Healing, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, Writing

Heartbreak, Love Potions and Curanderas

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it-Toni Morrison

Writing, especially novels is a long hard road. Sometimes people ask, “Are you finished yet?” “What’s happening with that story you told me about?”

Oh, that story. Well, three years later I’m finished with the Young Adult manuscript and I believe I’m ready for the next step: finding a literary agent or publisher to bring the novel to fruition.

The book is about an eighteen-year-old young woman named Maya who suffers from a heartbreak that is so bad that she, an honors student, ditches school and finds a job selling herbs and potions in a botanica (Botánica Sirena) opened by two curanderas.

Maya’s newfound knowledge of curanderismo (the art of healing) intrigues her but proves disastrous when her novice love potion backfires leaving her ex-boyfriend in love with her mother and her nana’s 75-year-old boyfriend in love with her. 

Her divorced parents are furious with Maya’s behavior as it disrupts the plan they had for her life: valedictorian, university, and a career in politics.

So Maya needs to make things right again but her novice potion is not something the local curanderas can help her with so off to Oaxaca she goes to meet with the Gran Curandera who might be able to help her with an antidote. The trip leads Maya to a journey of self-discovery.

But what is a curandera?

Curanderismo is a healing art and curanderas/os are healers in the Latin American world. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderasSome cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.

Curandera practicing her healing

 

A curandera/o uses herbs, ointments, and cleansings to cure illness. They also conduct spiritual healings. Sage, sweetgrass, and copal are used to cleanse a house, a room, or a person of evil spirits and negative energy. 

A spiritual cleansing, limpia, and is often used by bunching together selected herbs into a small hand broom. This is whacked across the entire body and removes negative energy. After this, an egg is held above the head, moved around the body, and cracked open into a container which the curandera inspects.

Why an egg? It is believed that an egg has the natural ability to absorb energies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens and there are some variances to the ritual dependent on what the client needs.

The Latin American community believes the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal and they are often descendants of other curanderas.

mayan, healer, maya
Margarita, Mayan Healer

The photo above shows a Mayan healer in Mexico. In the U.S and my experience, the curanderas were usually grandmothers wearing aprons or elderly men in work clothes who conducted their ritual healings in their home or garage. Now they are more likely to work in a botanica which sells candles, oils, herbs, and other items such as amulets.

Using the services of a healer involves a small fee or a barter. This is probably why most Mexicans and Mexican Americans used a curandera. Either a doctor visit was too expensive, wasn’t available, or the doctor dismissed an ailment. 

When I was a kid, most mothers knew of a local curandera. When a mother thought her baby was ill a visit to the curandera would be in order; the likely culprit was mal ojo (the evil eye).

In some countries like El Salvador the infant would be given a red bracelet to ward off mal ojo; in Mexico, the curandera passes an egg over the baby’s head and body.

Herbal remedies from curanderas were brought to the U.S (many were in the Southwest before it was part of the US) and these cures were passed on for generations.

When we were kids my mother didn’t take us to a curandera but she used Vicks Vaporub for fevers and colds. If we vomited or had a stomach ache we drank 7-Up or any other lemon-lime soda. There was a special tea for stomachaches and periods, a rice water mixture for diarrhea, and a few dozen more for colds, coughs, and other illnesses.

The use of candles and ointments are also part of curanderismo. In our house, there was always some candle burning for some ailment, loss, or protection.

The subject of curanderismo is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel featuring curanderas. The story also has alibrejes (spirit animals) and other magic realism elements. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel.

The blue Jaguar is a spirit animal in the novel

And curanderas are just the tip of the iceberg of Mexican healers. There are also specialists for massage and herbs. But that is for another post.

There are websites such as Erika Buenaflor who can give you more information on curanderismo as well as other healing practices. She is a modern day curandera. I wish I had known about her site three years ago when I started my writing project but better late than never.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.

 

 

 

Family

February, My Own Personal Valentine

 

Mothers of daughters are daughters of mothers and have remained so, in circles joined to circles, since time began.

Signe Hammer

Ah, February, a month that begins with love. This is not because of Valentine’s Day but rather because my daughter was born on February 1st.

I laid on the chilly stainless steel bed in the operating room pissed off that I couldn’t bear my child ‘naturally.’ After hours of labor, I needed a C-section.

“You’ll be awake, at least. Not like the first time,” my husband said.

The memory of the emergency cesarean I had with my son, after twenty-four hours of labor, an epidural and a spinal block, shifted through my body.

I pushed aside my feeling of failure, for that’s what I believed having a c-section meant instead of vaginal birth.

The intake of breath of the doctor and nurse made my heart sink until both of them said,

“Look at that hair!” and my husband yelled “A girl.”

I held my nine-pound bundle of a baby girl with her halo of dark hair and creamy soft skin and breathed easy.

There is an old Mexican tradition of naming a child after the baby’s grandmother but we didn’t need another “Maria,” much to my mother’s chagrin. I gave my daughter a name that is a combination of my mother’s name and my middle name.

