About Aztec Folk Medicine/Curanderismo
Aztec Medicine is a powerful native tool for deep soul healing. In the tradition, it has been used to cure “susto” or fright. When we suffer a trauma to the soul, the soul literally gets frightened and fragments. Those fragments then leave the body and are replaced with other emotions, habits, patterns, beliefs.
For example: I had trauma during pregnancy in my mother’s womb where I almost died, which fragmented my soul, instilling the belief that I wasn’t supposed to be alive. Already being sensitive to this, I had other experiences in my childhood that anchored in this belief, also making me feel unworthy of love.
Through this work, I was able to uncover those traumas and bring those parts of my soul back, reassuring them that they are worthy of love and life!
Aztec medicine sessions are a four-part process that is performed as a form of ritual. We all have our pain, our traumas, that which we wish to release in order to make way for new energy. Through this earth based medicine: intention is key.
The first part of the process is the setting of the intention through a creation of an altar. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Depending on the focus, one could bring pictures, amulets, things that can assist in the healing process.
The second part is the platica or heart-to-heart talk. Opening the space to share what’s on the heart to get to the root of the pain, pinpointing the trauma or experience that one wishes to release. Once that is found, it is placed in intention on the altar.
The third part is the limpia or cleansing. Using sacred incense (copal, palo santo), feathers, rosemary, and an egg. The incense and the feathers stir up the energetic field. The rosemary helps open the heart and all the chakras for the clearing to take place. It also keeps one grounded during the cleansing. The egg is the vessel of containment for all that is being released. The egg is the body. The yolk is the soul. The white of the egg is all that surrounds and influences the soul and gets clogged with energy that isn’t serving. By intending to release from every cell, all that energy goes into the egg. It is swept over the entire body and the client also breathes all the unwanted energy into it. Once that is complete, the egg is broken into a glass for analysis. It shows how the person was carrying the unwanted energy and how it was affecting them on a soul level.
The final part of the ritual is the soul retrieval. When we clear energy that does not serve, it makes room for what is divinely ours, what can serve us, to take its place. From the example given above, releasing from every cell of my body the belief that I was unworthy of life and love, releasing the traumas that contributed to it, made room for those parts of my soul to return to me.
Through drumming and guided sound meditation, calling in the soul of the individual to return, and sustaining the sound until that process is complete.
Once the ritual is complete, the egg is broken into a vessel or glass. The egg is assessed to see how the individual was holding the energy, what the influences were, etc. After this assessment, the individual is guided to take the egg and bury it in the earth. Knowing that through all of our trials and challenges in life, the Earth supports us, is taking care of us, and is there with an open heart to receive our pain to transmute it into light.
My Experience with Aztec Folk Medicine
As I said, in the beginning of my path into the healing arts, I didn’t quite know where to go. I started to become interested in learning all about energy and psychology, and healing my physical body from various issues. Starting out with traditional psychiatry/psychology but not finding the assistance I needed (as doctors wanted to steer me into taking pharmaceuticals), I decided to do a self study and experimentation of sorts to see if I could figure out what the culprits to my dis-ease were.
One magic day I was walking through a discount bookstore in the metaphysical section. I perused the shelves and a book seemed to just fall off the shelf from the shamanic section. I picked it up and read the cover:
Woman Who Glows in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health by Elena Avila, RN
Knowing that my family on both sides had Aztec roots, this intrigued me. I remember feeling chills on my whole body when I picked up the book. I brought it home and read it and many parts of the book brought me to tears because I finally felt that someone was speaking my heart’s language.
The book goes deeply into Elena’s journey of her own soul, and also working in Western medicine and the separation of the bodies, the idea that we are a soul inhabiting a body. That often in western approach, we are only treated as a symptom without regard for our emotions and spirit.
She goes through the process of healing from what she learned in Mexico, and likened it to a spiritual psychology—talking through the issues, discovering the root of what needed to be released in old energy or trauma, creating a ritual of setting intentions and clearing those energies from the body, and then bringing the part of the soul lost in trauma back along with new energy after the release.
After reading the book, I was changed forever. I had finally found a foundation I could build my spiritual life upon, as I felt I had been floundering for many years after having left the Catholic church. I looked her up online and found her email address and sent her a letter, telling her how much her book affected me. On her website I saw she was having a workshop and I asked if I could attend. She accepted me with open arms.
