Despite the push to visit Western doctors, receive preventative care and become knowledgeable about common ailments in the community, many Hispanics living in the United States still prefer the advice and remedies obtained from curanderos, traditional folk healers carrying on generations of ancient healing practices.
But just what are curanderos, and how are they serving the Hispanic community by treating folk and other illnesses?
Curanderos practice what is called curanderismo, or a holistic form of healing, which combines prayer, herbal remedies, rituals, psychic healing, spiritualism, and massage.
According to the American Cancer Society, curanderismo is said to be the result of the Spanish colonization, when different Catholic rituals were combined with native folk medicine. In the United States, curanderismo is most commonly found in the Southwestern region.
The word ‘curanderismo’ comes from the Spanish word curar, which means to heal, and this form of medicine is popular in different Hispanic cultures because it deals with issues Western medicine does not acknowledge, such as a link between illness and evil spirits.
This mystical aspect of curanderismo keeps it prevalent among Hispanics; however, some individuals visit curanderos because they simply do not trust Western doctors or prefer not to take prescription medicines.
What does a curandero do?
Curanderos, or practitioners of curanderismo, believe good health is maintained by a delicate balance of hot and cold within the body. Because of this belief, much emphasis is placed on what a person eats, what their physical activities are, and what medications they are taking.
Depending on whether or not an illness is ‘hot’ or ‘cold,” a curandero will make adjustments to daily habits to help re-establish that temperature balance within the body.
“A curandero (or curandera for a female) is a traditional folk healer or shaman in Hispanic America, who is dedicated to curing physical or spiritual illnesses, explained Elena Avila, MSN, RN, Curandera.
“The role of a curandero or curandera can also incorporate the roles of psychiatrist along with that of doctor and healer. Many curanderos use Catholic elements, such as holy water and saint pictures. The use of Catholic prayers and other borrowings and lendings are often found alongside native religious elements.”
Curanderos are sought after for everything from physical and psychological issues to marital discord treatment, as many Hispanics believe these issues are a result of a ‘loss of spirit,’ bad luck, or curse.
Sometimes a curandero is asked to help ward off the effects of a brujo, which the Texas State Historical Association indicates is a witch (male or female) who uses supernatural powers for evil, often selling services to those who wish to inflict pain and suffering on others.
Depending on the ailment, aid from a specialized curandero may be sought, and these individuals are referred to as:
Yerberos: Individuals who specialize in the use of medicinal plants and herbs; considered the equivalent of a pharmacist in Western medicine.
Parteras: Midwives who are the primary source of guidance for pregnant women and who oversee births.
Sobadores: Individuals trained to promote healing through massage techniques. Sobadores are also known to use bone manipulation much in the way a Western chiropractor would.
Why do curanderos remain so popular?
Curanderos will likely always have a place in Hispanic culture.
For many people the power of belief can make a difference in treatment outcomes, and curanderos have the ability to not only reach Hispanics on a spiritual level, but to not be hindered by language or payment barriers.
Many curanderos will not require payment though they do accept donations. Most importantly, they know how to communicate with their clients – which is beyond language but also involves common beliefs, background and traditions.