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The good witch-doctor

31 July 2012

María de la Luz Matuz began her career (or is it “found her calling”?) at the age of seven.  That was in 1922.  With her death earlier today (Monday), at the age of 97, what was surely the longest medical practice in the world ended.

Matuz was a traditional curandera, whose backyard clinica in Vicam, Sonora became something of the Mayo Clinic of witch-doctoring, attracting patients from throughout the America, Europe and Asia.  Considering how much we attribute a curandera’s skills to psychology, the fact that Matuz spoke only Yaquí (although she understood Spanish), her remarkable skill in diagnosing illnesses and successfully alleviating,  and often curing,  physical and psychological illnesses is hard to explain.

The only complaints ever made about her practice were not directed at her, but at people in nearby Ciudad Obregon, who claimed to be her relations and have been taught her skills… and who charged handsomely for what were said to be remedies personally concocted by María Matuz.  Most of her patients left “donations” more in the range of a visit to a Dr. Simi clinic… ten or twenty or fifty pesos… and that included her home-brewed prescriptions.  She was not in competition with the medical profession, taking referrals from them (especially psychologists, who respected her special gifts) and had been under medical care since breaking her hip after a recent fall.

How much of her skill was due to faith healing, how much to some inborn diagnostic sense and how much to a genuine understanding of herbal remedies, is probably a fruitless area of speculation.  Whatever it was she was doing, she did it well, and did some good for a lot of people, for a very long time… and that was more than enough.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 31 July 2012 11:04 pm

    It’s a shame all this knowledge is not preserved for the future. There may be many beneficial techniques – psychological, herbal or otherwise (not yet understood?) – which would help us in the future. Medical care these days is primarily divided into two major branches – medicine/drugs and surgeries (via scalpel, laser, radiation, etc).

    Surely that is not all there is to the enormous complexity that it humanity? There are connections between people we don’t yet know about. Twins understand this. Sometimes a pet will seemingly read your mind. Sometimes daily. Before the electronic age, people would feel the death of a loved one across great distances, even writing it down before they could possibly know.

    Who’s to say the curanderas and Maya H’men and other traditional healers don’t have something to teach us? But how are we to learn, if we aren’t yet capable of understanding?

    I just feel too much of the past is slipping away, bulldozed over by what passes for vast quantities of “modern knowledge” and in our ignorance or arrogance, we are missing the things which are truly important.

    Thank you for recognizing the passing of Maria de la Luz Martuz. We are all diminished by her passing.

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