CURANDERISMO. Curanderismo is the art of folk healing by a curandero, the healer par excellence in the folk medicine practiced by Texas Hispanics. Healers can be either male or female and may even specialize in their practice. The three most common types of curanderos are the yerbero (herbalist), the partera (midwife), and the sobador (masseur). Though the curandero has the skill to treat a wide variety of illnesses, he is the only healer in the culture who can treat mal puesto, illnesses caused by witchcraft. He is thought to have been given a don de Dios (a gift from God) to heal the sick, and he learns his healing art through apprenticeship under another curandero or a spiritual manifestation. His chief adversary in the struggle between good and evil is Satan and those who have made secret pacts with him—the brujos or brujas (witches). Along with the treatment of mal puesto, curanderos also treat mal de ojo (the evil eye) and susto (loss of spirit). Typically, the curandero works on three levels, the material, the spiritual, and the mental. He may prescribe a herbal remedy or conduct a religious ritual. Quite often, a practitioner is called upon to treat the physical symptoms that patients believe come from supernatural causes.
Brujos—who frequently take the form of lechuzas (barn owls), cats, turkeys, or coyotes—may use their evil powers to cause many different problems, from prolonged serious illnesses (physical and mental) or death to bad luck in business and love. They can cause one person to fall uncontrollably in love with another. Any long-lasting, serious illness that does not respond to a medical doctor's treatments may be attributed to brujería. Brujos use rituals, incantations, and potions and powders, which, when near the victim, bring on the desired illness. The agent is sometimes put into the victim's drink or food, or it may be a powder spread across his path or placed in his house or yard. Brujos may also use a victim's photograph, hair, fingernail clippings, or other item to cast a spell. Brujería is particularly feared because it can penetrate even the sanctity of one's home. Though certain amulets and rituals are helpful in protecting one from brujería, the only sure protection is to live a sinless life—a claim few will make. Once a victim of the brujo's spell, a person has only one source of help—the curandero. (Although the local Catholic priest should theoretically be able to help, the curandero is in practice the one usually consulted). When one suspects he is the victim of brujería, he will seek out a curandero even if he has to travel hundreds of miles. The ratio of curanderos to population is very small, and residents of rural Texas often have to travel to population centers. In the diagnosis phase of treatment, the healer uses divination (by, for instance, looking into a glass of clear water), pulsing (holding the patient's wrist to feel the pulse, which reveals more to the curandero than just the rate of heartbeat), or clairvoyance (including seances). If the healer diagnoses the problem as brujería, he must then identify the kind of witchcraft used and often the one who wanted the hex put on the victim, as well as the brujo who perpetrated the evil. If one delays treatment, however, the curandero may not be able to counter the hex.
The curandero's treatment may consist of rituals, herbal remedies, potions, or countermagic, depending on what the illness is. Pedrito Jaramilloqv, the most famous curandero in Texas, used recetas (prescriptions) that involved drinking water at certain intervals or some equally simple treatment. He claimed that he could not cure anyone, but that patients could be cured by their faith in God. His patients included many Anglos. Sometimes the treatment may consist of contacting the brujo through supernatural means or directly and demanding that the hex be removed. If the brujo refuses, the curandero may hex the hexer. Part of the cure may consist of identifying and locating the hexing agent (e.g., a small bag of cursed items hidden in the victim's home or yard) and removing it. If dolls were used, they must be found and destroyed. The treatment may also involve the removal of objects magically injected into the victim's body (e.g., a lizard or worm). Love hexes using the victim's photograph may be counteracted with rituals involving countermagic, including rolling the victim's picture face-to-face with a picture of Christ, placing it on a small altar, and using prayers and religious rituals. The curandero's rituals consistently use such Catholic symbols as crucifixes, rosaries, and holy pictures.
Joe S. Graham, "The Role of the Curandero in the Folk Medicine System of West Texas," in American Folk Medicine, ed. Wayland D. Hand (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976). Wilson M. Hudson, ed., The Healer of Los Olmos and Other Mexican Lore (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1951). Ari Kiev, Curanderismo: Mexican-American Folk Psychiatry (New York: Free Press, 1968). Eliseo Torres, The Folk Healer: The Mexican-American Tradition of Curanderismo (Kingsville, Texas: Nieves Press, 1983).