133 of 139 people found the following review helpful
From the Horse's Mouth,
This review is from: Woman Who Glows in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health (Paperback)I am the co-author of Woman Who Glows in the Dark. I had not visited this page for quite some time and was deeply troubled to read the review written by Edward B. Holman. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I feel that Mr. Holman has made some grave misjudgements about an author he has never met. He has also reported information, inaccurately and out of context, regarding a book I find it difficult to believe he has read. None of his references get beyond p. 28, and Chapter 1 starts on p. 41.
I spent eight months writing this book with Elena. That work involved traveling through Guatemala and Mexico with her, meeting her Aztec teacher Ehekateotl, staying at her home in New Mexico for weeks at a time, and meeting and interviewing her students and some clients. As someone who knows her personally and had to do extensive research to write this book, let me tell you, from the proverbial horse's mouth, what really happened and something of who this woman is.
Mr. Holman writes "Curanderismo is mainly the province of the people who are, essentially, exorcists, and their conterparts, brujos, brujas, and hechiceros, are people who are paid by their clients to place hexes on others."
This is incorrect. First of all, many modern curanderos are midwives, herbalists, chiropractors, bone-setters, and counselors. For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, please see, Chapter 1: Types of Curanderos and Their Specialties (beginning on p. 69).
Second, to infer that this class of healers, and Elena by extension, deals only with the darker arts is a gross mistatement.
Elena is a healer of the highest integrity--and, I might add, an inspiring humility. Every time we met to write, she spoke of the responsibility that healers have toward their clients. She never claimed any "magical powers" for herself but emphasized over and over that she was just God's instrument.
The stories she tells in this book are of clients who were healed in a profound way. You have only to read them to see the love and commitment she brings to this work. Writing this book with her brought profound healing into my own life.
I also saw the fruits of her work in her students, whom I met and interviewed for the book. The foundation in healing that she gave them was solid and rich. I refer you to Chapter 6, which is filled with stories about what she taught them about curanderismo. Read the book and let these students, who have worked and traveled with her for years, speak for themselves.
Mr. Holman goes on to say, "she replaces it [the 'conventional wisdom of curanderismo']with a concoction that she largely invented herself, with the help of a couple of fraudulent pretenders from Mexico who claim to be the heirs of the magical and religious traditions of the Aztec Indians."
Again, I was there. I traveled with her to Mexico and spent time in the community center of her teacher Ehekateotl, who is truly one of the spiritual heirs of the Mexica (Aztec) tradition. How do I know this is true? Because I met the people he helps in his community and found them to be good and intelligent souls. I helped them to build a huge altar for the Dia de los Muertos ceremony and did ceremony with them. I was permitted to visit some of their sacred sites. I listened to their stories, I met other healers who deeply respected Ehe.
All I can say is that Ehekateotl is a man of deep humility, great humor, and dedication to his people. To call such a kind and generous man, sight unseen, a "fraudulent pretender," as Mr. Homan does, is inexcusable. Ehe lives very humbly, has little money, and spends his days healing people who come to the community center where he lives. (And they keep coming, obvously, because they get results.) He is really quite overworked and kind, and carries on with a lot of courage.
To really understand how a culture could go underground to survive the Spanish Conquest, take a look at Chapter 7: The Gods That Refused to Die. It's not unthinkable that cultures go underground. When I wrote A FOREST OF KINGS and MAYA COSMOS with Linda Schele and David Friedel, it was the same story. The Aztecs, as well as the Maya, are alive and well.
On the subject of cursing, Mr. Holman quotes Elena as writing, "'Some times the "cursed" individual is suffering from some kind of chemical imbalance, such as schizophrenia, and needs medication and psychiatric help.'... That is the impression I get of her. People come to her expecting to be treated in the way that any other curandera would treat them, and she sends them off to someone who will get them started on Prozac. Thanks a lot, Ms. Avila!"
This is taken entirely out of context. I quote from p. 53 of the book, "Recently, I saw an elder named Anna who had give a 'curandero' her life savings--ten thousand dollars--to take away a hex. I was deeply saddened by her story. Her thirty-six-year-old daughter had been diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia but was refusing to take her medication."
Elena goes on to say that the daughter was becoming violent and was unable to care for her small children. When the woman brought her daughter to Elena, who is also a trained psychiatric nurse, "It was obvious to me that her daughter had a chronic condition and needed to take her medication. Not taking her medication was what was causing her to become violent with her children."