Already having a rambunctious son, I wanted a daughter to cuddle for more than a minute but as she grew, she had her rowdy times too as well as her playtime talking with her dolls and the family dog.

Now my daughter’s hair is dyed chrome silver after having been aqua, green, and jet black in earlier years. So hair is a focal point even to this day.

It’s a wonder how a baby shoots up to a kindergartener, a teenager and on to a young adult.

If I could give my daughter…

Sometimes, I forget my daughter is no longer a dependent kid but an independent woman who lived on her own for five years in Denver, bought her own car, pays her own bills, takes good care of her cat, and has managed to travel to Chicago, New York, and Houston on her own dime.

In the years between those two spectrums I hope I’ve given her the three beliefs that are listed in the quote above:

  • The confidence to know her self-worth
  • The strength to chase her dreams
  • The ability to know how truly, deeply loved she is

I am a definite on the last two and I’m reminding myself to speak out on the first one more often.

So, on February first I celebrated my daughter, in the month of love, and with my own personal Valentine.

 

 

 

MLK Day

“You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

We can make Martin Luther King, Jr. Day one of honoring his life and legacy by applying his principles to our actions. Although his famously inspiring speech was fifty-six years ago, we still need his words to inspire us to do better.

Here are two quotes from MLK, Jr. which resonant with me today.

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.

 

Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder, confronted and mocked by Catholic high school students 1-19-19

 

This screenshot from a video is disgusting when one sees the smug look on this teenager’s face who mocks Nathan Phillips, an Omaha tribe elder, and Vietnam Veteran.

The other boy has an open mouth, no doubt yelling in support of his high school buddy and MAGA hat wearer. This group of over 100 students jeered and shouted, “Build that wall.”

The group had been yelling at African American’s representing another group a few minutes before they turned their hate on the indigenous people’s group.

It’s 2019, to far along in the millennium and decades from Martin Luther Kings, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech,” on August 28, 1963.

The hate’s still there. The age is younger, blatant, conceited and entitled.

Nathan Philips continued his drumbeat, his chant for peace.

“It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ ” Phillips recalled. “I started going that way, and that guy in the hat stood in my way, and we were at an impasse. He just blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat.”

Phillips kept drumming and singing, thinking about his wife, Shoshana, who died of bone marrow cancer nearly four years ago, and the various threats that face indigenous communities around the world… Washington Post

For decades, Mr. Phillips has gone to the Arlington National Cemetery every Veterans Day with a peace pipe to pay tribute to the soldiers.

“They’re (the boys) just responding to a president that is giving license to racists and bigots who have no place in our society,” he said. “I wouldn’t even wish ill will on those kids,” he said. “My job has always been taking care of the fire, to keep the prayers going.”

This isn’t an isolated incident of hate crimes. You can Google ‘hate crimes’ and see all the conflicts this month: a Sikh man in Oregon attacked, Somalian immigrants in Kansas City targeted with a bomb to their apartment, and the list goes on.

But the purpose of this post isn’t to harp on the negative because hate cannot win. Everyday people can make a positive difference, whatever their age, ethnicity or race.

Today, promise yourself that you’ll seek social justice in whatever way you can. Be an inspiration. Find out about other cultures and ethnicities through conversation, reading, and exploring connections with others.

This is something you can do on MLK, Jr. Day:

Take yourself and/or your kids to any of the many MLK celebrations in cities and town throughout the USA. Take your kids, nieces or nephews, grandkids, your favorite kid to the library and have them read any of these children’s books

or the ones found on these sites: Pragmatic Mom, MultiCultural Kids Blog, or ask your friendly librarian for a suggestion.

 

Children’s Book on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahalia Jackson

 

You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream.

Creativity, Inky Girl, New Year intentions, Writing

Make This a Great Year Without Obsessive Resolutions

Happy New Year to all of you!

I’ve spent a little time reading inspiring blog posts this morning and found a few that supported my view of New Year resolutions.

Most of these have to do with writing but I’m sure the advice works in different areas of one’s life.

First, the post from author K.L Krane who writes “New Resolution for 2019: No Resolutions.” She details her exhausting reading and writing goals for 2018 (which left me way tired) and compares this to a new perspective. Check out her blog post.

This drawing from the talented Debbie Ridpath Ohi illustrates what many of us writers do to ourselves. The wisdom given by historical fantasy novelist Juliet Marillier is well said.

From Comics for Writers by Debbie Ohi

In 2018, author K. E. Garland began a new way to create resolutions. She resolved to remember five concepts.

After formulating what she intended to focus on she typed out the ideas on paper and stuck them to her mirror where she’d recite them daily.

Wow, simple, doable, and placed in an area she knew she’d be every morning and evening. I like her idea and am planning to adopt her method and post on my mirror and on my laptop.

Myself? I’m a fan of focus words and intentions. More about that process here.

Whatever you resolve, intend, or conceptualize for yourself this year, believe in your process and I hope you have many happy adventures.