Curanderismo: an old message for a new world

Patricia Padilla near her personal altar, at her Taos home
“Ultimately, our thoughts and beliefs are our greatest allies in recovering health and wellbeing.”
(Article originally published in Más New Mexico)
The root of the word curanderismo is “curar” (to heal, in Spanish). This ancient healing method is practiced with slight variations all through Latin America and in some regions of the United States. In Cuba, for example, curanderismo is generally associated with Santeria (a blend of African religions and Catholicism) and relies on African rituals, while in the North American southwest it has been more influenced by the Native American beliefs.
Curanderismo uses herbs, energy work, massage and prayers. Some curanderos specialize in a particular field. A hierbero (herbalist) focuses on the healing properties of medicinal plans, while a sobador treats illnesses, often stomach problems, with massages or sobas, and a huesero (bonesetter) deals with broken bones. In many cases the healer also performs a spiritual cleansing (limpieza or limpia) when the ailment is believed to have a supernatural cause.
Psychotherapist, writer and teacher Teresa Bevin, M.A., M.Ed., is an advocate of combining traditional medicine and alternative healing arts like curanderismo. “The body naturally heals itself,” she said, “but it may need help in energyzing itself through elements from the inside, such as prayer, meditation, and the practice of healthy thoughts, and from the outside, such as herbs, supplements, or beneficial activities such as yoga, Tai-Chi, etc..”
For Patricia Padilla, an eight generation curandera based in Taos, New Mexico, curanderismo is a path, like the one a priest or a nun would take. “It’s not something you do for a living, but a contract with God,” she said. She was raised by her grandmother, also a curandera. She would go with her to visit sick people and became an early witness to her healing powers. For Padilla, curanderismo comes naturally, as the first language that one learns. “Curanderismo is my native language,” Padilla said.
According to Padilla, we all have the power to heal. “You are already a curandera,” she said, fixing me with her bright dark eyes. “Curanderismo is an act of remembering. Our bodies remember now where our souls have already been, that’s why everybody has a profound, soulful knowledge of how to heal themselves. We help them rediscover that knowledge.”
Padilla owned a clinic located in Lyons, Colorado, for twenty-five years. She has a degree in oriental medicine, “which most closely resembles curanderismo,” she pointed out. Most of the patients in her clinic were terminally ill, she explained, but many lived well beyond their prognosis. “Not because of what I did,” Padilla said, “but because of what they remembered.”
Bevin agrees with her. “The healing does not occur because the healer wills it,” she said. “The healing occurs because the healer lends herself to divine energy with the sole purpose of aiding healing to a body that already started to heal on its own. The healer does not look to make money. The healer does not look for admiration or even gratitude. The healing, in itself, is the reward.”
Bevin is the coordinator of counseling at Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families in Santa Fe, and has a small private practice as well. Padilla receives patients at her Taos home and is currently working on a book, Si Dios quiere (God willing) about the people she has dealt with and what they have taught her. “They were my teachers,” she said, and added after a pause, “They are my teachers.”
When asked for a recipe for stress relief, Padilla recommended a salt bath:
Put an inch of coarsely ground sea salt in a glass.
Take the glass in the shower and pour its content all over you.
Rinse with cool water.
“You will feel better, lighter,” she assured me.
Both Bevin and Padilla agree that curanderismo and other alternative treatments are not substitutes for traditional medicine; they simply complement each other. But Bevin pointed out that doctors need to have a positive attitude in order to instill confidence in their patients and expedite the healing process. “Once the illness or abnormality is found, many doctors address the patient as a disease more than as a thinking and feeling being who can cooperate with the remedies by thinking differently,” she said. “If a doctor says ‘You have a lump’ the patient is frozen and terrified. But if a doctor says ‘Ninety-five percent of your body is doing great and only five percent needs attention,’ the patient is hopeful and more likely to heal.”
Curanderas have already got it. “We live by hope and faith,” Padilla said. “Ultimately, our thoughts and beliefs are our greatest allies in recovering health and wellbeing.”
Teresa Bevin’s website is http://www.teresabevin.com
Patricia Padilla’s blog can be found at http://curanderapadilla.wordpress.com/.
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