My first experience with Elena was so profound that it has shaped everything I have done since. It is the foundation of everything I do.
The first workshop I took with Elena in February 2006, we met at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Surrounded by mountains and blanketed by the most incredible night sky I have ever seen, I began my process of unfolding. Elena had each participant come up to introduce themselves and why they had come. The first woman who spoke became very emotional and Elena came quickly and stood behind her, wrapped her arm around her and held her close with her hand on the woman’s heart. She raised her right arm with a black Condor feather in hand and waved the feather to help move the energy and calm the woman’s emotions. The sound of the one feather of the bird sounded like the bird was flying in the room. Its power was so strong I felt the room shake and I shook along with it. I had chills over my body and I began to cry as well. It was so powerful. I knew I was in exactly the right place.
There was a ballroom where everything was taking place. We spent a lot of time setting up the altars in the four directions:
East—Quetzalcoatl, new beginnings, Air, place of the breath, the body, 52% of energy SELF. Where the sun rises. WHITE
West—Camaxtli, Chipetotec, Fire, Emotions, place of letting go, of rest. The place of power, the warrior woman. Where the sun sets. 26% energy significant other. RED
South—Huitzilipotchtli, Tlaloc: Water, Mind, place of the soul, inner child. 13% of energy to children BLUE
North—Tezcatlipoca, Smoky mirror, duality, Spirit, place of ancestors, higher consciousness. 9% of energy to family or others. BLACK
Each of the participants helped in decorating. Bringing flowers, decorative fabric, paintings, amulets, pictures of loved ones for blessings, to release, to honor. Pictures of themselves as children, poems, whatever they wanted to set their intentions.
Elena had several apprentices who assisted her with the heart-to-heart talks and the cleansings. During the platicas, the participants and myself had found a common thread with the wounds we were carrying: the belief that we were unworthy (of love, life, success, abundance, etc). I remember vividly seeing my little girl, around the age of 4 or 5, standing outside the window. She was hiding behind a tree. She looked so sad and alone. And as I talked and intended to heal, I could see her emerge, and eventually feel her making her way back to me. The cleansing was so powerful, as I could feel the belief of unworthiness leave my body and fall into this little egg. I felt comforted and held through the process: the familiarity of the incense smoke, the rosemary, all the elements. Later that night, the night before the soul retrieval, Elena went around to each of the participants and spoke our names in our ears. Calling out our names was calling our soul back. She said, “Watch your dreams. If you hear your name in your dream, your soul is making its way back to you.”
That night I had a dream I received a call from one of my brothers. I picked up the phone and I heard loud and clear, “TINA! Don’t forget to bring the birthday card for Mom.”
I was so excited that I heard my name. The following day in the evening we had the soul retrieval ceremony. We were guided to wear what we felt was “ceremonial clothing.” In college I had designed a bird costume that had a body suit with a skeleton painted on it. My wings were multi-colored and I painted my face like a skull for day of the dead. We were led to each altar and asked a question:
The East—are you ready to step into the unknown? Greet each new day with humility and grace, step into this new beginning, giving thanks for this new breath of life?
The West—are you ready to let go of what no longer serves you? Are you willing to take the time to rest as your body needs it? Giving honor to yourself as the warrior, giving honor to your emotions
The South—are you willing to care for your inner child, give her the nurture and love that she needs?
The North—When I got to the North, I could see these plumes peaking out from behind the altar. I was led behind this partition through some hanging fabric and there I was greeted by Elena wearing a skeleton mask. The North being the “Smokey Mirror” where one is shown their duality—both sides of themselves: their light and shadow. To see their darkness and be able to acknowledge it, honor it, forgive it, release it. I could see her piercing gaze through the mask as she asked me:
Are you ready to see yourself? As you are? Your light and your dark? Are you ready to bring this part of your soul back to you?
I was more ready than ever. It was clear to me what parts of my soul had gone “missing,” and how powerful it was to experience and feel it returning to me—feel myself returning to wholeness.
