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.

 

 

 

Latino culture

Día De Los Muertos is Coming, Are You Ready?

Day of the Dead Ofrenda honoring Mexican women in the arts, 2015.

 

There is so much energy in the air I can feel the spirits descending.

November 1st is generally referred to as Día De Los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día De Los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels).

November 2nd is the actual DÍa De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The past week in America has been particularly sorrowful. Perhaps, honoring the departed on November 1st and 2nd is helpful to you.

During our childhood, we had altars year round. They always contained the Virgen de Guadalupe, Sacred Heart of Jesus, votives, and one or two photos of someone who recently passed.

To celebrate the Day of the Dead people make altars or ofrendas (offerings) to their deceased. This can be at a cemetery (like in Mexico), in your living room, kitchen, bedroom, wherever you like.

This year my mom made a Day of the Dead altar in the living room. One side of the altar contained the photos of her deceased sisters and brothers, sister-in-law’s, and cousins. The other side, as you can see, has photos of her parents and my dad, and Cesar Chavez, who my mother admired so much.

Ofrenda to parents and husband and Cesar Chavez

My sister’s ofrenda dedicated to the memory of her husband, friends, and our relatives:

A bedroom ofrenda for Dia De Los Muertos

 

An altar in the library of the high school where my sister works:

An ofrenda in a high school library
http://www.alvaradofrazier.com

 

Ofrendas and altars are our way of visiting with, remembering and honoring our ancestors and loved ones who’ve departed.

If you are thinking of making your own altar (you still have time) check out these past posts.

The Icons of Day of the Dead.

What’s Up With Mexican Culture and Death?

The Icons of Day of the Dead.

I leave you with these poems from sddayofthedead.org/poems

“In the indigenous, aboriginal perspective on death, both life and death are mere aspects of a common duality or eternal cycle, as denoted in the following Native American poem from North America:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.
I am the gentle Autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there, I did not die.

What is Death?
What is death? It is the glass of life broken into a
thousand pieces, where the soul disperses like
perfume from a flask, into the silence of the eternal night.

Unknown Author

Through the Eyes of the Soul, Day of the Dead in Mexico
Unique Life
Be as happy as you can, oh king Tecayehyatzin
You who appreciates the jewels that flourish!
Will we live again?

Your heart knows this:
We only live once!
Vida única
¡Alégrate en extremo, oh rey Tecayehuatzin,
valuador de joyas florecientes!

¿Acaso una vez más vendremos a vivir?
Tu corazón lo sabe así:
¡Sólo una vez venimos a la vida!

Xayacamachan 1510 A.D.

 

If you have any questions/comments, please let me know. Thanks!

Family, Latino culture, Mothers, Strong Women

Ghosts past and present

Not the spirit Mom saw but close enough. Photo by pixaby.com

 

My mother’s seeing ghosts again.

She hasn’t seen one in over 75 years. So why are they visiting now? And not one but two of them?

These are the questions I’m asking myself as she tells me about the spirits floating in her room, at the foot of her bed, for the past three nights.

On the first night, the spirit is a woman dressed in a flowing white dress. Mom can see the figure is feminine, but she has her face turned to the side, so only her profile is seen. Mom flips the bedcovers over her eyes and begins to pray.

The next night the woman in white appears again. She’s staring at something to the right of the bedroom wall. There’s a figure in a black cloak, hood and all. Mom can’t see a face. She pinches herself to find out if she’s having a nightmare. Nope. She hides under her blankets and prays for them to go away.

“Geez, Mom how did you see all that? You’re legally blind,” I ask.

“I don’t know but I saw them,” she says. “What do you think it means?”

Of course, I don’t want to say the words out loud: ‘it’s the grim reaper.’ Who wants to give their mom that news?

Instead, I suggest she ask them who they are or what do they want or tell them to scram. Mom appears to be thinking about that suggestion, “Hmmm.”

I offer to bring over some sage to burn at the entrance to her room; to ward off evil spirits.