This brings up an important point, that there is, as Mr. Holman implies, some sort of "right" or "orthodox" way to be a curandera. This is a terribly limited way of looking at any healing modality. A true healer applies the APPROPRIATE AND EFFECTIVE cure for the situation, not some kind of rigid prescription.
What Elena writes about in this book is how she has taken what she learned of curanderismo and applied it to THIS culture. Sometimes that looks very, very traditional indeed; and sometimes it looks creative and appropriate and effective. The stories told in the book, particularly the story of Donna and her soul retrieval in Chapter 4: The Weeping Soul, p. 193, attest to how skillfully Elena works with her patients and how astute she is about finding ways to help them.
I would also like to address Mr. Holman's remark "I am quite sure she charges for her sessions, her lectures and tours and workshops, and anything else she can charge people for. And I doubt if she is cheap, either." It is true that in traditional cultures a healer works by accepting donations. But it is also true that they never have to go without food or lodging or the necessities of life because the community values them and takes care of them. To expect a curandera in America to accept only donations is just absurd. Elena started out this way, she told me, but soon discovered that people would give her $15 for two hours of work. One wealthy client, who had a $100-a-day cocaine habit, handed her a twenty for hours of work.
Why do we believe that traditional healers don't deserve to be paid? We pay our medical doctors, don't we? Yes, Elena does charge, reasonably, but I also know for a fact that she would not turn away someone who really needed her help. When we were in Mexico City together doing research for the book, the owner of the hotel we stayed at found out she was a curandera and sent his whole staff to her. She didn't charge a penny and willingly worked on everyone because that is her calling.
It is also very interesting that the book that Mr. Holman holds up as the ideal, CURANDERISMO by Robert Trotter, does not seem to have been well-reviewed by him. I quote from his review of that volume: "This book is what one would expect from a team of American academics starting from scratch trying to assemble a definitive body of knowledge while based on US soil and focusing on a population located inside of the US." On the other hand, Elena has lived her whole life in this culture and WOMAN WHO GLOWS IN THE DARK is written with depth and intelligence, honesty and passion.
I just do not believe that Mr. Holman carefully read this book and I am curious about the virulence of his attack.
I can only urge you to read this book and judge for yourself. It is a wonderful record of the history of curanderismo, of love and service to others, and of deep respect for a wonderful, endlessly creative, living healing tradition.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 29, 2007 10:36:17 PM PDT
Sarah West says:
Joy, Your response is inspiring, powerful, graceful and addresses every point. Thank you for being a true healer yourself by simply speaking Truth. The light in the darkness is easily seen!
Thank for being so clear and bringing greater intimacy to an AMAZING BOOK and deeper beauty to a profound teacher on this earth!
Posted on Apr 28, 2008 11:38:35 AM PDT
S. Husted says:
I had the honor of meeting Elena Avila and found her to be inspiring and remarkable as she explained and described her work/mission. She has humility,compassion, insight and respect for people. She has integrated her Nurse Practitioner education/experience with her study and understanding of Curanderismo. She is warm and vibrant, a delightful individual. I hope that she will return to Austin, there are many people in our organization that are anxious to sit at her feet again.
Posted on Mar 23, 2009 7:22:45 PM PDT
Edward B. Holman says:
Ms Parker, who, for instance, has been exposed by the Guatemala Scholars Network as a fraud, is a professional writer of new age books, and it is only natural that she is going to defend her lucrative sales of this unfortunate book with great vigor and vehemence. What else would anyone expect? She essentiall falls back on playing the race card on behalf of Avila, but I should point out that the hundreds of people I have interviewed over the years - curanderos and curanderas and those who believe and participate in this culture - are Mexicans. They really were born and raised in this culture, whether or not Parker wanst to admit that or not, and I don't think I could find one who would agree with any of the things that she asserts and promotes. I would invite anyone who is looking for a neutral arbiter of this discussion to just seek out someone from Mexico and see what he or she has to say about it.
