Words to Live By: Wise Thoughts From Traditional Healers of Oaxaca

“In the land of the souls, we make a promise to one-another.” Have you ever heard more beautiful words spoken? The rest of this quote can be found below. It deserves plenty of elbow room.

In the short time I was in Oaxaca (for surely no amount of time would be sufficient), I listened to many powerful healers speak. These beautiful words felt almost like a soliloquy, meant more as an offering to God than a lesson to us.

As to keep the anonymity of these healers, I have chosen to credit them by using a shortened version of their names. This is done with the utmost respect, adoration, and care.

Here are just a few of the wise words of traditional healers in Oaxaca:

Doña L. speaks to the Archangels that guide her as she heals. Her presence is undeniable. As she moves around the massage table, she is light, airy, and beaming with love. She gave up her work as a Human Rights Lawyer to follow her true path as a healer. Her words spill over with a feeling of the divine.


A traveler in our group had been having terrible stomach problems for nearly two months. She was sure that her stomach troubles had begun as E. coli, but she was unsure how to end the pain and indigestion that was still lingering. Problems such as this that involve a blockage in the digestive system are often referred to as empacho.

When Doña L. asked if one of our group was struggling with empacho, this young woman was eager to volunteer to receive a traditional stomach massage. She began the session by asking if she had permission to share what the angels were telling her out loud, and the young woman agreed. She explained that problems of the stomach are tied closely with emotional upset. “You care a lot about what people think. But this is not a problem of yours. It is something that your parents gave to you.” She began her massage.

“Think of who did this to you. Search for who has caused this pain in your stomach and thank them. In the land of souls, we make a promise to one another to do our work. So, thank the person who has caused you to suffer in this way, for they are your teacher, and they are helping you to do your work.”


Doña Q. is a quintessential matriarch. She struggled harshly through her young life, all along knowing that her calling was to heal. She fought ferociously to continue her craft of traditional healing with plant medicine, despite threats from institutions of healing that she worked along-side throughout her life. She speaks very directly (at one point even explaining that I have tarnished God’s perfect form by tattooing myself). However, her words are deeply resonant, and continually sing the praises of the bounty gifted to us by God. Her appreciation for plant medicine, healing, and community is unparalleled. She is eternally a fighter for the good.


We were seated in front of an altar of grains, fruits, plants, flowers, and flutes. We had been experiencing varying styles of the Limpia (a traditional method of cleansing bad energy, healing Susto, addressing traumas and grief, and more, that involves the use of fresh herbs and flowers and the use of an egg to gather bad energy and offer the healer insight into the troubles their patient may have). After witnessing a particularly poignant Limpia, a question was raised to Doña Q., who had been witnessing the Limpia alongside us. “How do we cleanse our bad energies if we do not have an egg?”


“Look at this altar in front of us. It is as alive as we are. If you do not have an egg to cleanse yourself, use an apple, if you do not have an apple, use a nopal. Each of these has cells like we have, they have ventricles and follicles like we have. Any of these can heal you, because we are one in the same.”


Don O. was working as an archeologist when he found a book of codices that changed his life. He left home in search for the sacred place that was spoken of in these codices. After many years of tirelessly searching, he found the place he was looking for. It is a place where from the top, all of the surrounding villages are visible. Times of planting and harvest are indicated clearly by the precise alignment of the stars with the surrounding mountains. A calendar of celebrations, rituals, and foods are all marked by the movement of particular constellations.


He explained the intentional shape of the trail to the top. It winds like a snake, a symbol of kundalini and the unraveling of our own energy as well as a symbol of the Sun’s journey around the Earth. Today, the snake is still used as a powerful symbol of medicine and healing. We stop at a tree and are instructed to take time to hold it and offer our love to it. It is an extension of our own breath, and in allowing our breath it is allowing our life. Don O. explains that a tree on the path was a way for the ancients to indicate a place to stop. This was an ancient sign of an important overlook. We peered down into an expansive valley that contained a river the same snake-like shape of our trail.


We hiked together up to this sacred place. As we walked, he asked for our silence.

“With silence we honor ourselves, others, and we honor the gods. Through our silence we are able to listen to our hearts beat. We are able to feel the cool, life-giving breath enter our lungs, and the hot air filled with our life force move back out. In silence we are present with all of our selves.”



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