Monday, June 1, 2015

Reprise of Part One - From Kansas-to-Other-and-Altar-wise, Personal Experiences and Observations in a Mexican Curanderismo Clinic


[Photo of Oaxacan desert sky near Nochixtlan, January 2008]

[This account was orignially published on Feb. 6, 2008...I have republished it on May 31, 2015]

The following is part one of a two part account of my personal experiences and observations of curanderismo, traditional indigenous healing practices, in Southern Mexico in the past 6 years. I have work/studied with Bety R. who has a very busy and successful healing clinic near a large city in Southern Mexico in the high planes between two cordilleros (mountain ranges). Born into a family with generations of curanderos and curanderas Bety grew up with healing practices all of her life. She has incorporated techniques and philosophies of Western wicca which includes widdershins, the use of the pentagram and other wiccan practices. There are angel meditations but I do not know whether these are from wicca for these are no sweet Christian or New Age angels. They are more akin to angels as primal energies of creation mighty and terrible in their service of the Almighty and Mysterious Creative Energy.

Part 1 consist of autobiographical experiences with thoughts and researches about these experiences as written in my notes during and after extended visits with Bety. I account for some of the tools and techniques and offer personal observations and thoughts about one's personal involvement with curanderismo and motivations for studying and practicing it. I speak of the appeal of power and the temptations thereof.

NOTE:  Sad to say that Bety died in the winter of 2013 after a diagnosis 3 years earlier of brain cancer  She had surgery which removed a tennis ball size tumor from the right lower quadrant at the back of the brain.  I met her only a few times after her surgery which greatly changed her vibrant and wild personality into a sweet, radiant gentle presence. 

In my years of work with her she would often ask me to "see" if there was any cancer in her body, she was extremely intuitive from her curandismo work with dreams, cartas, "seer" abilities and so, in retrospect, must have intuited the cancer some years ahead of her actual diagnosis.  I never "saw" cancer in the abdomen area which she was always pointing to when asking me if I could detect cancer.  The cancer occurred in her brain, alas.  When I work as a curandero I will often enough "hear" pre-cancer Bety participating in my work with the person I am with.  She was loud, direct, blunt, took no prisoners and her bedside manner was "not for sissies"...her humor and compassion were evident and abundant.  Her adoration of the divine deep and authentic.


Introductory Remarks and My Current Cosmology Which Serves as a Brief Autobiography of Body/Soul

[You may scroll down to the next section to read of my work with Bety should you not wish to read the following autobiographical thoughts]

With respect to the traditions that Bety allows me to observe and participate in I make no claims to be an expert in any way regarding what she teaches and in how and what I observe and experience when working with her. I am not a cultural anthropologist or scholar and claim no authority, academic or sacerdotal, but only my own subjective experiences in presenting the following material for consideration.These experiences should not be construed as normative nor should my accounts of my experiences be necessarily extracted and applied en mass to any other individual or group. If the reader chooses to do so please view these as experiments in consciousness humbly borrowing from and hopefully honoring of the practices and the traditions described.

I have long had an interest in "private language" (early studies of Ludwig Wittgenstein re: this) especially in the understanding and articulation of personal/private religious experience. In my studies and explorations I can only claim to have more authentic unitive encounters with the sacred when alone thus the refreshing surprise of my having shared reconnective experiences with others which made no claim or demand of me to follow a leader or doctrine, at least so far, unlike my past and recent experiences of "spiritually identified" groups. I am a lay person and novice in these matters and yield authority to those entitled ones with legitimate claim to the sacred traditions spoken of. I am self-appointed to nothing and therefore offer only what I have experienced, thoughts about those experiences and the milieus personal and collective from whence they are derived. I reserve and insist on the human right to heresy as well, for as Jung realized, all heresies are psychological truths that have been expunged, repressed, and denied from official policies, dogmas and practices of groups and institutions, small and large.

