Medicine Men or Curanderos

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According to the most literal dictionary definition, medicine men or curanderos are superstitious traditional Native healers found in the American hemisphere and Mediterranean Europe. They originated from the blending of Native American and old European folklore. Even in this day and age, people believe in them and their magical ability. People resort to them mainly due to their social situation and primarily out of desperation during periods of adversity (Rosenau 122). The aim of this essay is to go into greater depth about medicine men and their position in general.
Some cultures have labeled medicine men as witch doctors, voodoo priests, or shamans, and they are required to be around sin. Medicine men have being identified pejoratively in other cultures as witch doctors, voodoo priests, or shaman and have to be around since the dawn of civilization. They were the priests and priestess of our modern religion. It can be argued that organized monotheism religion began with this curanderos before proceeding with sophistication. In the pre-industrial age before the dawn of science and technology, medicine men were held in high regard within any society (Rosenau 132). It was believed they could cure diseases in times of epidemics, bring rain during droughts, assure victory in instances of war, and guarantee bountiful harvest for the community. They helped archaic societies stay together.

In post-industrial age medicine men though take these days lightly, they are still revered in specific parameters of the society as crystal ball readers of the future, palm readers, card readers and horoscope interpreters. Though now they are found on the fringes of any community and have become more of a joke, as less and few people visit them. Apart from helping society deal with its ills they also helped in preserving society’s history and traditions by being the custodian of a tribe’s culture. Passing by word of important mouth information about a tribe or clan to its inhabitants. This was mostly the case in civilizations that had not invented writing, to whom oral history was more important, and their only form of cultural preservation.

Across Latin America Hispanic culture and particularly in Mexico the two most identified types of curandero traditional healers are the pattern (midwife), the yerbero (herbalist). There have been instances whereby one parterre (midwife) has delivered thousands of babies without even one lousy incidence of child death (Torres & Miranga 144). In Latin, America curanderos practice curanderismo which is based on eight assumptions that: Great emotional turmoil like fear or grief can cause illness to one’s spirit thereby affecting their bodies. Sickness can come about because of being out of sync with their environment and its energy flows. In most cases, people become ill because of evil charms threw at them by evil spirits or malicious evil-eyed individuals. Hence they need to be guarded against these evil forces by a medicine man. This can be seen by the high number of people who get magic protection jewelry in the form of rings, necklace, and bangles.

Often enough one’s soul may depart their body to go wandering, leaving the body vulnerable to possession by other demons. In exceptional cases like an exorcism, the participation of the entire family of the victim is required. The natural world and the supernatural world frequently intertwine blurring the differences. Ill health can help in social bonding with one’s extended family, through the increased attention it brings about to the patient and his or her family. It will reestablish a feeling of belonging (Rosenau 155). One on one contact with the medicine man is what most patients respond best to. As a rule, all medicine men had to be appeased with some form of payment for them to assist anyone. In the olden days, it involved livestock and agricultural farm produce. This ensured their high standing point in any community due to their acquired wealth. They could now seat at the same table with other society policymakers and draw the way forward a community would move.

The natural privilege assisted them in pushing their agendas further, even when some of these plans were detrimental to the society. Like women circumcision, twins infanticide, bloodletting and child bridals. Medicine men have also been accredited with the start of the modern professional medical field. Having been the first one to understand how the human anatomy works about different plant herds and portions (Torres & Miranga 156). Their knowledge, especially for the Native American Indian curanderos, is what helped find the first quire of Malaria, this being the quinine plant extract that they had been using for ages. The first early European explorers to the South America observed this from them. It was the old Chinese, Indian, Arab and European medicine men who first drew the human anatomy while probing dead human bodies. This laid the foundation for modern surgeons.

There is not a well-documented scientific proof that medicine men cure illnesses. However, this has not deterred many from seeking the wisdom of these old sages. Their reasons range from acknowledging that it helped them cope better with a dangerous situation they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to avoid. Relieved anxiety and consolidated inner peace. It has been suggested that modern physicians could be trained on some crucial aspects of traditional medicine like spiritualism to help attend to their patients holistically. This could be most valuable in treating mental health patients, as it will be reaching their most fundamental point. Medicine men believe in spirits of the dead and that they can communicate with them to act as intermediaries between the world of the dead and the living. Though still persistent in the society, this has been proven to be false.

The witch doctors have swindled many desperate and aggrieving people in the hope of communicating with their deceased loved ones (Charles 98). Some of the reasons people visit curanderos are because of their cultural upbringing and the importance they have been trained to place around a medicine man. Cultures had medicine men before the age of western medicine, and they were doing just fine until the white man came by. Their traditional remedies were in harmony with nature, never creating any dangerous side effects to a society like antibacterial resistance and drug shortage. Many poor and struggling people choose to visit curanderos because they only accept a small donation but not a fee charge for their services. For patients without enough financial resources or medical insurance cover, these medicine men give them alternative to medical care when in desperate need.

Curanderos reassure their professionally underserved patients even when the situation is dire by reaching to them spiritually with common myths, history, and traditions. This is the case especially when modern medicine has failed them like in the case of cancer, HIV/AIDs, and tragic accidents (Charles 102). Abandoned by the purely scientific and pharmaceutical drug of the modern doctor, these marginalized patients find refuge in the quirkiness of a shaman. Rural low-income populations choose medicine men over medical practitioners because most of the time curanderos will be communicating in the language of their patients. Unlike your regular modern doctor who might decide to converse only in the sophisticated medical language.

The art of being curanderos is passed from parent to child through observation and word of mouth. Unlike doctors who have any relation to their trainers. It is the cause of all accidents in curanderismo when a new practitioner decides to try a new formula their parent did not teach he or her. The future of curanderismo and medicine men is not as mapped out as once it was. Though there have to attempt to keep alive by documenting it for posterity with films, audio files, pictures and teaching its philosophy in schools (Torres & Miranga 170). It’s increasingly being replaced by organized religion and modern science. In some sectors of our lives, it will remain an integral component like during childbirth and funeral services.


As we still don’t have a clear understanding of what this natural process is like we have of diseases. This is why we again see medicine men at these crucial events albeit sophisticated a bit. Another move trying to preserve curanderismo is fusing these traditional practices with modern forms of religion as the case of Catholicism in Latin America and Haiti, And Islam in Egypt and Nigeria. The verdict is out, and curanderos will continue to lose influence they once had, as more and more of their children take formal education and the society becomes civilized ever greater. Merely few people are willing and ready to compromise and adhere to these ancient beliefs.

Works Cited

BEADLE, Charles. Witch-Doctors. Jonathan Cape, London, 2012. Pp 85-110

Rosenau, Milton Joseph. Maxcy-Rosenau Preventive Medicine and Public Health. Vol. 2, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 2009. Pp, 115-140

Torres, Eliseo, and Imanol Miranda. Curandero: traditional healers of Mexico and the southwest. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2017. Pp, 130-180

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