illness occurs when we are not in tune with our own nature and Spirit. Curanderismo helps bring people out of a diseased state and back into harmony.
There are many different types of curanderos. "Yerberos" are primarily herbalists. "Hueseros” work to heal bones. “Sobaderos" are muscle therapists. "Parteras" are midwives. "Oracionistas" work with the power of prayer. Although many curanderos do have a specialty, most practice a couple of these techniques. For example in my practice I am an oracionista and also a yerbera. Using limpia (energy cleansing), diet, prayer and herbs one can one find resolution to many illnesses.
These are some traditional words used to describe ailments. Empacho refers to an intestinal blockage and is believed to be caused by eating spoiled food, eating too much, food getting stuck in the stomach or other causes. Mal de Ojo has been referred to as the ‘evil eye’. This illness is believed to mainly affect babies and is felt to be a result of adults paying too much attention to a child. Envidia is translated as an illness caused by envy. Like mal de ojo, the bad intent must be neutralized by physically touching the person who is envious or envied. Susto, sometimes called PTSD, can be caused by our reaction to traumatic events. Curanderas may also help to remove curses and to clear houses of entities. Bilis, an illness brought about by excessive and prolonged anger and fear. When someone is in this condition, it is said that excessive bitter bile flows into the person's system, causing him to become tense and irritable, to lose his appetite, and in some cases to suffer migraine headaches.
Besides these traditional descriptions of imbalance, curanderas can treat illnesses people identified in this culture and time such as; kidney and gallstones, heart disease, diabetes, meningitis, MRSA, cancer etc.
The Mexican leader Montezuma I, grew thousands of varieties of plants in order to research their medicinal properties. In the sixteenth century the Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico, destroyed the garden and all of the information, as they considered it “blasphemous.” Although the written knowledge was destroyed, the wisdom of the tradition was passed down orally by the native peoples. Just like the use of plants. Anthropologists came up with a theory that matched their culture—that ancient people learned about plants through trial and error. But every indigenous culture has said—the plant told me how to use them.
From my own experience I know that it is possible to hear the “voices” of the plants. Plant spirits are angelic beings that are willing to give up their lives for the good of others.
A recent study by the National Institute of Health says, “…curanderismo involves a coherent world view of health that has deep historical roots…Just as it would be erroneous to assume that urban Western medicine is rational and scientific in all its aspects, so it is also clear that curandersimo contains many elements based on empirical observation and shares certain scientific concepts and procedures with Western medical practice.”
Athena Wolf is the founder of the Escuela de Curanderismo and has a healing practice in the Mimbres. You can make an appointment for a healing consultation at a distance, here
and find remedios on this page,