I have asked Bety if I may share my stories and observations and she has given me permission to do so. Although I have since childhood been intensely interested in healing techniques and philosophies of many kinds, from Western and Eastern philosophy, official religions, art and psychology to unofficial and local "spiritual" traditions, I want to clearly state here that I am not a shaman, a curandero, a high or low priest of any kind, a healer in any official theological or guilded capacity and belong to no indigenous healing tradition nor do I claim to be of one, nor am I of any indigenous group or tribe though I do like many North Americans have some Native American along with European ancestry, nor do I officially represent any indigenous group, their religious beliefs and traditions, rituals and techniques. My observations are my own as are my thoughts and experiences and I claim sole responsibility regarding my interpretation of them with a wish to do no conscious or unconscious harm to the traditions, practitioners and followers thereof. I am hopefully a humble enough minister officially ordained of an unorthodox and self-contradictory seminary (as are all seminaries) legally graduated and licensed to claim some public authority for my vocation as a counselor and minister. This ministerial training gives me no claims to academia nor to much spiritual authority (for from whence does that authentic authority really come?). Said seminary served as an ongoing spur and burr into my own inquiry regarding the givens, exigencies (demands, urgencies) and expressions of human existence.

The shards and shadows of personal and collective human encounter will out in any group, secular or self-designated as spiritual, and thus after years of fruitful affiliation with the seminary I of necessity claimed my darkness as best I could which is never good enough, packed my snake oil wares and tent and hiked upon a remote and lonely internal hill in effort to re-encounter the questions and vexations which the human community continually evoke for me, questions of one with one's self, of one with others and of one with the Wholy Other. If there is any "juice" in the authority which bestowed my diploma, degree and ordination then I give gratitude where it is due along with consequent and constant gravitas en exilio having escaped the secure islands of the self-proclaimed enlightened self-exclaiming in the midst of the vast and unending sea which is expanding and mecurial human consciousness their arrival in that hodge-podge doggerel, jabberwockish mystico-sprach so prevalent in New Age popular religion, channeled revelations, Americanized (consumerized) Buddhism, Hinduism and indigenous religions. How-to approaches too readily reduce the Mystery and convey the false notion that if one follows the revealed and received recipes and formulas one can ken and con the Mysterious into Presence providing material comfort, health and wealth in vast proportions which serve as the barometer for one's spiritual acumen and favor by the gods. Never mind that religious and mystical sacred literature and oral traditions frequently reiterate again and again, often in most frightening tales and images the trauma that is an authentic encounter with the Sacred. It is not for naught that Jung called "God a trauma" for in such an encounter the ego is slain, its self-will and god-almightiness hostilely and purposefully encountered by That which is greater than the personal self. Rebirth is second to primary death and dying to self and collective values consequent in the traumatic, life altering encounter with the divine.

Critical thinking regarding the mostly co-opted and consumerized once-were-sacred spiritual traditions frequently espoused in alternative seminaries and training programs is a rarity in my experience and appears to be a required sacrifice in many of these new self-identified spiritual groups. To glibly think and blink at all this in humans-in-spiritual-hubris makes me both arrogant and accordant, hostile and humble, killing and kind all the while knowing in my very bones that myself and this doggerel all-too-soon shall be inconsequent dust as it is so even now so I must now sing and say, sting, sling, slay and splay what little grasp of slippery "eternal things" I may have or what I think the eternal verities may verily yet temporarily be due to the shifting nature of human consciousness. But I sing of the human best for it is, indeed, the domain I am of and ever shall remain. I sing of pain and it's agonizing wisdom gained and the humors thereof.

Buddhas and Butt-Holes along the way are hard to distinguish thus the wisdom of sniffing dogs who seem to know the real deal with their noses in passing arses. And we've seen the delight a dog takes in sniffing and licking his own. Take a lesson, laddies and lasses, and look to your asses for Revelations are there more sacred and wise than those extended on all the ethereal wings and bling blings of the subtle Tooth and other Faeries and their Human Avatars, those Profitting Prophets of the Fart Free Zones. I recommend this form of canino-yoga and flatulance in order to compensate that heroic egoic inflamation and inflation called being in the Spiritual Know. All us posers and potentates of the self-appointed spiritual kind ought to sniff muchly and deeply, excrementally and incrementally along the way to the Light but be careful when lighting a match. Catch as kvetch can whilst canine counselors pant and chant in winking oblivions of smells wagging tails and tongue-wagging tales "telling the world to the angels" (Rainer Maria Rilke's phrase) who so discarnately blink in incomprehension at the weal and woe of creaturely material existence.

