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 curanderas. Some cultures call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.
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.
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.
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.