Eliseo “Cheo” Torres studied with some of the most famous curanderos in Mexico, and he learned the old tradition for its folk healing elements.
Some people think the practice is evil, but they confuse cuanderos with brujas (witches).
Curanderos are healers, using old methods for staying healthy.
Torres earned his doctorate and other degrees from Texas A&I University-Kingsville (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville).
Now, he is an administrator at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and has taught folk healing, sociology and Mexican history.
The Bayside Historical Society’s quarterly presentation was given by Torres, who spoke of the old methods of folk healing to an audience of 45.
As a boy, growing up on the border between the United States and Mexico, he became interested in the culture and folk healing of curanderismo.
Although curanderos have knowledge of channeling, they focus more on healing and folk medicine, according to Torres.
The practice developed from the Moors in Africa. The Moors took it to Spain, and then Spain borrowed it and took it to Mexico.
Torres noted the beneficial properties of aloe vera (good for burns and skin problems); rosemary (memory booster); chamomile tea (stress reducer); cats claw (not to be confused with American cats claw which is toxic; it strengthens the immune system and fights a lot of disease); and many more.
Torres also talked about mal de ojo.
“It’s when someone stares at somebody and makes them sick,” Torres said.
“It is mainly done on children,” he added.
He said most curanderos take an egg and rub the child from head to toe and on the joints three times. Then the egg is broken into a glass of water, which is discarded.
“Why an egg? Because it is the largest living cell,” he said.
He said many cleansing processes that are called limpias, such as the remedy for mal de ojo.
“The egg absorbs the negative vibrations,” he said.
Torres said the three curanderos who were considered “The Three great ones” included Don Perdito Jarmillo of South Texas; Currea of Sonora; and Nino Fidencio, who used laughter as a healing method.
Torres did a laughing experiment with the audience, and soon the entire room was filled with smiles.
He used “hee,” “eh,” “ha” and “ho,” to initiate and expound each into a crescendo laughter with the audience following along.
Torres had trained with a curandero named Chenchito, who was an assistant to Nino Fidencio, one of the greatest curanderos.
When he was attending university, Torres traveled on a field trip to near Monterrey, Mexico.
A curandero festival was being held there, and it was honoring the late Nino Fidencio, who had died in 1938.
“The festival was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Torres said.
At the festival was Valero Chenchito, Fidencio’s assistant.
Torres and Chenchito became friends.
“He told me he wanted me to be his assistant,” Torres said.
“I want you to learn what I am doing,” Chenchito told Torres.
Torres, of course, said he had to return to school and could not stay.
But Torres invited him to Kingsville.
A rumor spread that Chenchito had died.
“I left Texas in 1995. Then three years ago, I got a call from Roswell, New Mexico,” Torres said.
Chenchito was still alive and had been brought to New Mexico.
Torres said the famous curandero was like Mother Theresa or Ghandi in that when one was around him people cried or became very emotional.
“I videotaped him,” Torres said.
Torres said he has four short online classes for free. Interested people can inquire at cheo@UNM.edu about the classes.
Torres also has written four or five books, including “Healing with Herbs and Rituals – A Mexican Tradition,” and “Curandero – A Life in Mexican Folk Healing.” Both were published by the University of New Mexico Press.
All of his books can be found on Amazon.com by searching for Eliseo Torres.
Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.