En exilio I have come to more greatly trust my suffering and my sniffing the humbling, humanizing, humbugging, portentious aromas encountered along the so-called spiritual way though, as I report just below, my intellect has also served not only in differentiating mine own arse and others' from a Hole in the Ground of All Being but has served me in actual authentic worship of "the Ten Thousand Things" and "the Angels of the Face" which come and go in and out of individual human history of encounter with the Divine, fleeting revelations which deconstruct themselves as soon as the reifying tendency of mind kicks in. It is no accident that planetarily there is a Trickster archetype which conveys the mercurial nature and recreating aspects of the Mysteries and that humor (having a nose, canine or otherwise, for shit, human and divine) is best perpetually served else the Guilded Buttocks are Golded and Worshipped guaranteeing misfortune and soporific soap sales intent on cleansing the all too human aromas from the realm of the divine; I quote a poem title of Saint Charles Bukowski, "All the Assholes in the World and Mine."

In saying all the above I also want to continue making a public confession here of having been"too glib about eternal things" in general and specific which I believe is a very real "sin" especially of Western culture and specifically of North American capitalistic adulterative marketing techniques of the once-was-sacred. I have participated in and promoted by my purchases and practices a "trivialization of the sacred", to quote Harvey Cox in his book, Turning East, the Promise and Perils of the New Orientalism, which astutely and prophetically pronounces upon the consumerization of authentic spiritual traditions of the world, especially those of the East and of indigenous cultures of the planet. These are marketed as a kind of spiritual smorgasbord where the ego gets to pick and choose from the spiritual dilectibles packaged and proffered as "must have" soul food promising money, success and spiritual capital, as well.

My Work With Bety

Thus my love of Bety, my deep respect for her, for both the indigenous and Catholic Mexican worldviews and religious language she partakes of, for her traditions and her improvisations of those traditions as well as for her clients and colleagues who practice without shame or apology a syncretistic worldview and techne which includes pre-Columbian religion and techniques as well as Catholic Christian traditions arrived so brutally in the New World with Cortez and his conquistadores. Dr. George Elder, religious scholar, Jungian analyst and author in a lecture on the history of religions has spoken of how when a new religion arrives and dominates/subjugates the old religion it is only within a generation or two that the old religions "begin to have their way with the new one" and energies and expressions of the old religion show up in Christian or other "drag". The old gods and saints are disguised as the new ones. Curandismo in Mexico and throughout Central and South America most certainly reveals that this dynamic of infiltration, inculcation, adulteration and alteration/transformation of the new religion by the old one is creatively true.

When I met Bety via a friend who visits Oaxaca often for business purposes I was immediately impressed by her authenticity as a human and as a healer. She took and takes her work seriously, assumes her authority in it. She immediately met me eye to eye and heart to heart and still does to this day tolerating my incessant questioning and fears, my blundering prayers and steerings during healing lessons and sessions with hammer, humor and humility. Due to my lack of facility (though improving) in speaking and understanding Spanish I could not at first ask my more intellectually inclined questions (derived from my experiences and observations) and thus had to rely more on my body and gut to inform my mind of the worldview in which Bety and her assistants and clients breathe, perceive and operate where pre-Christian Mexican culture at large has had to adapt and exist side by side with hard line Catholic doctrine and practice along with a rapidly an increasing materialistic world view of secular culture increasingly taught in schools and communities. Marxist/socialist philosophy and political views, too, saturate Mexico, Central and South American cultures because there is still more poverty than economic comfort much less real financial wealth among the populace there. Curandismo, though available to all social levels, is the medicine of the poor in pocket but rich in pluck and spirit. It is no fluke that poor people relate to Marx and socialist philosophies for many of the poor are community minded and do not survive in isolation from the community. With further study and discussion with Bety and other Mexican/Central Amercan friends perhaps I can expand these thin observations further. The obvious economic socio-political dimensions of indigenous healing religions and practices should be studied further. I'm sure they have been already researched and written of. I'll need to burn the midnight oil online and in library to secure my own knowledge of this economic-socio-political impact upon human healing dimensions in economically strapped countries and cultures.

From my Jungian analysis and studies along with other educational experiences I have rediscovered that there are profound healing traditions in my own culture of the West and spend much of my time in study and developing practice of these theories and techniques. I have also rediscovered the profound and practical mysticism in Western religions and need not search though study I will Eastern or other religions and traditions. Carl Jung has contributed a most helpful and practical model with efficacious techniques to approach and understand all religious traditions as "therapeutic systems". He is not being reductive in stating it this way for Jung understands that all traditions of religion and healing are derived from the depth dimensions of the individual human soul which impact, shape and formalize group expressions. These are ferreted out and expressed via human experience of the Unconscious, the depth dimensions o of the Psyche, in all of its expressions; it is, rather, civilization and its myth-contents/mys-contents as in mysticism and mystery (to contrast with Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents"). Ultimately mysterious archetypal productions ongoingly manifesting creatively in indigenous healing traditions continually evolve as they interact with changing culture and consciousness. Individual practitioners follow the teachings and find their personal styles and strengths thus informing and reforming the mostly oral traditions passed on person to person generation to generation and, now, in the 21st century, to others of different cultures who share the same rich layers of the collective unconscious and the same givens of existence with their Ultimate Concerns. I'll have more to say about this in Part Three which is in progress now. I'll end these opening remarks, qualifications, cautionings, cauterizings and confessions here and begin anew with preliminary remarks regarding daily details of my visits with Bety.

