A Study of Curanderismo

Historical Truths of Origins of Old World Practices

Mayan Shaman
Mayan shaman, Selva Lacandona, Naha, Chiapas, Mexico. Danita Delimont / Getty Images

What is Barrida?

Barrida is a type of purification ritual practiced by Mexican or Hispanic healers trained in the tradition healing system of curanderismo. An object (egg, rosemary whisk, lemon, crucifix, etc.) is used as an energetic sweeping tool to cleanse and also sweep away any negative energies. When an egg is used, rather than sweeping negative energies away, the egg is intended to absorb the bad energies. Afterwards the energies are disposed of by breaking the egg and washing it down the drain or the egg is buried into sacred ground.

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Curanderismo Overview

The notion that the practices of curanderos and curanderas might be based primarily in the practices of Native Americans is actually a myth. Although Native American cultures have made important contributions to these arts, the fact remains that the bulk of these traditions come from Spain, where these practices survive even up to today, and that which is practiced there, and throughout the Spanish speaking world, is not that much different from what is practiced in Mexico.

It was not hard, actually, during the development phase of curanderismo, when Old World practices were blending with those of the New World, for them to find common ground, due to the simple fact that they had many common roots. Here are some examples:

Influence of the Phoenicians

In Mysteries of the Mexican Pyramids, by Peter Tompkins. Tompkins makes what I consider to be a very good case for the influence of the Phoenicians in the development of mesoamerican civilization, and these people had their roots in Canaan, as did other Semitic peoples whose roots are the same, and who developed, not only the Bible, but more importantly, sets of occult bodies of knowledge that later formed the basis for the type of magic practiced throughout the Mediterranean during the last two millennia, such that when the Spanish reached Mexico, they found a civilization rooted, ultimately, in many ways, in the same foundations as that of their own, particularly when it came to topic of the occult.

It should be pointed out that runes and other hieroglyphic writings have not only been found throughout the Americas, they have been translated, and dated, even.

Myths and Masonic Lodges

The Black Legend of Malinche and other such tales were actually invented by political writers in the first decades of the 19th century, with a view to propagating a myth that vilified everything Spanish and mystified such people as Cuauhtemoc, for instance, who, as we know, insisted that the Mexica fight to the death, but then tried to escape with a load of treasure and save his own hide.

These myths were ostensibly promulgated by persons who were allied with the Jacobin cause, but it has been shown that they were actually members of Masonic lodges. Their motives were simple: they were attempting (and they were successful in this) to generate a political climate that would lead to the expropriation of Spanish and Church goods, including most of the mines and plantations - the major sources of income in the country - so that these goods would then go up for auction, where they were almost all snapped up by banking houses in Boston and New York for pennies on the dollar.

It turns out that the sponsors of the Masonic lodges where the Mexicans who participated in these scams (Hidalgo, Morelos, Iturbide and others) were members, were the lodges in Boston and New York, where the grand masters were the same heads of the banking houses that benefited from this scam. Besides being left with looted economies and the ensuing misery (no more schools or hospitals, for instance), the Mexicans also have the baggage of these improbable myths, which people continue to take on as a cause celebre down to the present, which practice steers investigations into Mexico's past into all sorts of fallacies and blind alleys.

I would suggest, just as a start, that people read La Malinche in Mexican Literature: From History to Myth (Texas Pan American Series) by Sandra M. Cypress.

Roman Catholic and Judaic Roots

I was talking with a producer at the Galavision TV network, because I am probably going to do some consulting for them for a piece they are doing about curanderismo, and we discussed a lot of the items that I just mentioned. This woman is from Honduras, and it is generally believed in Mexico that brujos and brujas from Honduras are the most powerful, and that is why narcotraficantes who use brujeria as part of their "work" employ them so often. This producer agrees with me that curanderismo is pretty much the same throughout the Spanish speaking world - with the exception of places where other arts, such as Cuban Santeria, clearly have their roots in West Africa - and that most of the practices involve Catholic Saints, and the curanderos consider themselves to be orthodox Roman Catholics in every sense, and that their roots are in classic Catholic traditions.

In addition, she agrees that the place to look for a link between the roots that lie all the way back in ancient Egypt, Canaan, Syria, and Mesopotamia, is Andalucian Spain, which was a remarkably tolerant society that lasted for over five centuries, until it was finally overrun by the armies of Isabela the Catholic; and its inhabitants - Jews, Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Catholics, and practitioners of Magic, were all forcibly converted to Latin Catholicism, and their practices driven into secrecy.

However, just as it is known that there is a rich tradition in Mexico of the "crypto-Jews" - people who practice Judaic rituals in secret and have done so since the time of forcible conversions of their ancestors from 1492 on - there are also other practices that were brought surreptitiously under the aegis of Catholicism, and curanderismo and brujeria (white magic, and the other three colors of magic as defined in the "Tesoro del Hechicero"), being counted among these.

Latino Secret Societies

Other than the practices kept alive in Andalucia and then surviving on a surreptitious basis afterwards, there were also certain practices that survived in Latin territory at the same time, and this was mainly through the existence of all manner of secret societies, some of which operated inside monasteries, and others within various groups which survived unmolested for periods of time and may have suffered repression later - such as the Cathars and the Knights Templars, for instance. A very important example in this vein is the cult of San Cipriano and his book, the Tesoro del Hechicero (the Treasure of the Sorcerer), which was released into the publication by a monk, Jonas Sufurino, around the year 1000, and then was actually printed in 1510. San Cipriano is enjoying a tremendous revival today, as curanderos and curanderas around the world begin to recognize him as their true patron saint. His cult was displaced in a blatantly political move by the successors of Isabela the Catholic and their cabal, with that of San Ignacio, who can hardly be considered to have been a saint.

He was more like the forerunner on Benito Mussolini, in fact, and so were some of the other so-called saints, like Santo Domingo, who was an officer of the Spanish Inquisition, and burned a lot of people at the stake at the "autos de fé".

San Cipriano is now reclaiming his place in the pantheon of true curandero saints. He was, in fact, one of the most powerful magicians who ever lived, and he had in his possession occult wisdom that was passed down from certain other powerful magicians who had preceded him in that part of the world - namely, Moses and Solomon.

Like most occult knowledge from Mexico, these items are not readily available to Americans, but rather, it takes a lot of dedicated research to access these facts and put them into perspective. It is my practice to cross-reference material of this type with the curanderos and curanderas that I know when I interview them, or just when I am talking with them, and as time goes on, I become more and more affirmed in my beliefs.

About this Contributor: Bryant Holman (bryanth@presidiotex.com) has studied Mexican curanderismo for around twelve years and has compiled a lot of information on the subject on the Internet. His research is based on interviews of Mexican curanderismo and on extensive reading in both Spanish and English. He does not claim to be a healer but I has witnessed things that cannot be explained adequately by science.