Ways of Knowing™ Symposium: Exploring Cultural Based Healing Traditions & Practices

Hearts Healing Hearts: Curanderismo in the 21st Century

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155 Elena Avila

“I swallow their souls into
my womb where I can grind them into new seeds.

Elena began her session by sharing her own story of living the medicine of a curanderismo as a young woman with children, often facing rejection and judgment—as a witch or whore. Yet, as her soul and confidence grew, she eventually opened a healing practice in her home. She performed an opening spiritual ceremony, calling in the blessings of the 5 directions (S, W, N, E and above—mother/father god,) and asking for the support for her to be of greatest service. She serves her clients by hearing their stories, and she shared her story with this gathering. A curanderismo’s strength as a healer comes from always using whatever is useful and available—herbs, counseling, soul retrieval, psychodrama, rituals, spiritual cleansings, and even referrals to medical doctors.


I will use whatever I have, I always have my heart.
I honor your beliefs; I do not teach you mine.”

There are four elements used in healing the body and soul, and there is a spiritual aspect to each of those elements.

  • Air (exchange)—breathing, new beginnings, the east, sunrise
  • Water (quality)—fluid balance, integrity, the west, sunset
  • Fire (integration)—sleep/rest, healing, the south
  • Earth (awake)—nutrition, healthy food, the north

Using this foundation of culture, spirituality, and healing practices, she defines integrative medicine as a marriage of the gifts of indigenous health care with contemporary technology. She feels it’s critical to build bridges to create a medicine of the people.

There are many different types of curanderas with specialties: hierbero (herbalist), sobadora (massage therapists who work through the muscles to heal both emotional and physical pain), consejera (counselor who heals the heart), and the curandera total who employs all four levels of medicine—education, bodywork, medicine, sacred tools. There are many different tools and the curandera must develop their own relationship and ease with any tool they choose to work with; e.g. eggs (for limpias), turkey feathers, rosemary, copal. Different tools may be used for different people, circumstances and complaints. Elena gave examples of different types of “folk” diseases and their causes—soul loss from fright, envy, curses, bad luck, fright from seeing a ghost, bad air, rage…Spiritual cleansings are done to help people let go of distorted emotions and thoughts, false belief systems, relationships, energy that doesn’t belong to us. Soul retrievals bring back those aspects of a person that have been taken or left behind during the traumas of life, and have left openings allowing for disease and suffering.

“I am a third world God woman………………..there is room in this world for paradox.”

Elena’s Poem:

 Flower that Brings Medicine Through Laughter

 My Aztec name is XoxiWetzkaPahtli,
Flower that Brings Medicine through Laughter.
There are lots of laughs in serious messages.

I was born in the Spring and am constantly reinventing myself.
I build bridges and mend spirit wings.
My spirit smells of copal and sage, with a dash of Romero
imported from Spain.

I am a wild flower with a hip-hop spirit.
I am a red rose, beautiful and thorny at the same time.
I am a sturdy Marigold feeding obisdian butterflies botanical consciousness.

You will see yourself in my poems. We have so much in common.

I am a curandera poet with a fertlized cunning crafty compassionate heart, living in the center of a flowery paradox in mother earth’s soul.

Hearts Healing Hearts: Curanderismo in the 21st Century Chart

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  • Ways of Knowing™: Cultural-Based Healing Traditions and Practices