My average visit with Bety is about 5 days each visit give or take a day. I stay in a hotel after each day in order to rest, recount, read and think about what has occurred during the day with Bety and clients. I keep a dream journal all the time and most certainly look to my dreams just before, during and after times with Bety. Also, the ordinary downtime of long dinners and bench sittings in the central zocalo (plaza) or on the patio or balcony of my hotel serve to decompress me from the intensity of the workday with Bety. Some of the exhaustion is from speaking Spanish all day. My Spanish is improving thanks to weekly tutoring in New York City however I find a full day of only Spanish exhausts my mind and my body and thus I need quiet time to my own thoughts in my own native English in the pleasant evenings of zocalo eases, patio and balcony breezes with a hot chocolate before retiring to bed to usually sound and solid sleep. I awaken early before dawn to record dreams, have breakfast and do tai chi chih before driving to Bety's clinic just 10 or so minutes from the hotel.

A Note About Referring to Bety's Workspace as a Clinic

In a recent email I received from a young man who Bety and I worked with he refers to Bety's clinic as a "templo" or temple. Perhaps my referring to the place where Bety works as a clinic is too secular and "clinical." Her clients most certainly see Bety's place as a temple and given the altar and the palpable power within this temple and the healing work that is done there the word "clinic" may be for more secular American ears. There is, however, an aspect of a clinic to Bety's place. It is efficiently run with a large waiting area for those with appointments as well as for walk ins. Large amounts of supplies are laid in of candles, ribbons, alcohol, incense, eggs, limes, and many other things which are the tools of Bety's trade. Her assistant answers to Bety's every beck and call fetching, preparing, performing healings and rituals along with keeping inventory and ordering supplies as needed. Weekly and sometimes daily trips to the mercados to buy fresh flowers, herbs, seeds, etc., are part of the daily running of the clinic as the altar requires daily feeding, if you will, of not only prayers and worship but also of fruit, water, tequila, mezcal, cigarettes, etc. THE focus of awareness and energy is obviously the altar which is an active workspace and the source from which healing energy, intention and power is magnified and made present. Metatron is that mediator of such energy and thus the function of Bety's "clinic" is most certainly that of a healing temple.

[To view some photos of my recent trip to Mexico click here:
http://flickr.com/photos/23421332@N05/
The photos of the woman in the hammock is Bety R.
The smoking volcano pic is of Popocateptl in the state of Puebla.
Many pix are of the beautiful capital city of Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala.
Most of the church interiors photos are of 3 marvelous churches, 1 in Tlaxcala and the other 2 in Huamantla, a small city about 30 minutes from Tlaxcala located on the other side of the volcano Malintze.
The 4 or so shots of desert sky with clouds and white land are taken along the new toll road an hour north of Oaxaca, Oaxaca (pronouned WAH-HA-KAH). I'll be posting more soon here and on flickr. ALSO, see four photos here on the blogsite, Feb. 3rd post, one of Bety's main altar (one of several altars in the temple, and the other of a client in the limpia cleansing fire circle. Read below for description of the limpia and more.]
Click here for Part Two:


Part One


When I step into the curandismo (healing) clinic door a young woman looks up from her tarot cards where she sits with a distressed young woman. I ask for Bety. She shouts to Bety who's not in the room that a man is here for her. Bety shouts back, "What?" "A man is here to see you!! a gringo!!" I hear a toilet flush, a door quickly creaks and in runs Bety literally pulling up her pants and trying to fasten them while trying to reach for me as she runs toward me. Laughter, hugs, kisses. She jokes about needing a good man, a good tall gringo (she's about 4 feet tall), and then, suddenly quiet, grabs my hand and pulls me to the enormous altar which has at its center a statue of the angel Metatron, often called Santa Muerte in Mexico and other Latin and South American cultures. Metatron is draped in a red royal cape, wears a crown and holds in one of its hands a small globe of the planet along with pesos, dollars, photos of supplicants/healees and ribbons of various colors with amulets pinned to them and in the other is a sickel for harvest, an implement of the Divine Will.

