How curanderismo has transformed our approach to modern healing
“I knew that I had found my way back”, explains Robyn moreno, curandera and storyteller, of its way towards the curanderismo. After going through a particularly difficult time in her life where not only her but those she loved were suffering, Moreno turned to the familiar practice in the hope of finding peace. After attending a workshop led by his cousin, a fellow curandera, Moreno embarked on the study of medicine of his ancestors. âI think my mind sent a spiritual SOS and the curanderismo responded,â she said. Fully embracing this ancient practice, which dates back centuries, she now takes on her own clients, using her skills to guide others on their own healing journey. And she’s not the only one.
Wellness influencers and thought leaders craft their own versions of curanderismo, which is basically derived from the Spanish verb noun curar, meaning “to heal”. The practice is defined as a more holistic approach to wellness, using herbs, body treatments (like cupping, abdominal massages, and alignment techniques known as manteadas) and spiritual rituals (such as sweat lodges known as temaz scales and the energetic body cleanses known as limpias) to treat physical, mental and emotional ailments.
Dr Jennifer Seman, author of Borderlands Curanderos, describes curanderismo as a “hybrid system of healing practiced across Mexico and Latin America and in places where ethnic Mexicans and Latinxes have a strong presence, such as the Mexican-American border regions.” Encompassing a wide range of techniques, it is “an earth-based spiritual healing practice comprised of a set of popular medical beliefs, Indigenous and Catholic rituals, and practices that address psychological, spiritual, social and health issues, âSeman told TZR.
Originally known as the art of Mexican folk healing, modern curanderismo is made up largely of a synthesis of cultures, particularly that of the Mayans and Aztecs, resulting from colonization. âIn the Americas,â notes Seman, âcuranderismo was born from contact between theâ old âand theâ new âworld, that is, between Europe and the indigenous empires of the Americas. Additionally, she notes, the forced adaptation and assimilation during the 16th century on the American continents led to a “syncretic healing practice,” now known as curanderismo.
The wellness modality has always been used to treat a wide range of issues, from muscle tension and bowel issues to supporting the immune system. Curandero / as will use anything from herbs in the form of teas and ointments to juice blends to address concerns. the tobacco, for example, is a plant commonly used for spiritual purification. And then there’s the trust forever Aloe vera (which has undoubtedly nestled in the bottles of some of the more westernized products), often incorporated into medicinal juices.
Regarding the types of herbs and plants used during typical curanderismo practices, it really depends on where the practitioner is located. âWe often work with a Cuban healer who also practices Santeria,â says Dr. Eliseo âCheoâ Torres, vice president of student affairs at the University of New Mexico and author of Curandero: A Life in Mexican Folk Healing. “He uses plants like hierba fina [Scutch grass], something that is not common in curanderismo but is available in Cuba. Elements may change, but the concept is the same.
While the rituals of curandismo cover a great deal of territory in the healing space, most of its practitioners encourage a balance between traditional and modern medicine. âOf course, if you have a physical illness, go see a doctor,â Moreno says. âWe believe healing is collective. Plus, curandero / aces quickly recognize when it’s time to see a modern doctor, an important note, according to Torres, is often overlooked. âCuranderos refers clients to doctors all the time,â he says. âGo see a doctor, go get your blood pressure takenâ¦ it’s a common sense approach to recovery. Curanderos does not have the answer to everything.
However, they can be helpful for a number of issues, even mental health-related ones like anxiety and stress (called susto). In many of these cases, the aforementioned purification rituals, limpias, are solicited. Healers will use a variety of tools – crystals, plants, burrs, or even eggs – and run them over the body to rid it of negative energy. This particular ritual emphasizes the idea that while spirits are often able to forget – or very likely block – past trauma, bodies capture memories and act as a vehicle for a range of manifested symptoms. . Limpias enable individuals to release this accumulated emotional, mental and physical trauma which inhibits their life and, consequently, their health. “We could do one to move and release what is no longer needed,” says Moreno.
Listening to the world around them and drawing from what the earth provides is not uncommon for curandero / as, nor is symbolism. Symbolic objects or gestures are often used as a method of therapy. Whether it’s writing goodbye or forgiveness letters or talking to each other in an audible way, these specific practices can help foster a sense of closure and peace. While a variety of healing methods are available for curanderos, it ultimately depends on the energy of the client. âIt is a sacred gathering and the only requirement is that we are both present and open so that we can work together to heal and support,â Moreno adds of his healing sessions.
In an age where physical and mental health are under attack on a daily basis, it is easy to see why people would want to rely on concepts that are outside of their normal range of possibilities. Further, it is not surprising that Latinxs and non-Latinxs alike hope to find solace in the ancient practice of curanderismo. Today, the old modality manifests itself in multiple ways and through a variety of channels.
Social media, in particular, has served as an ideal platform for modern curanderos to spread their messages of holistic and mystical healing. There are real curanderos like Moreno and Lynsey Ayala, founder of PainxButta, a New York-based hub for Caribbean remedies and alternative medicine. And then there are the influencers inspired in practice, as certified bruja (witch) extraordinary Bri Luna, better known by her 470,000 Instagram followers as The hood witch, who draws inspiration from her Mexican curandera lineage for her âwitch adviceâ and personal care solutions. If all these women serve the wellness market in their own way, the undeniable respect for their Latinidad and for the traditions handed down by their ancestors is palpable.
But with it comes a great sense of responsibility which is not taken lightly. âCuranderismo is not a new toy or a new trend to pick up, show off on social media, and then throw away when something brighter comes along,â says Moreno. âIt’s a 500-year-old tradition of earthly wisdom that helps heal trauma and bring us back to wholeness, something that we browns and blacks have been doing since then. big susto [great scare] of colonization.
Finding a space to honor and understand traditions in a thoughtful way should never be ignored, especially when those same traditions are constantly subject to whitewashing. It’s easy to spot a well-marketed wellness product or a low-priced tincture, but few companies recognize and pay homage to the sacred traditions that inspired them. “Give yourself time to honor [curanderismo] and love passed by wearing [it] down, âsays Moreno. “It’s magic.”