Do you know how to naturally heal fright or trauma? No? More about susto later.
During the last two years, I’ve worked on a story about an ambitious twenty-one-year-old with a ten-year plan to become a State Senator who drops out of college because of a broken engagement. She meets a grandmother and granddaughter who are curanderas. Although she doesn’t believe in this Mexican tradition of healers she takes matters into her own hands and makes a love potion. When the wrong people, her mother, ex-fiancé and others, drink the potion and fall in love she has to discover an antidote. Her search takes her to Oaxaca, Mexico to meet a curandera who may be able to help her heal her susto and give her the correct potion to make things right.
When I was a kid, every mother knew of a local curandera. Using their services was normal. For centuries, the Mexican culture has had curanderas. Some cultures may call these people shamans, or medicine men or women. Some people call them, incorrectly, witches.
Curanderismo is a healing art and a curandera/o is a healer who uses herbs, ointments, massage, and cleansings to cure an illness and do spiritual and psychic healings. They and the community believe the curandera has a spiritual calling to heal. 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 involved 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. Here’s a link to a doctor who discusses traditional remedies.
But back to healing fright or susto. It seems there are degrees of susto. A person can be suffering a shock, an emotional trauma, or be in such a state of anxiety that they can’t function; which is the case with my main character in my novel in progress. When this happens, they are said to be suffering from susto.
A spiritual cleansing, limpia, is often used by taking a bunch of selected herbs made into a small hand broom which is whacked across the entire body. This 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 engergies around it. Finally, water is spit on the person. I know, sounds strange but this is what happens.
Curanderismo is not only a Mexican tradition but one that is found in most of Latin America and the Carribean. The subject is one that has fascinated me so much I had to write a novel (work-in-progress) featuring curanderas. Take a look at my storyboard for this novel. You may come across some interesting information.
Disclaimer: This post is not suggesting you use a curandera in lieu of a medical practitioner; that is your own decision.
In the spirit of poetry month, I thought I’d make a poem for this week’s post. Last year, I celebrated the month with the post Late To The Poetry Party, offering a poem and several links to other poets (who actually submit poems and win honors).
Have you ever heard a term that sounded so odd you wanted to blurt, “Say what?”
That’s how I felt when I first heard of Ekphrastic poetry but I didn’t ask the question out loud. First, my mind and tongue tried to wrap itself around the weird word. Second, maybe I didn’t want to hear the definition; sounded like a cutting word.
I heard the word from my writing mentor, Fred Arroyo, who participated in this interesting workshop:
“PINTURA : PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis” is a multi-year initiative that encourages new Latino writing inspired by art, above all a Smithsonian American Art Museum traveling exhibit titled Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. Aspects of this initiative include ekphrastic writing workshops; inviting writers to engage with the exhibit; and partnering with literary journals to publish portfolios of ekphrastic writing. The exhibit debuted in Washington, D.C. in 2013 and concludes its tour in Sioux City, Iowa in 2017.
An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.
Now, whenever I go to a museum or see a lovely piece of photography, my creative juices begin squirting and sometimes land on something I like.
This is a photo which mesmerized me for a few minutes. A story followed.
In another time,
sunlight danced on the shoulders
of forbidden lovers
pressed against columns
moist with passion
a canopy to cover scandal,
sighs of love.
Her velvet gown
crushed by nubby wool
of a friar’s frock,
surrounded by scents of jasmine
and aromatic oils.
More than one great romance
glowed in the shadows
of the setting sun
in another century, in another monastery.
The photo connected with me, perhaps because I love architecture, medieval times, and television shows like “Reign.”
I find that Ekphrastic poetry is a good way to stimulate creativity and can serve as a writing prompt. Many times I need something to propel me to start writing, especially if I’m revising (which is most of the time).
As we get older, we tend to appreciate things we took for granted, like stories from grandparents about their life and the childhood of our parents.
Family stories may be boring when we’re kids or when they’re repeated often, as can be the case when our parents enter their 80’s, but grandparents and parents who pass on their stories help children remember their heritage, their family strengths, and joyful times.
Mom shared her Christmas memories with us and through them, I relate back to the real reason for the season. This is one of her stories:
During the depression, if we received oranges and candy that was a great treat.
One Christmas Eve morning the firemen came to my barrio of Little Silao, in Pomona (CA). This Christmas was special, it was 1932 and the middle of the Great Depression. FDR was the president.
Times were hard, but my family was lucky. My mother had a vegetable garden, and walnut trees in the backyard, rabbits and chickens too. We had enough to eat, barely enough for clothing, and no money for toys. I was four and wanted a doll more than anything.
We didn’t have a Christmas tree that year, but we did have a little table in the living room which mama decorated for the arrival of baby Jesus. She bent tree branches to form a small tent and added little green fans of pine over the branches to form a shelter. Tiny pinecones and red berries decorated the sides, pine needles were scattered at the entrance. An empty wooden manger sat in front of this small cave among the boughs. This looked very pretty and it smelled good too, fresh and woodsy.
I scanned the street in front of my house while perched on the wooden chair against the living room window. A shiny red fire truck turned into Newman Street, my street. Firemen, in their uniforms, rode on the running boards of the truck. They stopped five houses away from our place.
One of them climbed up to the top of the truck and handed blue, gold, and red boxes to another fireman and he handed them to another one who stood on the sidewalk.
“Here they come, here they come! Papá, mamá, Catarino, Jose, Concha, they’re coming.” I almost fell off the rickety chair.
I had to tell the others about the firemen and the Christmas gifts. I ran from room to room shouting their arrival. My brothers and sister ran out of the bedroom, my mother with baby Adela walked out of the kitchen.
“Maria, no grites. Sientense por favor.”
She didn’t like me yelling and told me to sit down.
Catarino was the oldest at 10 years, Jose was eight, Concha six, and the baby was one-year-old. Everyone sat down, except me. I ran back to my chair at the window.
“Here they come!” I shrieked and ran out the front door onto the sidewalk and everyone followed.
My cousins, across the street, were already outside jumping up and down shouting, “They’re here, they’re here.”
Maybe I would get a ball and jacks, real ones. Concha and I were tired of playing jacks with washed apricot pits and an old rubber ball. Maybe I’d get a real doll, one of my very own. That would be better than the paper dolls I cut out from the Sears Catalogue.
The big truck rolled to a stop right in front of my house. The fireman began calling out names, “Concha, Maria, Jose, and Catarina.”
Catarina? That’s a girls name. My brother was “Catarino.” He unwrapped the box and his smile disappeared. It was a doll! He held up the box to give it back to the fireman, but I ran towards him shouting “I want it, I want it.” I got to it before Concha did and ran back into my house.
The doll had on a beautiful red dress with black shoes and fluffy hair. I was so happy, I carried my doll the way mamá carried baby Adela.
For the life ofme, I can’t remember if Catarino took the present meant for me or if the firemen gave him another gift. All I remember was that beautiful doll.
Now remember to share your family holiday stories with your kids and encourage your parents or grandparents to talk about Christmases past so you keep your family narrative strong and alive.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you and yours.