Curandera: Receiving Our Heritage
~Thoughts on Chosen, Spiritual & Biological Culture~
I've continued to receive education and to develop my personal practice in energy healing and spirituality. Life this month is offering plenty of opportunities for growth! Yesterday, I completed the last week of a curanderismo course I was taking, developing a deeper understanding of my Mexican indigenous roots.
Curanderismo is a form of Mexican folk healing that addresses spiritual, physical, and mental well-being through an integrated use of herbs, prayer, healing rituals, psychic healing, massage, and many other methodologies. It is not just a holistic health system, it is interwoven into the spirit of a culture, and a system of beliefs. The curandera does not just apply science or medicine. She is the shaman of Hispanic culture, working with the earth, the spiritual realms, and the environment to harmonize life.
When I was very young, my great grandmother lived in our family home for a while. I only knew her as 'wela (short for abuela, or grandmother, in spanish). She spoke only spanish to me and said all manner of things when we were alone together.
Sometimes she talked to me as if she expected that I fully understood (when I didn't), and sometimes she spoke about private things not fit for a young child which she didn't think I understood (but I did). Though I was not raised speaking Spanish, I understood some 65% of what she was saying, because after a while, you come to know a language when you can read and resonate with the energy of the heart of the person speaking. The last time I saw her she was 86 years old with some cool ray-bans, standing outside of church with all of her friends on a sunday morning. It was a coincidence that I'd come up from Los Angeles and was driving through the neighborhood. It was the only time I saw her outside of the context of great-grandmother. I caught her being just "a woman," and she was cool!
Because Wela was old with an achy body and came from another generation, she always had dried herbs, linaments, special creams and soaks, and catholic stuff everywhere. I don't know that she was a curandera, but she was certainly a powerful woman into her herbs . . .
Years later I met a curandera right around the corner from my house while doing costume designs for a play at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. This curandera was a lovely woman who held her power unassumingly. The topic of our meeting had nothing to do with healing energies, but one day I found myself walking through her herb garden and into her home. As I sat in her kitchen, seeing all of the markings of my childhood, but also the markings of magick, I felt my psychic senses shifting, and a deep awareness of the energy and power beneath the veneer of normalcy.
I don't remember what we discussed, other than bits of my childhood and a shared love of herbs. I know, looking back, it must have been her blessed intuition that led her to gift me with a collection of dried tobacco leaves from her garden. Tobacco is protective, clearing, and can open the way for deeper work. It is also used as an offering to spirits and deities. It was a beautiful gift and I was filled with deep appreciation. She reminds me that the magic and mundane are always in bed together, can always be found side by side, and that we don't have to travel the world for answers. They are within us. The curandera is around the corner from your house. She is in your neighborhood. She is your grandmother. You're aunt's best friend. She may be you.
Now as I take this, my second formal training course in curanderismo to fill out a lifetime of self taught intuitive work in these methods, tons of childhood memories and stories have been welling up in technicolor. I am remembering things I haven't thought of in years. . . quincineras, backyard weddings with mariachi bands, the joys and dramas of an extended family household of aunts, uncles, grandparents and great grandparents living in (or at some points daily visiting) our rambling many-roomed two story home.
I remember growing chile peppers in the garden and canning salsa every year when the weather was just right to start bringing it in. I remember my mother, and then my father, and then my aunt teaching me how to use and clean the molcajete (which is so much more than a fancy food holder for salsa at Chevy's). Mastering homemade tortillas, empanadas, and our weekly stock of delicious beans, I was learning to create healing foods that are not only the staple of a culture but the product of the spiritual heart of the Mexican culture--its kitchen, its mothers, its family.
At Christmas the women would gather --regardless of family drama-- to cook a large batch of tamales in the kitchen, debating the best methods. "The tamales will just not come out right unless the masa is conditioned by hand. The blender--pffft!" I remember one aunt saying adamantly. A decade later even she, the hold-out traditionalist in the kitchen, was converted to the ease of a good blender "when you need tamales quick!"
I always felt the dichotomous reality that, though I was raised in this environment for a stretch of meaningful time, this bloodline was not mine. I was not considered Mexican by society, no matter how much of it was by default my culture and heart. People who see me do not know these stories and most will never understand how they've impacted and shaped me. As I've grown older, I understand that while our genetic blood stories are surprisingly powerful in how they shape us, we, as spiritual beings, must allow space for our chosen and spiritual lineages. These spiritual connections are just as profound for our growth and well-being. Likewise, we can never know another person's full experiences, and so judging others for their cultural and social choices is dangerous ground.
We must own our spiritual and cultural connections. I don't mean appropriating them without care and taking them on without honoring the long history that came before you rediscovered them. We must also take care that we are not running to other cultures as a way of denying or closing off from the lights and shadows of our biological heritage; we still have to face and work with our issues and fears that come as gifts through our genetic stories, even as we receive and work with the gifts of our spiritual lineage, and culturally inherited lineages.
Society may not always recognize the importance or even approve of --for example--the African Orishas to, say, a white American woman who has felt the call of Africa in her soul. However as spiritually heart-based beings we can absolutely learn to see the world with an open heart and remember non-judgement in our approach. We can assume that the "white American woman" is more than that label. We can hold the concept of culture in much broader terms than just the physical makeup of our being, or the DNA discovered in our blood during a petrie dish test. We can celebrate the brave, or natural choices people make in choosing to claim cultures their spirits are already resonating in. Each of us are an amalgamation of life experiences, cultural superstitions, and bold adventuring.
Every curandera has a calling to spirit. Most are born with the gift (don) and if they're wise they spend a lifetime learning more and becoming even more humbled by what the work reveals. I don't know what I call myself because I know that hispanic is just a part of my cultural experience, and one with many personal issues I am still healing and working through. But classes like this proving to be a welcome journey.
As I continue to study juice concoctions, massage spinal alignment techniques, and review native plants I've picked and used since childhood, memories arise of my mother doing those spinal alignments on me, of my aunt making those concoctions, of my mom teaching me about those plants and so many others . . . and I think of how beautiful it is to receive our heritage.