Fire Balls, chains, and apparitions are all part of this season in Taos, as legend has it, the Brujas are in our midst.
Ghostly tales of old women who shapeshift into fireballs torture the unsuspecting passerby. You can feel the torment as if there is a gash in the thin veil around All Hallows Eve. A Hail Mary and a gesture of the sign of the cross could remedy that. But just the same, having lived in Talpa, the haunting feeling is real.
I think of the Three Women who are buried without a tombstone in Kit Carson Park cemetery. Legend has it they were Brujas. It is a mystery how they died and who they were. I am going out on a dead tree limb here and say Brujas get a bad rap. One could only imagine the fate they met being branded a witch.
The burning of the witches continued in New Mexico with the Spanish Inquisition. Old and New World forms of witchery melded together in New Spain and gave rise to a new body of supernatural lore and divided the universe into opposing forces of good and evil. They tended to associate witchery with women.
I lean toward the feminist view of Ana Castillo in her book Massacre of the Dreamers, Brujas, and Curanderas: A Lived Spirituality, that once upon a time the Old World revered the healers of magic. Ana describes a distinction that of the Bruja having physic gifts to heal; and the Curandera, healing of the body with learned knowledge that can be categorized as: sobaderas, those who give massages; yerberas who are expert in herbs; and parteras, midwives. A Curandera may be an expert in any combination or all of these healing aspects. She usually demonstrates a gift for healing at a very young age and by the time she is a woman, she is recognized by her community as a Curandera, still to this day.
Just think half of Taos would be burned at the stake for their healing modalities today! While it may be true to beware of the angry woman, it doesn’t warrant a scarlet branding of evil. That would be a menopausal woman! All kidding aside, women have been unfairly wronged for being powerful, strong, intelligent and forthright. We must revere them, us, all women for their contribution in society. We are the healers, the nurturers, one you would trust with your children, your dying grandmother, your sick father. Let’s right this wrong, shall we? I am personally honored to be among my fellow yerberas, herbalists.
Curanderismo is alive and well and if you happen upon an old woman cloaked in black with a sound of clanking chains try this old curandera recipe for protection:
But as with lemon and the egg, curanderismo also relies on items that are very ordinary indeed. Purple onion and garlic are often used. These are said to protect one, while the aforementioned egg and lemon are thought to absorb negative forces.
Toni Leigh, Herbalist, is the founder of Desert Blends available exclusively in Taos, at Cid’s.
Blue Moon image, stock files