What Is Curanderismo? | Origin, Techniques, and Health Benefits

Published: Oct 31, 2022 | Revised: Jun 21, 2024
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

What Is Curanderismo? | Origin, Techniques, and Health Benefits

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Curanderismo, also called Medicina del Campo, is a diverse folk healing and belief system of Latin America, but it’s also practiced in the United States (notably in those regions with a strong Hispanic population).

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The term Curanderismo is derived from Curandero, which is the Spanish word for healer. The word Curandero is related to the Spanish verb curar, which means to heal.

The practice of Curanderismo is typically carried out by an alternative or traditional medicine healer, Shaman, or Curandero (or Curandera when the healer is female). Nevertheless, Curanderismo is also widely practiced informally by Hispanic lay people within the context of their family or community.

Treatments and healing are achieved by following a holistic approach, that is, a view on achieving health by taking into account the physical, social, emotional, mental, and spiritual sides of the client i.e. patient. Curanderismo is sometimes also practiced in conjunction with Allopathic Medicine (Modern Contemporary Western Medicine).

Usually, Curanderos have a unique practice, formed during many years within the context of their tribe, family, or community, while being trained by other Curanderos, Shamans, elders, or specific teachers. A notable characteristic is that besides their extensive training and apprenticeship, Curanderos are thought to respond to a calling, gift (el don) from a higher power, or innate ability to become a healer.

In general, one could say that Curanderismo is a mixture of traditional Indigenous medicinal practices (Mesoamerican and other Native American influences: Aztec, Inca, Maya, Amazonian, among others), African traditional medicine, and European Roman Catholic rituals, which came about as a result of the Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the Americas.

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Today, you can find Curanderismo being practiced in the whole of South America (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, etc.), in Central America (Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, etc.), and in North America (Mexico and USA).

Nevertheless, depending on the country, region, and the individual healer (or Shaman), the practice may contain different elements and its own specific focus, and/or incorporate more or less concepts of Greek, Arabic, Sephardic, American Indigenous, and African origin, alongside modern scientific, spiritualistic, and psychic influences.

The tools, techniques, methods and specific medications used vary widely and consist of herbal medicine, diets, objects (eggs, flowers, incense, candles, etc.), energy healing aka laying on of hands, massage, cupping (ventosas), bone setting, clay therapy (geoterapia), amulets and talismans, shawl treatments (manteadas), prayers, rituals, mal limpieza and limpias (evil cleansings), and exorcism (evicting evil spirits), among others.

Balancing hot and cold in the body, and balancing the patient and their environment are also important concepts in Curanderismo. However, healing is often linked to the expulsion of (the influence of) “evil spirits” or other supernatural forces, reversing a “curse,” and/or tackling the “loss of spirit” or “loss of soul.”

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Additionally, it’s often thought that Curanderos can enter other mental and spiritual dimensions where they can find solutions for the patient’s health or relational problems, for instance, by entering a trance state while under the influence of a Master Teacher Plant such as Ayahuasca. Another widespread belief is that Curanderos inherited their gift or learned it by being an apprentice of another Curandero.

There are many types of Curanderos, each with their own specialties, which include, for instance, Yerberos (herbalists), Parteras (midwives), Oracionistas (who work with prayer), Sobadores (masseurs and bodyworkers), Brujas and Brujos (witch doctors), Ayahuasqueros, and Hueseros (bone setters).

Curanderismo is thought to be a remedy for a very broad range of illnesses and discomforts, ranging from common physical ailments (indigestion, back pain, headaches, etc.) to psychological afflictions (emotional traumas, fear, depression, anxiety, etc.) and spiritual issues and diseases such as susto, espanto, mal de ojo, black magic, nightmares, to name a few.

People may make use of the services of Curanderos for a variety of reasons: they’re generally cheaper than Western Medicine practitioners, immigration language barriers and other cultural issues, dissatisfaction with the results of mainstream medicine, or the feeling that Western Medicine educated physicians cannot (or don’t want to) help in cases of (certain) emotional or spiritual illnesses.

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