DeltaDays: Ancient traditions of Curanderismo in a modern world

There was a moment in Sofia Chavez-Frederick’s childhood when she realized her mind was not connected to her body. There was no physical-emotional connection between the situations she was experiencing and her state of mind. At this point, Chavez-Frederick’s consciousness had actually split from her physical body. “I thought it was normal,” she explained, “I thought this was how everyone lived.”  Little did she know, Chavez-Frederick had developed both Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Disorder after witnessing and experiencing several different abuses.

Years later, Sofia Chavez-Frederick has become an espiritualista, a kind of shaman for the Curanderismo modality. Curanderismo is a mind, body, and spirit medicine designed to create balance between a person and their environment. Its system of healing treats illnesses ranging from common colds to depression and even paralysis. For Chavez-Frederick, spirituality is the key to her regular meditative state. Curanderismo is a combination of Hispanic rituals and Catholic beliefs which conform to different regions in which it is practiced. “That is who we are,” she proclaimed about the blend of the two cultures, “there is no separating it anymore.”

Unfamiliar to the Western ideas of disease and medicine, Curanderismo focuses on Mal Aire, Mal Ojo, and Susto. Mal Aire translates to English as “Evil Wind” or “Evil Air.” Traditional thought follows that illness can be passed from person to person through the wind; the air in bad wind carries a different electrical charge than good wind, affecting a person’s well-being. Chavez-Frederick shared that her most prominent account of Mal Aire was when it caused the right side of her body to be paralyzed from the hand up. To open the wind channels and expel the bad air from her body, Chavez-Frederick chanted Navajo hymns and tapped the outside of her thumb for nearly an hour. Remarkably, the bad air left and she regained all feeling. “You don’t need to believe in another person’s culture,” Chavez-Frederick concluded, “but respecting it is a start.”

web_cur2Mal Ojo is the negative energy given off from an “Evil Eye.” Chavez-Frederick insisted that everyone in the audience had felt this before. The energy of a person’s eyes is so intense that it may influence a person. It is important to clean this negative stare off of your body. In Curanderismo, an egg or feather is generally used for this cleansing ritual. 

Susto is explained as “Fright of the Soul,” a dramatic loss in a portion of a person’s soul due to shock, abuse, or trauma. It is important to recognize Susto because it causes a change in consciousness for the victim. In Chavez-Frederick’s situation, she experienced a severe case of Susto at an early age. 

Chavez-Frederick shared her personal motto for achieving success with Curanderismo, “¡No eres tus dolores! You are not your pain!” She stressed the self-destructive nature of over-identification with one’s pain, called the Pain Body. “Instead,” instructed Chavez-Frederick, “recognize when you do feel good, or happy, or content.” In an attempt to find balance and strength, the holistic practice of Curanderismo has the potential to help anyone in need.

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