Bety quietly says, "Salute Metatron who brought you here." I stand before Metatron with Bety who makes the Catholic sign of the Cross as do I (a lapsed and wounded protestant from the American South!). We both pray before the altar which is loaded with smaller statues of Metatron along with other icons and images among burning candles of various colors and sizes. The wall behind the altar (a kind of small bleecher) has many images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Jesus, Mary and various saints. Above the altar is an image of the Eye of God (see photo of the altar) which is an eye in a clear pyramid with a circular aura of golden flames radiating out from it denoting the omnipotence, omnipresense, and omniscience of the Creator, It's power and the glory over and within all in the flames presumably spread throughout the universe and, most importantly, immanating from this altar and in this space in Southern Mexico. I experience the energy from the altar as a wave as I begin to feel a great calm upon entering the clinic.

I give thanks to Metatron and the Eye for this safe journey to Mexico and to Bety. I ask for healing as my past year has been difficult, a year of living in the harsh piecing penetrating gaze of the Eye in its judgemental aspect, an Eye which demands to reveal what has been concealed, an Eye which easily mugs individuals and groups who sit in harsh and hysterical judgment over self and others in unconscious identity with that Eye of God archetype. I ask for awareness of my own identification with the archetypal Eye.

I ask for opening of heart, mind and body to accept healing and to allow healing energy to move through me. I ask for the growing capacity to hold my contradictions of both instinctual (unconscious) and conscious nature which are by very nature in conflict. I acknowledge that I no longer strive for perfection in any Judeo-Christian sense or New Age or other transcendent systems' sense seeking to annihilate and war with agressive instinctuality and the primal parts of my self. I also acknowledge that I no longer seek to be "spiritual" (interpreted here as "Eye of God" identified and thus inflated and destructively dangerous) which often exacerbates the internal conflict and self hatred via identifying with either one or the other side thus driving a further wedge in the creaturely divide that I/we all are. I seek to expand and embrace all parts of me that can be embraced and "welcome at the table,"especially the parts which will not be rehabilitated, baptised, sanitized or sterilized by some good spiritual agenda, program, process or other.

Jungian analyst, Edward F. Edinger likens the instinctual side of humans as protoplasm. Protoplasm are primary organisms possessed of innate drives to survive and thrive on fundamental life levels. He speaks of this protoplasmic nature within humans as concupicense, lust, and the desire/will for power-over and autonomy. He speaks of the naturalness of this protoplasm we are and of it's conflict with the also natural rational-conscious creature we are. The human challenge is to live with both while growing consciousness onward within and through this conflict of the opposites. Each person partakes of this necessary ongoing evolution of consciousness. My personal journey has most certainly seen this and thus standing before this strange and powerful altar whose central icon is a skeletal angel draped in a red robe holding a sickle overlooked by "the Eye of God" which is way beyond the cultural paradigms of my community and education speaks to the conscious protoplasm of me growing/evolving difficult and necessary transformations of awareness with consequent impacts upon worldview and lifestyle. Aware of such impacts I have arrived at a very different location internally and externally. While in Bety's clinic, to echo Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, "I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto." Bety, Metatron and "the Eye" attest to that. And the burning at my third eye. Bety is a seer and thus works with that third eye of her apprentices.

This sense of place or change of place, from an inner Kansas to Other and Altarwise is essential to human experience. I read somewhere (and am still seeking the source of the quote) that "more than food, shelter, sex and companionship orientation is the most basic instinctual need of humans." Laurens van der Post in his eloquent biography of Jung says that stone age people, "the people of the First Light," felt at home in and always experienced a feeling of being known by the universe. I quote, "They (the stone age people) gave out [a feeling]of utterly belonging to life and time and nature...I found that even though they themselves may not know much, they had no doubt of being fully known wherever they went." (pg. 102, Jung and the Story of Our Time, Laurens van der Post). I will add here that requisite to becoming and being a person "of power" in the don Juan/Castaneda sense, the magical sorcerer/shaman sense, is this experience and assumption of "being known" and at home in the universe. Thus the archetype of "the Eye" in its dual aspect which sees and knows in its piercing fierce seeing and in its embracing, compassionate, locating gaze. This experience of "being known" is an arrival, an acquisition from deep inner work and, often enough, from harrowing life experiences. I believe that the interest of many contemporary Westerners in shamanism, curandismo and other "ancient techniques" and their worldviews is motivated by and from this primal need for orientation, for being known and to know experientially one's place or home in the universe and to know the universe and it's manifestations as a Thou which is, as Martin Buber says in his book, I and Thou, an experience of all of creation and creatures as persons/Thous, not as objects or Its. A "person of knowledge" is known by the universe and knows a sense of place in it. Thus the exact appropriateness of the Eye of God over Bety's altar. Everything else upon the altar is mediation, each icon, candle, amulet, prayer ribbon or card mediates and manifests this presense and glory of God-as-Eye in material creation.