After this workshop, I decided to continue studying with Elena by assisting her in New York City with some workshops she was facilitating. Though I still had a long way to go in my own healing process, I was eager to help others. Each portion of the workshop was held in a different month which had me flying back and forth to NYC. It was incredible working with the different participants and helping them to heal. To be on the giving end and holding space in the manner of my ancestors.
The smell of copal gave me a sense of homecoming. The feathers in my hands felt like their natural place. Working with Elena began to exercise my intuition and my innate ability to “see” the root cause of dis-ease, “hear” the appropriate guidance for the participants, and "feel" how the energy needed to be moved. I felt myself finally coming into being, and I felt that I had found my vocation.
The fourth part of the workshop, Elena had become ill with cancer of the kidney. She had to take time off from teaching workshops and was only able to see clients privately. Though this was challenging, I didn’t let this stop my study and I continued to inquire and dig deeper into my soul’s process.
Elena didn’t get back to teaching until late 2010 when she announced another round of workshops in New York. I was eager to assist and see her again. During her four year hiatus I had uncovered much more in my process, which caused other things to percolate and bubble up to the surface. I needed her guidance and nurture.
These workshops happened in succession: one weekend each month from June to September and was to culminate into a trip to Teotihuacan in Mexico for Day of the Dead. The first workshop was a setting of the altar and getting to know the group. The second was the heart-to-heart talk. The third was the limpia.
The third trip to New York, I asked Elena for a limpia. At the time I was still working through some anger and resentment in my relationship with a couple of my siblings who were damaging to me as a child into my adulthood. She took her time with me and listened to my story.
She was the one that made me fully aware that my pain is mine. Things happen to all of us and at a certain point in life it becomes a choice to hold onto the grievance, the pain, the trauma/experience. I had chosen for all those years to hold onto the anger and resentment, to the sadness and feelings of unworthiness. She asked me if I was ready to let it go.
I was ready. More than ready.
She smudged me with copal and her feathers. She used rosemary oil to anoint me. She swept over my body with an egg and had me visualize the old beliefs and trauma from every cell of my being going into the vessel of the egg. I cried and coughed and gave it up to Spirit.
Afterwards she cracked the egg in the vessel and showed me how my siblings and others affected me. How I was pushed back, but also held myself back because I held onto the pain and trauma of my experience.
The most important thing she taught me was responsibility. I could have all these experiences and they can have an affect, but at a certain point, I can continue to replay those experiences and reactivate the pain they caused, or I can let them go. The longer I hold onto them, the more likely it is that the pain will manifest into dis-ease.
It's hard work to let go. But she told me, it's far easier to let go than to hold on.
The final weekend was the soul retrieval. She usually would place herself in the North, but she chose to stand in the East, and had me stand in the North instead. The North being the place where we see our light, but our shadow is revealed to be reckoned with. Between the third and fourth workshops I had fallen back into some old habits and patterns. For years I had been a consistent marijuana smoker and that tends to dampen my spirit and create confusion in my world. When I came to assist in this last part of the workshop, Elena could sense that something was going on with me. When she was explaining to us how to address the participants in the soul retrieval, she gave each direction an idea of things we could say when each person came to each altar.
She said, "For example, Tina. You're in the North. You could say, "Oh Tina. You're so good. You're so good! You, and your Whole Foods. But Look!" She holds up her hands as if to show me the mirror. Her eyes piercing through me once again. "Look at your addict!"
I was floored. I hadn't said a word to her, but I never needed to. She was always so sharp. Her precision was so spot on it was frightening.
The final workshop went very well and I did good work in the North. But I was in a state of depression and uncertainty. That year I was without a home and traveled a lot, relying on friends' good graces and sleeping on couches. About a month after the workshop Elena called me.
"Tina, what happened to you? You've lost your luminosity." I didn't know what to say. I was ashamed that I couldn't tell her why I'd gone dim, even though in my heart I knew she just wanted to help. The following month she was taking the group to Mexico City and Teotihuacan, and I wasn't able to go. My last conversation with her was me holding back the truth. I deeply regretted both not going and not telling her the truth. To this day I wish I had gone on that trip.
She passed in March 2011. Even in spirit, I feel her presence, I hear her guidance. I know she is watching me. She knows my truth and there's still no hiding anything from her, haha! She taught and continues to teach me so much.
I always give her the credit of teaching me the Art of Letting Go.