Posted on Mar 28, 2009 9:05:10 PM PDT
A. Vasquez says:
I am a student of Mexican folk religion and a frequenter of Mr. Holman's list. I also have read and reviewed on my site Mr. Holman's book on the Santisima Muerte. My family practiced many of these healing traditions, and I was told about them growing up. Mr. Holman is by no means a charlatan, and I totally agree that the true basis of the curandero tradition, especially in central and northern Mexico, is Catholic folk religion coming from Spain including the underground grimoires used by various peoples. There is nothing "Aztec" about the beliefs of my immediate ancestors, and even in indigenous communities, their beliefs are so tied into Catholicism that it would be difficult to call them "pagan".
If you really want to learn about curanderismo, you would best peruse the vast archives on Mr. Holman's Yahoo! Curanderismo list, or I would refer you to John Ingham's book, Mary, Michael, Lucifer: Folk Catholicism in Central Mexico. Mr. Holman's self-published work on the Santisima Muerte also has good information on curanderismo. But steer clear of the New Age. They just have an agenda.
Posted on Mar 29, 2009 7:57:44 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 30, 2009 5:28:50 AM PDT
M. Mitchelle says:
I have followed Mr. Holman's group on Yahoo for over a year (at least, if not more). Not once has he ever tried to get anyone to "Buy in" to his thoughts or reported concepts on Curanderismo Studies, he does not charge for the insight he shares, he does not claim to be proficient in technique, and yet has been actively decribed as a Curandero by the indigenous people in his community, but seemingly refuses the title. In fact he highly recommends that you seek out a true practitioner of this historical culture to resolve problems or investigate the practices if you have a sincere interest in the effects and applications of their works. I like to perceive him as an in-depth investigative reporter, a man who looks under all the rocks, and in fact I am surprised he hasn't been picked up by National Geographic or some other valid news and investigative reporting agency to shed some enlightenment on this culture and why this survives still today. But fortunately for those of us who wish too...We can follow his thoughts on his website and on line group.
If I am correct, I believe the Mr. Holman has the right to voice his opinions here in lieu of the facts that he has completely immersed himself in the culture for many years; he lives and walks what he talks about. And I can understand how disheartening it is to see and feel that people take the beauty and truth away from the workings of a valid and true cultural tradition and gift of its people.
I truly believe that all spiritual gifts are inherent in our DNA. Just as eye color and physical appearences. If you are culturally born into the lineage, whether there hasn't been a practitioner for over two hundred years in your genealogy, you have the right and the access to practice their (and yours) magic...healings, spiritual workings, even curses, or malevolent work. But if you have no traces at all in your being, that is not your path and energy. No matter how much technique you acquire, or book reading you do, will allow you to be proficient enough to follow through and be successful in allowing yourself to be entitled "Curandera/o.
The key to success in your workings is to discover what all those before you did, your ancestors.
Make sure that you are fluent in that energy work and branch out from there. And then there are the trials of initiations and instruction by an authentic practitioner of the desired work.
So to imply that you can crossbreed a culture or tradition is wrong.
If you want to incorporate traditions acquired during your spiritual journey/life study and apply techniques that might work for you that is fine, it still doesn't give you "authority" over the tradition.
It makes you an eclectic practitioner. That being said, I in no way am indicating that being an "Eclectic" is less empowering with their work with the spiritual, but you must bring your self identity to a level of truth. That is the only real and valid way.
If the culture/tradition in question wants to "describe" you as a practitioner of their culture that is "THEIR" choice, not yours. And you must remain clear and on point when introducing yourself, so there is no confusion to clients you may be introduced to treat. I know I would be very upset if I went to a Curandero and he told me no matter how subtle he was, that I needed to be on some kind of modern day medication to improve my life and health.
That is like passing the buck to a totally different agent. And particularly when it comes to health care in indigenous society. Often times that is like hearing a death sentence.
After reading about Ms Avilla, it seems to me that she has several different modalities that she incorporates into her practice. And that is fine.
I have acquired several different modalities that I can incorporate into my practice during my search to tap into the realm of spiritual work. I have attended and been the client at several different ceremonies and initiations, all which were empowering and gave me access and insight into the spiritual energies I was investigating and committing my time and energy too.
But I would never claim to be something that I have no hereditary or spiritual right to claim.
My practice is defined as a Spiritualist; I work with several different spirits. But it doesn't mean I am a Curandera, or an IYA, or a Santera. So I do not use those terms as a description of services that I can offer to my clients. When my clients come to me it is because they know what I can offer, and they know that it works.
So I think that it is fair of Mr. Holman to say "Hey, wake up here people, you are missing the beauty, the tradition, and the truth of the culture and practice that this book is integrating into a concept that is not authentic."