A few observations on altars in Mexico

I spend alot of time in cathedrals, churches and chapels when in Mexico for the Catholicism there is infused with the old gods and old religion. On this recent trip I began to see that the main altar is a totem pole of power and function. At the bottom, or near to the totem pole altar there is usually some image/statue of Mother Mary, then Jesus, then the Holy Spirit then highest at the top either a masculine image of God the Father or a mandala circle, in its center is "the Eye" like the sun with golden rays radiating out all around presumably over the entire altar below and suffused within all the lower images. The images are not leveled in terms of greater or lesser power and importance so much as depictions of levels of function and states of being in relation to the whole which is crowned by the radiating Eye/Sun of God omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient over and within all that is. The Virgin of Guadalupe and other Marys one finds throughout Mexico, Central and South America with Her placement at lowest or lower level closest to the material plane reveals Her mediating function for us and "all creatures here below" to the Power and Glory of the Burning Eye of God for "who can stand before It and live?"

Temptations of Power

In my prayer addressing this "Eye" of which Metatron is a function or aspect (and there are various colors assigned to Metatron indicating further differentiation of it's functions in the universe, a red, a black, a white and a yellow so far as I have encountered in my studies and travels in Mexico) I ask for any healing energy which comes through me to be helpful for others and to most of all not make the mistake of what Jung calls "inflation" which is when one becomes identified with an archetype. This is an easy temptation and a powerful one to succumb to. When the ministry of Jesus Christ officially began after his baptism he retreated to the desert to fast and pray and there was confronted by what Carl Jung calls "the power devil," for the three temptations Jesus confronted were temptations of power, or hubris, the greatest sin in Greek religion which is inflation or pride from being identified with the gods.

In regards to the temptation and appeal of shamanic, sorcery, spiritual power Jungian analyst Donald Williams in the first chapter of his excellent book, Border Crossings, A Psychological Perspective on Carlos Castaneda's Path of Knowledge (Inner City Books) speaks directly to what drew "Carlos" toward don Juan and sorcery and concludes that it was among other things the temptation to power. Williams says:

Carlos, like most of us, approaches the path of knowledge with questionable goals, unexamined assumptions and little self-understanding. Carlos's psychology is worth examining because it dramatically colors the atmosphere and progress of his apprenticeship, and because we may find much of ourselves mirrored there: lack of self esteem, preoccupation with power, fear of intimacy, preference of information over knowledge, inability to trust his own experience, extreme dependence upon reason and finally, ignorance of his own best qualities ...initially the focus for Carlos is the acquisition of power, not self-knowledge. The destructive aspects of the power drive or complex are that self-knowledge takes second place to self-aggrandizement...(page 15/16).


What I have found most refreshing in my work with Bety is her lack of self-aggrandizement, her very humanity, her earthiness (her penchant for vulgarity and hilarity and celebration of body life), her relationship to here and now, and though she is a commanding individual who takes no prisoners when doing her healing work and consultations one does not feel an unintegrated unconscious power complex in her or her work. The "power devil," as Jung speaks of it, is most certainly consciously "at her table" though obviously her language and worldview is not that of Jungian psychology nor of any personalistic psychology on the market. And though confident in her work and in her view that she is "battling principalities and powers" of human and non-human origin, and in this she is fierce, there seems to be an implicit humility especially since she makes no attempts to broadcast nor hide her humanity and personal issues. The very word "humility" is derived from the Latin word for earth and dirt, "humus." Bety is certainly dirty. The often wild laughter heard in the clinic attests to some off-color joke told or delighted surprise when Bety gives a client one of her most frequent prescriptions, "Mas, mucho mas chaka chaka (sex)," a prescription most welcome by most of her clients!! Bety is powerful in her work but from my experience of her through the years she is not inflated with the "power devil" which will indeed tempt all on the path of knowledge and power.

