Doña Angelina—“The Healer”
By Gloria Marthai
Comely and tranquil with the fresh blush of a mountain apple, forty-five-year-old Doña Angelina, curandera (healer), wears a monk-like frock with a heavy twisted cord belt. Her lustrous braids hang to her waist. With luminous, smiling eyes she greets each new arrival.
There is no sign, no cross, no phone, but people come from near and far to this kindly source of healing. Doña Angelina is always ready to put her faith, knowledge, and energy to whatever problem, be it mental or physical -the curse of an enemy, revenge of a former lover, a blight on a crop, sexual vigor, fertility, but mostly sickness and pain.
The chapel’s adobe walls and great mesquite ceiling beams bespeak of earlier days, horse-drawn carts, muzzle loaders, and the Revolution. Appropriately, it is here that Doña Angelina practices the ancient art of healing. Backless wooden benches seat perhaps one hundred. There are two beds in the rear. The tiled dull red floor is swept clean and the walls are freshly white-washed. A sixteen-inch figure of the Sacred Heart, backed by modern drapery fabric, stands at the peak of the altar which is fashioned of sheet-covered boxes. A framed picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patroness, hangs nearby. Cans and jars, some with labels, contain flowers both fragrantly real and artificial. Candles flicker. There is the hush of deference and piety.
A young mother sways rhythmically patting her feverish fretful child. A frail old man totters up to the altar clutching a handful of fast-wilting flowers. ln sobbing, trembling, gestured talk his problems tumble forth. A well-dressed couple, obviously from a city, is greeted warmly by Dona Angelina, the veil of the lady’s hat only partly hiding a scabby skin disorder.
A weathered old man dismounts and ties his scrawny horse next to the tethered burro in the corral adjacent to the chapel, where a young man with bandaged eyes is being guided over the concave threshold.
Doña Angelina begins the healing ritual with outstretched arms, palms upward. The people repeat after her, “Thank you, Lord, I receive your charity. ln your hands I put my pain and pray that your will be done.” Then, they pray the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. Familiar, repetitious hymns are sung, simple voices embracing hope that their needs will be answered. For a single person or for many, Doña Angelina repeats the ritual daily.
It was a curandero who saved her from near death when modern medicine failed her some twenty-five years ago. He became her role model and, in becoming his eager disciple, she learned of her own healing powers and vowed to never charge for her healing.
With each person she rises and fittingly touches the genital area and each joint, then locks arms and gives the person a minor chiropractic adjustment. She and the individual sit down, confer privately, she advising and prescribing appropriate herbs, techniques, or attitudes and, sometimes non-prescription medicine. Three consecutive visits are thought to be beneficial so that she might check on progress.
Desperate and despondent, Doña Angelina’s seventy-five-year-old husband, Don José, sits to one side of the altar pouring water from a pitcher into red clay mugs. Said to be holy water, each person drinks a full mug before returning to their seats. When every needing person has had their turn, Doña Angelina again, with out-stretched arms and open palms, leads a recitation: “I have faith with confidence in God in which I am going to get well.”
As the service is completed, the people exchange embraces within their immediate area saying, “Peace is with us.” Indeed it is. And there is also faith and hope.