Learn about healing of the past in new course on ‘Curanderismo’

Though the University of New Mexico has offered a summer course on curanderismo—traditional healing practiced in some parts of Mexico and Latin America—this will be…

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Learn about healing of the past in new course on ‘Curanderismo’

A “curandero” in Mexico practices a healing ritual. The University of Mexico will be offering a free online course on curanderismo. (Christian Cordova/Flickr)

Though the University of New Mexico has offered a summer course on curanderismo—traditional healing practiced in some parts of Mexico and Latin America—this will be the first year that the school offers the course in a free online format.

By way of a partnership with Coursera, the internet’s largest purveyor of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), UNM will allow students from around the world to learn directly from the university’s professors as well as “curanderos.”

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UNM’s vice president for student affairs, Eliseo “Cheo” Torres, will teach the course beginning in late August or early September.

Learning for All

For students who don’t live in the southwestern U.S., the MOOC represents a rare opportunity to interact with traditional healers.

Torres explained that the course will be module-based, with curanderos from Mexico, Peru, and New Mexico explaining exactly what they do. The healers will also talk about how they work with indigenous populations and function as part of communities in Latin America.

Many of those practices used among traditional indigenous healers in Central and South America have been all but lost in the U.S., though some practices are still alive in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and southern California. Torres noted that he’s excited to help students learn about an art that is not widely recognized in this country.

UNM launched its first MOOC earlier this year, garnering a student pool of over 35,000. With the summer course on curanderismo already popular at the school, the online version may prove to be a hit.

Academics at other schools, such as Virginia Commonwealth University’s Andrew Chesnut, have already commented on the course: “‘It’s interesting because it’s the pre-modern meeting the post-modern…it’s fascinating.’”

Chesnut also said that global interest in curanderismo had been growing in recent years.

Traditional Medicine

While UNM hasn’t released a specific outline of the MOOC curriculum, it’s likely that certain tenets of curanderismo will be included in course discussions and teachings.

Techniques and traditions vary between regions and healers, but a few of the common practices among curanderos include:

Limpias: Also known as Barridas, these cleansings are meant to sweep away pain or negative energy from the body. The curandero may use herbs, prayer, floral water, or sacred objects to aid in the cleansing. Some traditional healers employ an egg, which is broken on the body and then used to diagnose the problem.

Pláticas: Conversations or “heart-to-heart” talks that are meant to help get rid of negative energy.

Susto: Literally, this means a fright. A person may have a “susto” as a result of a traumatic experience, loss or accident, leaving the victim with what curanderos see as a lost piece of his or her soul or being. Traditional rituals, herbs and prayer are used to cure sustos.

Throughout these practices and others, curanderismo focuses on the body’s energy and how mind, body and spirit interact to affect our health.

Though the University of New Mexico’s MOOC may be the first of its kind, since it will offer worldwide online access to the course, numerous organizations in the country offer curanderismo courses. Especially if you live in the southwestern U.S., checking with a local alternative medicine center or herbalist may help you learn more about curanderos or traditional healing classes in the area.

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