customs/rituals, folklore, health, Uncategorized

Feed a Cold? Starve a Fever? Something else?

 

When you are sick, do you Google your symptoms for a diagnosis? Do you go to the pharmacy and scan over-the-counter remedies? Do you call a trusted friend or relative for advice? Do you book an appointment with your internist? Or do you go to Urgent Care? To the ER? That is more or less the gamut of options in our contemporary urban culture. But not everyone follows this route.

I attended a conference on Alternative Healing methods at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and was struck by the variety of healing methods utilized by Hispanic people living in rural areas. Since they have limited access to modern healing centers, they rely on multiple traditional modes of treatment.

Healer giving limpia (cleansing) to patient.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Healer giving limpia (cleansing) to patient. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

One might go to a curandero/curandera, someone who heals in a time-tested way. They might give you a limpia or cleansing, a common treatment where the healer moves branches or flowers or herbs downward on the body to physically and metaphorically sweep away the sickness. They may also use a raw egg in the same manner. Traditional healers frequently say prayers or light incense during this ritual.

 

Smudging is another popular traditional healing method. Native Americans burn sage, whereas, the Latino population burns copal, the common incense of the Catholic church. In the Mexican tradition, they burn the copal in sahumerios, open ceramic torch-like containers.  The healers pass the copal smoke all around the body to purify it of any maladies.

 

Sahumerio for burning copal incense shown in plastic bag.  ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.
Sahumerio for burning copal incense shown in plastic bag. ©Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, patients visit a temazcal, a sweat lodge.   Akin to a Native American sweat lodge, it looks more like an oven made of bricks or cement blocks. Inside the pitch blackness, they burn specific herbs for particular problems: eucalyptus for respiratory needs (think Vicks); rose petals for anniversaries and weddings; basil for fertility issues or postpartum depression. Sitting inside the intense heat is similar to being in a sauna where toxins are released through the skin pores.   But unlike the sauna, the temazcal is a sacred experience where participants sing songs calling upon the ancestors for their help.

Prototype of a temazcal. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Prototype of a temazcal. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

Cupping is another method of removing sickness from the body. The patient lies down and the healer first removes oxygen from glass cups via a flame then quickly inverts the glass cups on specific locations on the patient’s back to create a suction. Most commonly used for respiratory problems, the goal is to bring the toxins to the surface of the skin where they can be released.

Curandera (healer) placing flame in cup to remove oxygen.  Cup placed on patient's back to create suction.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014
Curandera (healer) placing flame in cup to remove oxygen. Cup is placed on patient’s back to create suction. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014

 

This reminds me of how my mother used to make dry mustard plasters and place them on my chest where they would heat up and make my skin turn red. She believed that the hot mustard would draw out and alleviate my bronchitis.

 

 

 

What I took away from this two week conference is that traditional healers spend more time listening to, putting their hands on, and honoring their patients. Through more ritualistic interactions, they involve the mind, body, and spirit of the patient. This is so unlike today’s urban relationships of patients and physicians where time restrictions, testing in locations removed from the healer, and prescription fixes seem to prevail and make it seem impersonal and less satisfying.  This probably explains why many Americans from Latin American and the Caribbean often turn to curanderos even while living in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or El Paso

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has an appointment today for her flu shot.

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customs/rituals, folklore, good luck/bad luck

Lynn Welling Tuned My House

Sounds and their benefit to the human psyche fascinate Lynn Welling, an academically trained musician.  Thus, when she offered to tune my new home here in Las Cruces, I was excited, even though I had no idea what she was talking about.

Tuning one wall of the house.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.
Tuning one wall of the house. © Norine Dresser, 2013.

First, she played a CD that produced a single tone; then she struck tuning forks to begin their vibrating and placed them against a wall; next she waited until the wall’s tone matched the sound emanating from the CD.  Amazingly, this occurred each time.  She did this for each wall of the house and by the time she finished, literally and metaphorically, the house was in tune with itself.

Tuning the house is a kind of a purification rite that reminded me of what various Native American tribes do when they smudge a house.  They ignite a bundle of sage, blow out the flames and then move the ensuing smoke in and out of all the rooms.

Smudging generally occurs before a person moves into a home.  I even know of someone who had her house smudged after a divorce.  The ex-wife, who planned to remain in the home, wanted to remove all traces of her ex-husband.

This reminds me about the birth of my first granddaughter.  Before her Persian father left home to pick up my daughter and their baby from the hospital, he took a strainer and placed some leaves of the rue shrub in it.  Next, he ignited the greenery and when lit, blew out the flames.  He than moved the smoking strainer in and out of each room and door.

I watched in amazement because I had never witnessed anything like this before.  When I asked him why he did it, he explained, “To keep away the evil eye.”

As a new grandmother that shocked me, but as an experienced folklorist, I thought, “How could it hurt?”

Rituals are powerful methods for achieving peace of mind.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in a well-tuned house.