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The Six Branches of Curanderismo: Exploring Traditional Folk Medicine



When I mention Traditional Medicine most people think of their primary care physician. However, traditional medicine has been around since time immemorial, and certainly since before Modern medicine, known as Western medicine. Curanderismo is a form of Traditional Medicine that originated in Central and South America as well as parts of Europe such as Spain (Andalusia, Canary Isles) and Italy (Mezzogiorno). The word Curanderismo originates from the Spanish word “Cura” or “Heal”.


A Curandero is a traditional or ancestral medicine healer or shaman found primarily in Latin America and parts of Europe. A curandero is claimed to administer shamanistic and spiritistic remedies for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual illnesses.

 

History of Curanderismo in the Americas


In the Americas there are various forms of Curanderismo such as Curanderismo norteño practiced in Peru and Mexican Folk Healing practiced in Mexico. Forms of Curanderismo can be found in a number of different countries and are considered to have Catholic, Sephardic, African, Aztec, Mayan, Incan and magico-religious influences.


Historically, in the United States, curanderos were only found in concentrated Amerindian populations. It was largely thought that curanderos mainly practiced along the Mexico–United States border. However, recent historical research shows that the practice of curanderismo (traditional healing) was not restricted to the American Southwest. The practice of curanderismo was prevalent in the 1880s in Northeastern Tennessee (Appalachia) (3)

Photo credit: The National Center for Farmworker Health

 

In the 1500’s and 1600’s when Central and South America was colonized, the European brought their own forms of traditional folk medicine and Catholic rituals and Curanderismo evolved into what is known as Curanderismo today. The native medicine men/women adapted to the changing landscape and organically incorporated Christian rituals into their healing work.


Invoking Jesus Cristo and the archangels as well as earth-based deities such as Viracocha, Tlaltecuhtli, or Ixchel is common as they all work together and are interrelated in the practice of Curanderismo. Although there is an active intention to decolonize Curanderismo in the Americas, what is practiced today is most typically an infusion of European folk healing practices, Catholic rituals, and American indigenous healing practices. Another way that I have seen this phenomenon described is as “faith-healing shamanism”, and as a traditional medicine practitioner with both Latino (Latin American ancestry) and Hispanic (ancestry from Spain) that resonates as accurate.


There are six main branches of Curanderismo. Each branch with its unique characteristics and functions that represent a particular approach to folk healing. Although there are curanderas that are considered “generalists”, meaning, they can treat all forms of ailments; some curanderos may be called to specialize in one or two particular branches of Curanderismo.

The six branches are: Yerberos/Yuyeros (herbalists), Parteras (midwives, doulas), Oracionistas (those who work with prayer), Hueseros/Sobadores (bodyworkers), Brujas and Brujos (witch doctors) and, Videntes (seers/psychics).


Within these five branches there are common cultural ailments that a Curandera treats. Some of the ailments treated within Curanderismo are:


  • Susto (fright/shock, trauma, soul loss)

  • Mal de ojo (envy, particularly in children)

  • Empacho (intestinal blockage)

  • Brujeria (hex, spells)

  • Desgarro (muscular sprains and strains)


For all of the illnesses mentioned above, a curandero can perform a limpia (shamanic cleanse) in order to rebalance and restore the client to health. Examples of materials used in limpias are plants, resin, grain alcohol, holy water, flower water, eggs, fire, and power objects such as stones, wands, swords, and found objects such as feathers, shells and bone.



 

Lets Explore the Six Branches of Curanderismo


  1. Yerberos/Yuyeros (Herbalist) is the branch of Curanderismo that I specialize in at Activated Earth Healing Arts and Learning Space. This is one who has acquired extensive knowledge of plants used for their medicinal and spiritual properties.

Some common plants used in Curanderismo are romero (Salvia rosmarinus), lavanda (Lavándula officinale), tabaco (Nicotiana tabacum), albahaca (Ocimum basilicum), pirul (Schinus molle), yerbabuena (Mentha spicata), and ruda (ruta garveloens), sauco/elderberry (Sambucus nigra), santa maria (Tanacetum parthenium), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and many more.

2. Parteras are midwives and doulas that provide medical care during pregnancy, birth, and the immediate postpartum period as well as assist the family with emotional, informational, and physical support.


3. Oracionistas are those that work with healing prayer by invoking their spiritual team of guides such as archangels, deities, ancestors, etc.


4. Brujas and Brujos are witch doctors that specialize in rituals or reversing hexes or spells.


5. Videntes are psychics and seers that may use divination practices and rituals to guide a client or to foresee the future of a situation and advise accordingly.


6. Sobadores and Hueseros work as traditional medicine chiropractors and treat spinal misalignments, musculoskeletal injuries as well as perform massage therapy.


Tlalli Tonazihua, Huitzilac, Mexcico

 

Citations:

  1. Carvajal Contreras, M.A (2023). Medicina popular y curanderismo en Andalucía y Canarias: aproximación desde la etonografía y la interpretación antropológica. XXV Coloquio de Historia Canario-Americana (2022), XXV-093. https://revistas.grancanaria.com/index.php/chca/article/view/10930

  2. Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena Vol. 44 (4), 707-715 (2012) http://dx.doi.org/10.4067/S0717-73562012000400011 

  3. Cavendar, Anthony (2011). "Curanderismo in Appalachia: The Use of Remedios Caseros among Latinos in Northeastern Tennessee". Journal of Appalachian Studies. 17 (1&2): 144–167



 

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