The Often Public Nature of Bety's Healing Work

Almost all healing work at the clinic is done publically. Many clients sit in chairs or stand around awaiting their turn and are witness to Bety and her assistant's work from tarot reading to limpias (cleansings) and other techniques offered. There is often a spontaneous group participation of observers and healers interactive and dynamic which also seems to be a feature of shamanism and curandismo--healings take place in "the marketplace" as public events. I have a recording of a Huichol healing woman working on someone and you can hear that there is a crowd gathered around, car horns hooting, laughter and conversations, children crying and calling, dogs and chickens scrambling, all is hustle and bustle as the sacred occurs/awakens/is evoked in the profane space of the crowd. There may even be incense but all takes place without veneer or masks of "spirituality." If a client requests Bety will work with them privately in another room. She also does home and business visits to cleanse and bless. She will work with an individual in their home if requested. I am most partial to private consultations not only out of my own training and education as a counselor and healer but also due to my introverted temperment. Working at Bety's always is a push for me beyond my training and temperment into uneasily open and public practice.

Bety teaches apprentices hands on since much of the healing work at the clinic is done with the hands. Energy passes are used to extract, smooth and cleanse internally and externally. This is always a part of any consultation with Bety no matter what the presenting problem of a client is. The assumption is that bad energy is at work and must be cleansed thus the hands are used in pugalistic mode as part of healing to fight against bad energies and spirits. The hands also have other modes of healing for extracting, soothing, smoothing energies, etc. which I address in more detail in the account of a specific client Bety and I both worked with further on in these notes.

Here is an example of the above from my recent trip. After my somewhat self-conscious prayers at the altar (people watching me, curious at the gringo) I caught Bety up a bit on my year since I had last been with her, her clients laughing at my awkward Spanish and tales of weal and woe with them often commenting in a kind of call and response to details of my account and Bety's comments. When I reported to Bety how much my monthly rent is for my new apartment in Manhattan a collective gasp loudly erupted with attendant head and tongue-wagging about how preposterous and impossible it must be to pay such money just for shelter. Tributary discussions ensued about why so many Mexicans would risk life, limb, loneliness and jail to go to the US to pay such obscene rent. A long discussion with me, Bety and the crowd followed. At some point after I reported more tales from the other side north of the border we both got busy, her assistant already at work, with her clients who were patiently and noisily waiting in the waiting areas. My personal tales and the warmth and familiarity of my relationship with Bety served to warm clients to me, a stranger until my tales, some of which were eager to work with me along with Bety as partner, guide, and teacher.

In apprenticeship one observes what Bety does, listens to her explanations as to what she is doing, and then works with a client while she observes and gives feedback. Since I have studied with other healers I share with Bety what I have found effective most of which she readily incorporates into her own work. This eagerness to learn from others reveals one who is continually researching and growing, one who has not "arrived."

The Use of Everyday Objects for Healings:
"Graceless things grow lovely with good uses."
(from a poem by John Tarrant)

In keeping with the marketplace aspects of curandismo everyday, profane, things are made sacred by conscious "good uses." Eggs, fruit, seeds, herbs and spices, ribbons, candles, cloth, rocks, gems and other everyday ordinary objects become sacred tools for healing (holding the holes and wholes and the stormy dialectic of the two together). Here briefly are some of their good uses in curandismo as I've learned it from Bety:

Eggs or lemons or limes (I've used walnuts in their shells!) will be passed over the body of the healee in order to absorb and extract illness, bad energy, bad spirits, etc.

Ribbons have various uses as prayer ties (you see these in Catholic churches and chapels throughout Mexico) and as focusing devices for universal healing energy to come through when they are laid out in patterns according to colors appropriate for the malady to be cured.

Candles are charged with healing energy and prayers for the intended care and cure of a healee present or not.

Coins of various values are combined with herbs, spices, images, and other substances and sewn into a pouch to be worn or placed on an altar or wherever the curandera instructs to bring about many things, for instance, fertility of self or fields or animals or business as abundance.

