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Curanderas Employ Herbs, Mysticism in Healing Rituals


At the age of 8, she performed sober, or a high pressure massage using the heel of her hand and her thumbs, on people in her village of Santiago, and word quickly spread of her perceived power. It was at 15, she said, that her life underwent a dramatic change.

"I was very sick, but I could not fall asleep," Mina remembered. "I was staring at the curtains in my bedroom when the vision of the Sacred Heart came to me. I knew then that I had special powers."

Traditionally, curanderas are trained by another faith healer or a grandparent who is knowledgeable about different plants and their medicinal uses, said Mora, the CSUN professor.

In Mexico and increasingly in the United States, curanderas are primarily used by families who are too poor to afford health care.

"If families are very poor, they will go to a curandera first, or a grandmother who knows the art," Mora said. "If a child remains sick, they will go to a regular doctor, but their first attempt will be to go to a curandera."

Curanderas are very secretive about their practice, out of "fear of being charged with practicing medicine, or because they don't trust what they perceive as outsiders," Mora said.

Mina also keeps a low profile. She does not advertise; most of Mina's clients hear of her through word of mouth. Some mistakenly think she mixes Western medicine with her tradition.

"Sometimes people come to me and say, 'I want an injection,' " said Mina, adding that she refuses to do so. "They don't care. I am their last resort. But I don't like problems. I don't want to hurt anyone."

A middle-aged woman who called herself Maria sat in the living room waiting for her consultation with Mina.

Her husband of two decades left her for a 25-year-old woman in Mexico. "We have five children together," she said. "I have asked the woman to send him back, but she said she wants him. My youngest is only a year old."

She has tried everything to win him back, she said, and when that didn't work, she came to Mina.

Every day for the last two months, Maria faithfully visited Mina, underwent limpias and lit a red skull candle that Mina gave her with her husband's name scrawled on it.

"Today my husband has come back," she said excitedly. "But he is so different. I have come to ask her why."

After a 20-minute session, she got her answer. She wandered out of the washroom as if in dream state, barely noticing the step below the door. "I must get home to make him dinner," Maria said as she walks out, swinging her long hair like a schoolgirl. "She said he is back for good."

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