The willingness of New Agers and members of the alternative healing community—heavily overlapping— to appropriate and refashion Native American and Asian traditions is well known. Now, however, the American metaphysical milieu is a channel for the spread of Mexican-American folk and religious healing to new groups, writes Brett Hendrickson (Lafayette College, Easton, PA) in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (September). At the same time, healers are amending their practices and discourses according to their new popularity. Called curanderismo, Mexican-American healing practices are the result of the colonial encounter between the Spanish and indigenous inhabitants of what is now Mexico and the American Southwest.
There were later inputs of spiritualism, devotion to folk saints, and biomedical knowledge. Herbal remedies, ritual prescriptions, massage and sometimes spirit channeling are part of the healing practices for physical and other problems. There has always been some interaction with white patients in the border region; but Mexican-American healing practices have now begun to find a place in the services offered by both white and Mexican-American metaphysical healers.
Hendrickson traces the roots of such an approach to the romanticization of Indian and Mexican-American spirituality, seeing their religious views as close to unadulterated wisdom.
The fascination for shamanism has paved the way for an opening to Mexican-American healing practices. Summarizing the biography of prominent Mexican-American healer Elena Avila, Hendrickson shows how she emphasized the “Aztec” identity of her teachers, thus endowing her message with the authenticity of a native tradition carrying preconquest knowledge (and downplaying—but not ignoring—the Spanish contribution to curanderismo), and also answering the spiritual demand of white people for Native American wisdom.
Yet, conversations with Mexican and other Latin American healers indicate curanderismo has taken on new features in recent decades, notes Hendrickson.
Going one step further, vocabulary familiar in New Age circles, such as chakras, is now commonly used by Mexican-American healing practitioners for explaining how their system works. Thus has curanderismo become one more product available in the American spiritual marketplace. Some offer it on the Internet (including “distant spiritual cleansing” for payment), beside other techniques, and prices are rising. Courses and workshops are offered for people of non-Mexican-American backgrounds, although some Mexican-Americans resent the fact of losing such a cultural marker. Moreover, not all healers have adjusted to the needs of a multiethnic, metaphysical clientele.
(Journal of the American Academy of Religion, www.aarweb. org/publications/journal-american-academy-religion.)