How an Ancient Healing Practice Is Addressing Modern Health Equity Issues in Latines Communities

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Inaruti Araní, creatrix of Modern Mystics, began working as a curandera in 2018. A few years prior, at her first Sahaja Yoga Kundalini class—a type of meditation said to activate your “rising energy” very fast—she experienced a profound radiation of light and energy in her body, which she says was the start of her spiritual awakening. Since then, she has been initiated into various African and Indigenous healing traditions and uses her gifts to support primarily BIPOC clients. This includes becoming curandera, a traditional healer or folk medicine practitioner who uses a combination of natural remedies, herbal medicines, prayers, and rituals to heal physical, mental, and spiritual ailments.

Experts In This Article

For thousands of years, Latin American and Hispanic people have relied on curanderos for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. They often have deep cultural and spiritual knowledge passed down through generations and play an important role in providing health care and spiritual guidance within their communities.While a lot of these traditional healing practices have been forsaken in favor of Western medicine, practitioners like Arani are keeping the ancient tradition alive for a new generation.

“The curandero is in deep relationship with the Earth below and also the spirit world above,” explains Eva Glamaris Cruz Ruiz, BSN, MDiv, MA, PCC, mystic, curandera, soul tender, and weaver of threads. She says that relationship then expands out to touch different people who can develop their own connection to the Earth and the divine.

What a curandera does

There are a number of different types of curanderos, each with a different focus and different gifts. There are yerberos, who use herbs to treat illnesses. There are also sobadores, who can identify where energy is trapped in the body and use massaging techniques to release trapped emotions. Then there are santeros, who have a special connection to the supernatural world. They use this connection to mobilize supernatural forces for people’s benefit and to help address emotional or spiritual challenges. There are also parteras, who act as midwives.

Cruz Ruiz identifies as a curandera de platicas, which is most comparable to a psychotherapist but with a spiritual component. “[Curadera de platicas] seek to restore harmony in the heart of the human,” says Cruz Ruiz, who used to work as a psychotherapist. She’s also starting to learn more about plants and herbal medicine so she can soon start to integrate that into her work as well.

Rather than fall into one of the traditional categories of curanderismo, Araní’s work with clients (or as she calls them, her sacred witnesses) depends on the individual and where they are in their journey. It often involves talking with them and using tarot cards to get deeper into the issue faster. She also sees a lot of people with herpes and other physiological, mental, and spiritual illnesses who come to her for Kambo—a traditional South American healing ritual that utilizes Amazonian frog medicine. Other medicines she uses help address deep-rooted trauma. She’s found that creating ceremony around exploring their traumas and integrating traditional medicine has offered them healing in a way Western medicine doesn’t.

Curanderismo’s appeal in the modern world

Curanderismo remains many people’s go-to resource for all kinds of healing in traditional Latin and Hispanic communities. This is in part due to cultural values, but accessibility plays a big role, too.

A 2022 study in the journal Health Equity1 found that accessibility/convenience, affordability, shared language, and shared culture are the main reasons Latines in the U.S. seek out curanderos. Interestingly, both Cruz Ruiz and Araní share the belief that Western medicine doesn't tend to address the root of someone’s issues. Rather, many times, Western medicine treats symptoms. Araní shared that she views her clients as a soul or spirit. This allows for a certain empathy that people may feel is missing from Western medicine.

Others may turn to curanderismo as a means of reconnecting with their roots. In fact, both Cruz Ruiz and Araní came to curanderismo in their own journeys of reconnecting to their ancestral lineage. Cruz Ruiz is Puerto Rican and Araní is Dominican-American, so curanderismo holds cultural relevance for both of them. In their journeys, they’ve learned from many elders that hail from Latin America and Africa.

Many Latines share a similar aspiration of reconnecting with their personal history. There has been a shift toward decolonization for many Latines and other BIPOC in recent years. Maybe not so surprisingly, BIPOC make up the majority of Araní’s clientele, which she believes is in part due to the harms and trauma Western medicine has imparted on these communities, whether it be in regards to menstrual health, maternal mortality, diets, or wellness culture in general.

Blending traditional cultural practices with modern medicine

There’s no doubt that both curanderismo and Western medicine have profoundly benefited plenty of people. So whether you’re excitedly reconnecting with traditional forms of medicine or you’re a total skeptic, “it’s important to understand there’s space for both,” says Dalina Soto, RD, LDN, owner and founder of Your Latina Nutrition. “There’s science that can truly help us and there’s ancestral practices that can also heal—I know that I can use my science brain and also my Abuela’s remedies and find healing in whatever way I need it.”

While everyone has a deep connection to the Earth and can tap into that, not everyone has the innate gift of becoming a curandero, according to Cruz Ruiz. “It’s an art. It’s a skill. It’s a way of being, a way of living,” she says. Ultimately, curanderismo is more of a calling than a career. But if you start tapping into these ancestral practices, you may discover that you do, in fact, have a gift. If you feel a calling to connect with your own ancestral practices, Araní encourages you to heed the call.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Cruz, Maria L et al. “Traditional Healers as Health Care Providers for the Latine Community in the United States, a Systematic Review.” Health equityvol. 6,1 412-426. 15 Jun. 2022, doi:10.1089/heq.2021.0099

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