The Limpia

Probably the most requested form of healing is the 'limpia' or cleansing. Many clients drop in regularly/weekly for a limpia or before a special occassion (a wedding, graduation, new job, etc.) or surgery or a major life passage. Many will come for a cleansing after a negative event. A dramatic event, the limpia almost without fail impresses the body, mind and psyche regarding healing, commitment to healing and the very possibility of healing of even incurable conditions. Grand theater, the limpia space consists of a circle about 4 feet in circumference made of seeds, spices and herbs, cone incense, flowers, combustable minerals (alum), and ribbons of various colors (often of the chakras). It is prepared and opened every morning upon Bety's arrival. After her prayers to Metatron and "the Eye" she cleanses this circle with further prayers and fire incorporating western wicca practices of widdershins, crossed machetes, and a glass of water with white flowers arranged in a pattern near the the water and the machetes. Bety ignites the flower circle by squirting denatured (camp stove) alcohol from a bottle and striking a match. She draws a pentagram with the alcohol in the center of the circle which also serves to cleanse and empower healing energies represented by the pentagram. Tremendous vortices of flame usually erupt from the mixture dramatically roaring and turning reaching up into the space of the room toward the smoke darkened concrete ceiling. The circle is now a special power spot which attracts, focuses and magnifies healing energies. It accumulates more power and energy through consistent use in the same spot. Once the flames are out an assistant prepares the circle for the first client. It is fed through the day with more sacred ordinaries (flowers, seeds, etc. afore mentioned) with each individual limpia.

Prior to entering the circle for a limpia Bety or an assistant has already done an initial cleansing with hand passes over the body and energy field of the client. Bety likens this to applying alcohol to an area before surgery. The fire is the real surgery. The client is then invited into the center of the circle and instructed not to look at the fire as he/she bathes. Alcohol is squirted copiously around and upon the flower mixture, a match is stuck and with a resounding explosion the flames burst hotly up. The client vigorously scrubs the body with hands while Bety or an assistant shouts out areas to be washed as each healer outside the circle is seeing the areas and the energies to be cleansed.

It is very hot in the circle (believe me!!), the flames licking closely to one's body. Quickly and invariably a large and whirling vortex/pillar or more of flame emerges which is interpreted as the area where the bad energies are departing. With more alcohol the curandera draws a pentagram at the vortex to feed it and encourage the departure and transformation of the energies expelled in the cleansing. At some point the flames dampen and the client is instructed to step out, back toward the circle, as another large pentagram of alcohol is drawn in the center of the circle with more high flames and vortices to cleanse the circle of any remaining energies. (See the photograph several posts below of a client in a fire circle).

A new feature added to the limpias since my last visit in 2006 is the use of contemporary technology, the cellphone (Bety has three!!) with which several photos are taken of the circle as the final flames die. Each photo is examined for images of bad energies representing what needed to be healed. These photos serve as an intuitive scanning to determine further treatment if needed and to indicate whether more limpias are needed. (See photos below of a limpia).

Usually a series of three limpias in three consecutive days is prescribed. One is instructed not to bathe after each healing therefore by the end of the third day one's body aroma is quite ripe which may be enough to repel any further bad energies!

Personally every limpia I have had has always been dramatic and effective in that a profound trance state occurs during and afterward which Bety increases with energy passes and other techniques after the flames (I'll describe some of these in more details in the coming account of one of Bety's cases I participated in working with in January 2008). The energy passes served to magnify, fortify and seal the positive healing energies evoked and focused within the client. A profound sense of peace often accompanies this part of the healing. I have witnessed at least 50 limpias since I have worked with Bety and have experienced probably 20 myself. Each client appears to be in an altered and deeply relaxed and peaceful state sometimes during and definitely after a limpia. There is a separate waiting room where one may retire to to rest and regroup before one enters back into the profane world of everyday life.

Part Two will be published here in March.

In Part 2 I give a specific account of the initial day of a three day healing involving a fifteen year old young man active in the infamous ubiqutious violent Latino gang known as "Salvatrucha." Bety actively involved me in the work with this young man without much warning. I assumed he had come to Bety just for a card reading as his concerned older sister had badgered him into accompanying her to Bety's for her help in his dangerous situation. I give account only the first day in order to give a flavor of the seriousness of issues with which Bety works and the real human stories that come into her clinic. In this account I give more details of her card reading technique, hands on healing, and the fire circle. Strategizing with the client, his sister, Bety and myself was also an essential part of what would be called in more Western conventional terms a "treatment team" with a "treatment plan."
Click here for Part Two:
http://falconwarren.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html

If you'd like to comment on what I've written so far or have questions please feel free to post them here or email me at falconwarren@gmail.com.