A Thread in the Tapestry of Witchcraft
Whenever I hear the urban legend that witchcraft died out and then was recently re-discovered… well, I have to shake my head in disbelief. Such a mindset digresses from the expansion of witchcraft, which has been in existence since the dawn of humankind. And which continues to flourish to this very day. There are many threads that lend themselves to the tapestry of witchcraft. And for one thread to claim to be the weaver is very naïve.
In many instances, a witch is simply a healer. Witches employ knowledge of herbs and folk magic to assist those who seek out such help. In spite of all of the negative hype, not all witches engage in seeking out malevolent spirits or seek to engage in grand acts of esoteric knowledge. Unlike religions, witchcraft is not defined by a particular dogma, but rather is a mystical spiritual path with an ever-expanding body of knowledge. It is up to the individual as to how to harness and utilize that knowledge.
In keeping with this thought, back in the mid 1980’s I was married to a wonderful Hispanic woman. And by way of her family, I became aware of the practice of curanderismo. In fact, I recently completed a short course in curanderismo, which was offered through the University of New Mexico.
What is a curandero, you may ask? The word “curandero” is Spanish for “healer”. These healers are found throughout South America and, in recent years, through parts of North America as well. These healers are sometimes known as Shamans. Curandero, as a form of healing, has been around for over a thousand years or so. These folks are healers who manipulate the supernatural world as well as the physical world in an effort to heal. One of the earliest depictions of curanderos is found in the ceramic artwork of the Moche people. Theirs was a civilization that flourished in northern Peru from about 100 C.E to circa 800 C.E. And though Curanderos do not call themselves witches, they employ identical elements in order to heal others in their community. I have no problem as seeing them as yet another thread in the tapestry of witchcraft. For at the end of the day, labels are for those who create them and are often narrow in interpretation.
Within the Hispanic community, if one were to refer to a curandero as a Bruja (female witch) or Brujo (male witch) , this would be seen as an insult, as these terms for “witch” are used to identify folks who engage in sorcery. And the practice of sorcery is considered to be negative as compared to the practices of the curandero. Due to religious persecution and as a matter of survival, curandero became intertwined with Catholicism, much like the Vodou belief system did in order to survive and prosper. As a result of this, Curanderos tend to be very religious and very spiritual and believe that you have to have the Christian God in your heart to be a true healer. Curanderos (male healers) or Curanderas (female healers) believe that illnesses are caused by malevolent spirits, a life lesson from Deity, or from someone placing a curse.
As with any practice, there are specialties that one may engage in, in order to relieve the afflictions that are present in their patients. For instance, “Yerberos” are primarily herbalists. These folks are generally well trained in hundreds of different herbs and their medicinal values. As a witch who lives a homeopathic life, I can certainly relate to such folks. And like many traditional witches, they gather their herbs from the surrounding fields and woods of their locale.
“Hueseros and Sobaderos” are bone/muscle therapists who emphasize physical ailments. They are trained in healing methods that use rub and massage techniques. These healers look for abdominal tenderness, feeling knots in the calves, and/or rolling a fresh chicken egg over the abdomen. Empacho (impact of the stomach) is confirmed if the egg appears to stick to a particular area.
“Parteras” are the midwives and for decades have been the only source of such aid in many Hispanic communities. The Parteras will often employ a method called “manteadas”. This is a form of body rocking on a blanket or shawl, with precise rhythmic movements in an effort to facilitate delivery, promote conception in infertile women and to relax the body by removing stress. It is also used to rearrange the whole body and/or bone dislocation and so forth. Often a rebozo is utilized for this type of healing. The rebozo is a type of long shawl.
Then there are the “Oracionistas” who work primarily through the power of prayer. This type of Curanderas healing is heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic views that have been intertwined with the Curandero path. They are viewed as a type of faith healer. Among these primary specialties there are a number of sub categories. For instance, Yerberos who work primarily with tobacco to heal patients are known as “tabaqueros” (Tobacco-using shaman) . As part of their healing process they employ the use of Nicotiana rustica, (Amazonian wild Tobacco) .
There are Curanderos who employ limpias energeticas (clean energy) , which is a form of ritual for spiritual cleansing. There are those who utilize Jugo terapia (juice therapy) , which as the name indicates is a method of mixing various fruits and herbs as a means of healing.
There are Curanderos who work primarily with ayahuasca and are known as ayahuasqueros. These shamans utilize the spirit of ayahuasca as a means of physical and spiritual healing.
By the same token, Curanderos who work with peyote are known as peyoteros. And akin to the ayahuasqueros, these shamans utilize the spirit of the peyote for spiritual healing. As an interesting side note, as of this writing, there are only three peyoteros in the United States who are licensed to harvest peyote, which is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance by the U.S. government.
In closing, I have barely covered the healing techniques, which fall under the description of curanderismo. The whole point of this article is to shed a bit of light on one of the many pools of knowledge that are available to the aspiring witch.
As I stated earlier on, witchcraft is not a single body of knowledge encased in some form of dogma, but rather an esoteric path that is constantly being expanded upon by applying both old and new knowledge. By opening one’s mind and horizons, one is able to continue to grow both mentally and spiritually. A witch is one who is constantly seeking the path to wisdom…