February 2012

Curanderismo Festival: Healing the Planet, Healing Ourselves


Tori Lee


Blasts from the conch shell still reverberate in the ears. Copal smoke used in energy cleansings and healing wafts upwards, carrying the intentions of healers and learners who strive to impart and receive knowledge from nature. A soft drumbeat accompanies the sweet aroma of the smoke as it finds its way to the spirits of Earth and sky.

The planet cannot wait any longer,” says Dr. Arturo Ornelas, Director of La Tranca Institute of Healing in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “We must begin to address environmental and human health problems holistically, not piecemeal. We must look to the natural world for healing.” Yet, in many cases we have lost the ability to speak with and listen to messages of healing from the natural world. Nature has given us the plants and the techniques to heal ourselves, but communication has broken down. Dr. Ornelas and many curanderismo healers consider the present time to be an important period of transformation, one in which people must re-imagine patterns of organized religion, education and medicine to become more holistic and humane.

One of the most sustainable, community-based healthcare models is curanderismo, folk-healing by trained healers who teach others how to help themselves using readily available objects, the body’s own energies, and various medicinal plants. This is often a viable approach for delivering basic healthcare to poor and/or rural populations with limited access to (or comfort with) modern Western allopathic medicine.

The Curanderismo Healing Festival and Workshop, held during the summer at the Institute for American Indian Art’s Center for Lifelong Education in Santa Fe, brings together two dozen healers from Centro de Desarrollo Humano hacia la Comunidad (CEDEHC) with homeopathic healthcare practitioners from the Southwest. CEDEHC is a Cuernavaca, Mexico-based training center for traditional Mayan and Aztec medicine. Everyone in attendance at the healing fair is there to share, teach, learn and transform hearts and minds; in short, to help people heal themselves, while recognizing the need to respect and regenerate the natural world, upon which our collective survival depends.

According to Dr. Allen Elkin, 80 percent or more of all general doctor office visits in the US are stress-related. The cost of stress-related illnesses, stress-induced chronic conditions, mental health issues and lost wages and productivity due to excessive absences, as well as the personal and social cost of stress and depression, run into billions of dollars annually. One of every six women in this country regularly takes prescribed anti-depressants. According to curanderismo tradition, much of this suffering and expense can be eliminated through energy cleansing and rebalancing remedies and techniques. This means that in many cases there is no need for expensive, inaccessible insurance-driven healthcare that treats only the symptoms of disease, not the totality of an individual. Curanderismo healing allows an individual to participate actively in one’s own healing and rebalancing of physical, mental and spiritual energies.

The Curanderismo Healing Festival has taken place in Santa Fe for the past three summers, but 2011 marked the first time a week-long healing workshop was held there. At the sessions over the weekend prior to the workshop, curanderismo healers offer their expertise to hundreds of local residents. Sobadores or sobadoras provide various types of massage to relieve stress and rebalance internal organs so that anger no longer resides in the liver, nor fear in the lungs. Using a heated glass cup applied to the skin to relieve stress, the massage helps the body heal itself. Other massage techniques stimulate the immune system to promote long-term healing. A curanderismo healer carefully and sympathetically reads the person and then acts accordingly. By listening with the heart, a healer learns how to sense another body, including that body’s imbalances, whether physical or emotional. Healers also perform limpias or cleansings using raw eggs or healing plants. [Personal disclosure: I have moderate arthritis in my left hip and knee. Walking up stairs is sometimes troublesome. Walking down stairs is painful and occasionally not possible. After one limpias treatment using a raw egg to remove toxins from my body, I walked down two flights of stairs pain-free and without breaking stride.]

One of the most powerful forms of energy cleansing is susto to treat emotional shock or fright. The healer uses medical plants such as purple sage to sweep away negativity from the body. This healing technique is said to be of great benefit to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in great emotional and physical pain. Susto is also used to benefit victims of sexual and other types of physical and emotional assault. Curandera master herbalist Maestra Doris mixes herbal remedies based on the unique needs of each person who comes to her for healing.

At last year’s curanderismo workshop, participants learned about medicinal plants and their uses. The Aztecs had a pharmacy of over 1,200 medicinal plants. Most interesting was instruction from curandera/herbalist Albertana Sanchez Flores on how to develop connections with the natural world to transfer the plant’s healing properties to the person in need. Communicating with the healing essence of a plant allows the healer to use whatever plants are locally available, even if that plant is not normally used to treat the specific condition presented. The healing intentions of both healer and seeker are of primary importance.

Workshop students also were taught how to make tinctures using the empacho technique to heal problems in the digestive system, including various eating disorders such as stomach cramps and excessive weight gain or loss. Students also learned how to prepare herbal remedies to dissipate the negative energy one may experience from mal de ojo or evil eye, which occurs when external factors cause pronounced physical and spiritual imbalance in another individual. Many of these healing techniques can be adapted to treat babies and young children. All of the medicinal plants used in instruction are readily available in Santa Fe.

As additional information on curanderismo events in Santa Fe and Albuquerque in 2012 becomes available, it will be posted on the website: http://curanderismo.unm.edu


Tori Lee is a freelance writer and would-be farmer in Pojoaque, NM. She writes on topics pertaining to social justice, sustainability and animal welfare.



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