Traditional Puerto Rican Healing
Puerto Rican traditional healing practices are born from several religious traditions that evolved on the island and in the United States. Those are indigenous Taino Indian spirituality, African Traditional Religion, Folk Catholicism, and Espiritismo (spiritism). Traditional healers have the ability to use the essence of herbs, roots, and flowers to bring mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being to their clients. They do this by enhancing herbal preparations with music, dance, prayer, and the petitioning of spirits. This is not faith-based healing, nor are the medicines snake oils. The herbs, roots, and flowers that are used have real physiological effects as observed and practiced by native people from antiquity. The herbal remedies that are made can be teas, tinctures, and tonics for ingestion or salves, infused oils, and baths for topical use. Lighting candles, charging crystals, doing spiritual investigations, and working with spiritual energies are also used in this tradition. These therapies are complementary to and used in conjunction with Western Medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
The Arawak Taino Indians
The first herbalists in the Caribbean were the Native people. Indigenous spirituality primarily holds an animist worldview. That means all things, including plants, have intelligence. The Arawak migrated from South America up into the Caribbean Islands, to Florida, and even as far north as the Carolinas. They are referred to as Tainos. The Tainos were the people who greeted Christopher Columbus when he arrived in the Caribbean. These Native people had already inhabited the region since 1000 A.D. before Columbus arrived and had intimate knowledge of the islands and healing plants. They had also mastered sea travel. The Tainos were referred to as the "good folk" who were handsome, energetic, and hospitable. They were peaceful and non-violent people. They had a cosmology, performed ritual bathing, venerated ancestral spirits, and used hallucinogenic plants to go into trance. Next time you eat something Creole, know that it was the Tainos who invented the seasoning! The Tainos and their healing tradition never died but has lived on in their descendants in the Caribbean and the United States. Matter of fact there is more indigenous Taino DNA found in Puerto Rico than any of the other islands!
African Traditional Religion
When African slaves were imported to the New World, they brought Traditional African Religions with them. The African slaves who were brought over included members of the royalty, military, and priestly classes. The ancestral knowledge that was brought to the New World ran deep into the Congo. Some Tainos and Africans escaped to the forests, caves, and mountains where the Spanish refused to venture. Others fled to surrounding islands. Native religion was outlawed, and Christianity was forced onto the Tainos and Africans. The Spanish believed they were intellectually inferior and would not understand Catholic theology, so they gave them statues and taught them Saint adoration. Those who were enslaved by Europeans concealed their religion by syncretizing Taino and African spirits with Catholic Saints. This is how Afro Caribbean traditions were born and how Taino and African spirits were not forgotten. Today practitioners of Santeria, Lucumi, Palo, and Vodou continue to practice traditional religion and healing practices across the Caribbean and the United States.
Catholic churches were few and far between on the island of Puerto Rico, so many country folks had an ancestral shrine to the Saints that had more to do with their African and Taino roots than their Roman Catholic counterparts. Rural Puerto Ricans often kept wooden Nicho shrines of carved Saints hung on a wall, on shelves, or on old dressers. Saints are viewed by Puerto Ricans as powerful intercessors with God and can heal, protect, and bring luck to those who pray to them. The wood shrines were often purchased by the local Santero (one who carved wooden Saints), who often was a healer, medicine man, and herbalist. The Puerto Rican Santero was a wood carver of Saints, but also could have been a Curandero (healer) or Brujo (witch) that closely resembled the Hoodoo man of the southern United States or the Powwow of the Pennsylvania Dutch. They were spiritual healers and herbalists who used the power of the Saints, prayers, and Holy Spirit to help their community.
Espiritismo, or Spiritism, is the most influential belief system that impacted the island of Puerto Rico next to Catholicism. Espiritismo teaches that there is one God, the Heavenly Father, who is the benevolent Creator of the universe. Just as good and evil exist in the physical world, it also exists in the spiritual world. Elevated ancestors and spirit guides influence a person in a positive way, while malevolent spirits can do so in a negative way. Espiritismo has never had a single leader or center of practice, and its practices vary between individuals and groups. When a practitioner of Espiritismo incorporates elements of Santeria in their practice, this is referred to as Santerismo. Espiritistas who practice Sanse (or Puerto Rican Vodou) are called Sancistas. This tradition uses a lot of herbs and plants for magic as well as the creation of dolls, lamps, and other fetishes. The use of candles, oils, colognes, and herbs are a central part of healing as well as working with a variety of spirits from many different cultures.
Puerto Rican Witchcraft
Brujería is the Spanish word for witchcraft or sorcery. Brujería is extremely individualistic and unique to the individual who practices it. Most Brujos are not part of hierarchical fraternities or houses and choose to work independently. Puerto Rican witches will appropriate magical practices from a variety of cultures, including but not limited to Wicca, Ceremonial Magic, Chaos Magic, Grimoire Traditions, Norse, Mesoamerican Shamanism, Japanese sorcery, Louisiana Voodoo, and Hoodoo. Brujería is concerned with divination, healing, spirit possession and communication, casting spells, spiritual warfare, and so on. Rituals are heavily dependent on the attitudes of participants, the forces of nature, and the spirits. Brujería is a religion based on personal experience and personal power. Brujos have one goal, to get things done.
Latin American Curanderismo
Curanderismo in Mexico is based on Aztec, Mayan, and Spanish influences. When the conquistadors came to Mexico they considered the indigenous sciences to be blasphemous. Although their written knowledge was destroyed the plant wisdom was remembered and passed down by the native peoples to their children. A healer who practices curanderismo is referred to as a curandero (male healer) or curandera (female healer). Curanderos do not dismiss a client's subjective experiences, religious or otherwise. They are completely neutral forces. They do not shame them or diagnose them with mental disorders. They do not hand people drugs to temporarily elevate feelings of discomfort, guilt, despair, or hopelessness. They help people find purpose, give them strategies to cope, and a reason to go on with their life. Traditional healers do not offer permanent solutions to life's problems. They offer remedies to empower the individual. A Curandero's work is an absolutely essential part of healing a person on a soul level.
My Healing Practice
I started learning and practicing traditional Puerto Rican healing from a very young age. When I was only five years old I was mixing herbs and making teas for a terminally ill friend of the family with my grandmother. I was taught how to give him "hand and foot rubs" to treat his condition. When I grew up I found out this was called reflexology and acupressure. As a little boy I was called "Dr Deal" by members of my church because I would diagnose their ailments and tell them what foods and herbs to eat to get well. I have always been exposed to essential oils and aromatherapy and vowed after I finished my dance career I would become an aromatherapist. Traditional healing has always been a part of my life and it's in my blood. As an adult I have been able to train and get clinically certified to practice these therapies and want to share them with my clients. Over the past few years I have been on my own healing journey and I have gone back to my spiritual roots. I do incorporate spiritual services into my healing work for those who would like that as a component. Maybe one day we will meet and I will be able to assist you! Please feel free to contact me. - Philip