Mom scrunches her lips. “Do you know Becca saw a ghost in my room years ago?”

I can’t remember that but I think my sister used sage for the entire house a few years back.

On the third night, the spirits come again. This time both are side by side in front of her closet doors. The one in the black cloak moves away towards her dresser on the adjoining wall. This time Mom shuffles out of her bed turns on the light, and they disappear.

What to make of these apparitions?

After the questions about whether she was dreaming or not, what did she eat for dinner, and all those questions meant to have her doubt what she saw, she says:

“I know what ghosts look like.”

She’s right.

She’s seen the ghost of her father come to her at a migrant camp when she was eleven years old or so. He appeared, dressed in his work clothes, standing at her feet while she slept on a blanket on the dirt, next to her best friend, Sally. They reported the sighting to her friend’s father.

Sally’s dad said not to be afraid, seeing her dad was a good thing, he was only visiting her at the same camp he used to work at when he was alive. Mom accepted that idea.

Four years later, Mom was ironing in the kitchen and heard her dead mother’s voice call her name. The hanging light bulb above the ironing board swayed. Her mother called for her again.

“I was so scared, I ran out to the porch and wouldn’t go back inside.”

Her friend reassured her that her mother was looking out for her and not to be afraid.

The reassurances about visiting spirits is not unusual in the Mexican culture which has centuries of Mayan and Aztec beliefs about the supernatural world. After all, Day of the Dead celebrates and invites spirits of the departed.

I’ve never seen La Llorona but I’ve heard her wailing.

Ghosts are nothing to fear unless it’s the infamous La Llorona or the Cucuy (because we know what they’re coming for and it’s not pretty).

After the two spirits depart, on the third night, Mom decides to use her holy water from Lourdes. She tells me she sprinkled some drops from the bottle to her doorway, on her closet doors, her dresser and her bed.

Gathering the holy water of Lourdes, France

I can’t believe she still has the holy water since it’s been twenty years since she visited Lourdes, France.

“I’m not ready to go.” She huffs like those spirits better get a grip. Yup, she’s a chingona like that.

There must not be an expiration date for the holy water because Mom hasn’t seen any spirits for a couple of weeks now.

 

 

Latino culture

The A to Z Challenge: Y and Z

Enough (in Spanish, YA), photo by Rux Centea for unsplash.com

Last day of the A to Z Challenge: Today is Y and Z: YAY!

That’s a Y but we’re concentrating on Spanish words for this challenge.

Y is for “Ya” which means Enough, or Already, or “Enough already.”

When a Spanish speaking parent didn’t want to hear their kids continuing to ask/beg/argue for something, they’d say

“Ya!” or” Ya pues.” 

Z is the last letter in Spanish too. The letter is pronounced “Zeta.”

Z is for Zanahoria: Carrots.

The Spanish “z” is pronounced differently in Spain than in Latin America. In Spain, it is pronounced like the th” in the English word “think.” In Latin America, it’s pronounced like the letter “s.”

This is a word I frequently mispronounce as Zanoria, which I chalk up to my lazy tongue.

My favorite way to eat zanahorias? Roasted street carrots from Lazy Dog Restaurant.

Roasted Street Carrots from Lazy Dog Restaurant.

 

This recipe is a twist on Mexican street corn using organic rainbow heirloom carrots, garlic, queso blanco, cilantro lime crema, and Tajin. Tastes as delicious as they look.

In June I’ll travel to Spain and need to remember to use the “th” sound for zanahoria’s and not the “s,” or I may be served something else on my plate other than carrots.

Thank you for visiting and sharing. photo by hanny naibaho, unsplashcom

 

Taking on the challenge, and finishing, has resulted in little stories that I’d forgotten and reminded me that I need to learn more “proper” Spanish.

I’ve enjoyed visiting different countries and hearing stories through the A to Z challenge: France, Mexico, India, Germany and several states in the USA.

Thank you to everyone who connected with me here. I’ve followed a few blogs and look forward to reading your stories.

Gracias!