If anyone has discovered the processes and attempted to make it clear, it is Mr. Holman.
I will agree that often Mr. Holman does seem to wield a strong arm and defense of his opinions. But he also makes a passionate point when he does so, because he really just trying to state; Do not be fooled by others attempting to give you something they cannot.
I am not in any way stating that Ms Avilla and her team of publishers are not giving some valid viewpoints on what they have explored. But I find much of it a cross cultural mix, that in most respects may not be understood by primary cultural society, it seems more geared to the new age population.
But I am agreeing that you should not claim or accept a title that is not rightfully yours. Find another title to call yourself.
Write your own story of what you can help people with. Do not take their story and make it yours, because it is not.
Until you live the life of a true indigenous culture, such as living with out the access to healthcare, and professional services, do not try to change some one else's palliative actions of their sufferings, and access to spirituality, to fit your own practice. Do not attempt to be the expert on it, because you do not live it...Why don't you pay an authentic curandero to come to your conference and do the presentation?? He would probably be able to live effectively for over a year on what you make in one workshop, and help people of his community.
Thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion. Blessings Mariah
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 29, 2009 8:09:06 AM PDT
I want to second what A Vasquez writes. Bryant Holman is a very scrupulous, careful student of the subject, and has interviewed scores of traditional practitioners. The thought that a traditional healing modality is also traditionally Catholic is, perhaps, the crux of some people's complaints. They wish for it to be something else as the folk Catholicism of old-time practitioners is too 'narrow'.
Unfortunately, curanderismo is not unique in this situation. Other traditional folk magical currents are regularly strip-mined and undermined by people who are essentially anti-Christian. It really is a sort of hubris that states that the old-time practitioners were 'ignorant' of the truth of their practices (again, this is a general statement, non-specific to curanderismo).
Ms. Parker's charge that Holman is being narrow and that healing modalities ought to not be 'restricted' is new age bunk. Every real tradition has its guidelines and boundries. When the tradition is stripped of these, it will sooner or later degenerate into a universalist blob. It becomes something that the ancestors of the practice would not recognize.
Aboriginal religion is something of a fetish for white folks who've lost contact with their own ancestral streams. When all of the native European practices were plundered, and the raiders grew bord and needed something new to drag them out of their ennui, they turned to "Indian" spirituality. Very cool, native, but quite exotic -- so, how could the real practitioners possibly know that they're really practicing an old "Indian" tradition with a thin glamour of Catholicism? Anyone who has done even cursory research on the subject will see that the bulk of curanderismo practice is solidly Spanish/Mediterranean in origin. How can some one like myself know this? Because, I know the folk traditional healing methods of most of southern Europe, and they are the spitting image of curandero practice.
Whatever aboriginal practices are in curanderismo are entirely folkish and have colored this Catholic healing modality in a uniquely Mexican way.
Posted on Mar 30, 2009 7:25:43 AM PDT
Alex Berkman says:
Mr. Holman is probably right that this project shows at least some degree of commercial exploitation, insensitivity to power differentials, and a lack of concern about who gets to speak for himself and who gets to make a living speaking for the less-privileged.
And yet you can sign onto his mailing list and see him make wild accusations about connections with drug cartels, and remarks with disturbingly racist implications (like how Starhawk can't possibly have Celtic ancestors because she's Jewish.)
There are no heroes in this exchange. Noble savage profiteering from the left, bizarre ethnocentric fantasies from the right. I guess some things never change.
Posted on Nov 6, 2009 1:53:29 PM PST
Blessed Bee says:
"Woman Who Glows in the Dark" is a wonderful book. For the person(s) who attacks this book I believe are just plain jealous. More than likely trying to ride on the coat tails of good to make a place for themselves in the spotlight only to fail miserably.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 1, 2012 6:58:11 PM PDT
Peace Village says:
I have seen Native Americans write about their culture, and then be attacked for all kinds of reasons. I would say to Holman, and others like him, what are you doing, to help people? What are you doing, to ease the burden of life, for the afflicted? Critics do almost nothing for people, as a rule. How much money is Holman making, off his own hatred?
Posted on Jul 1, 2012 7:01:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2012 7:06:16 PM PDT
Peace Village says:
Holman is mud, on the headlight beams of this work. What happens? The mud falls down to a lower level, and the headlight beam illuminates.