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Woman Who Glows in the Dark

By Elena Avila


“An autobiographical account of how a psychiatric nurse specialist became a folk medicine healer; this also explains the origins and practice of one of the oldest forms of medicine in the New World.”—Kirkus.

In the border towns of south Texas, the Mexican "folk" medicine called curanderismo is often regarded as witchcraft--a means for hex removals and love divinations. Avila was therefore surprised to learn in her masters program in psychiatric nursing at the University of Texas that curanderismo is a broad-based fusion of Aztec, Spanish and African traditional medicines with hundreds of useful applications. This discovery, coupled with her dissatisfaction with the limitations of conventional mental health practices, motivated Avila, who grew up in a first-generation Chicano family in El Paso, Tex., to apprentice with an Aztec master and eventually to become a full-time curandera. Her first book, co-written with Parker (coauthor of Maya Cosmos), is a clear-sighted introduction to the fundamentals of this alternative healing practice. It describes the healers, who range from spiritual counselors to general practitioners and massage therapists; their counseling techniques, ritual purifications and soul retrievals; characteristics of common diseases; and formulas for achieving a balanced lifestyle, a rich spiritual life and good nutrition. The down-to-earth explanations of such afflictions as envidia (envy), susto (fright or loss of soul) and mal puesto (bad luck) will help dispel misconceptions about these ""folk"" ailments that, in curandero terms, are common to all people. Particularly thought-provoking is Avila's perspective on mainstream mental health and her preference for the holistic curandero approach to treating mental diseases, including psychosis and imbalances induced by severe trauma. ""A good curandera,"" she writes, ""can help us find the middle ground in a culture where balance, reality, and enlightened compromise are not always part of our support system."" Agent, Elaine Markson; author tour. (Mar.)