Western Traditional & Alternative Healing


In the ancient time, it was a period dominated by superstitions. It was said that sickness and disease came from supernatural forces like evil spirits and demons. These “demons” were the precursors of modern “germs” and “microbes”. The first man that emerges in history in a highly civilized state was the Egyptians. Imhotep is the first known physician in the history. With his great wisdom he formulates great teachings in the field of medicine and architecture. After his death with the help of his marvelous works and teachings, Imhotep’s name was never been forgotten and after 2,500 years he became the “god of medicine”. Even the Greeks gave him the title of “æsculapius”. After thousands of years of believing in superstitions, experience brought wisdom to the Egyptians. The use of pharmacopeia derived from animals, herbs, vegetables and minerals had improved. And the use of herbs like “opium” and “hermlock” in surgeries were introduced.
The significant works of the Egyptians specially the famous “Imhotep” is one of the influences of the Greeks and other European countries. Hippocrates is one of the greatest minds in that particular time. He was the founder of western medicine. He and his followers categorized herbs by their fundamental qualities: hot, cold, dry and damp. Several modern natural healing practices were develop, one of them is “material medica”. Pedanios Dioscorides wrote this herbal book. This book has a record of over 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources. The book eventually broke into several branches, herbalism, pharmacology and allopathy. In the Greco-roman period the greatest contribution of the Romans was sanitation. They built aqueducts, sewage system and the famous roman baths. Surgery this time was advanced because of the needs of the gladiators in the battlefield.
In Europe, the church played a central role. At first, the church stops all development regarding healing practices. But eventually, the church supported the development of this practice, and even more disturbing is that the church is helping the people to exterminate the “folk healers” or the people that time calls them “witch”. It is called the witch hunting period that lasts more than four centuries. The roots of magic come from the Celts, a people living between 700 BC and 100 AD. Believed to be descendants of Indo-Europeans, the Celts were a brilliant and dynamic people – gifted artists, musicians, storytellers, metalworkers, expert farmers and fierce warriors. They were much feared by their adversaries, the Romans, who eventually adopted a number of their customs and traditions. This folk healers use “mistletoe” which grows as a parasite on oak trees, was a powerful herb used in their ceremonies and for healing. Mistletoe was ritually harvested at the Summer Solstice by cutting it with a golden sickle and catching it with a white cloth while never letting it fall to the ground. Folk healers were accused because the church thinks that the devil is behind their success healing. After the fall of Rome, the church controlled European medicine. They adopt the ancient belief that sickness was a punishment of God. By the end of the 13th century universities had been established. Physicians developed their skills through university studies in order to belittle the folk healers. In the time of the Renaissance the hunt eventually stop, because the church had lost its position in moral authority. Record shows that physicians did blame witchcraft for their treatment failure. In this case sickness is being attributed, mainly to supernatural forces rather than solely due to natural causes in their time. It goes to show that even a well educated physician is stuck in superstitious belief even if they have enough knowledge. (part for editing)

Other Healing Traditions

Native American Healing

Native Americans have many different rituals and use traditional tools to promote one’s healing physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Most ceremonies revolve around communication with the Spirit Guides. They believe that illness is brought by wandering bad spirits. They consider health as the constant process of staying strong spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. Strength throughout the mind and body overcomes forces that cause illness. Constant harmony and balance with oneself, the creator, the environment and following tradition and rituals are also factors to keep healthy. They believe that disobeying the tenets of the culture has consequences such as illness.[1] [2] [3]

Shamanism is range of traditional beliefs and practices that involve the ability to diagnose, cure and sometimes cause human suffering by traversing the "axis mundi" and forming a special relationship with, or gaining control over spirits. Shamans have been created the ability to control weather, divination, the interpretaion of dreams, astral projection and traveling to upper and lower worlds. Shamanistic traditions have existed throughout the world since prehistoric times. In South America, individual spirits are called through "singing icaros" to call the spirit, the spirit must teach you their song. The use of totem items such as rocks is common; these items are believed to have special powers and an animating spirit.

Generally, the shaman traverses the "axis mundi" and enters the spirit world by effecting a change of consciousness in him, entering into an ecstatic trance, either auto hypnotically or through the use of "entheogens". The methods used are diverse, and often are use in conjunction with each other. Some of the methods for effecting such altered states of consciousness are drumming, singing, fasting, sweat lodge, vision quest or vigils and dancing or spinning game.

A Curandero is a traditional Native American healer dedicated to cure illnesses. It was borne out of Spanish Colonization in mexico and was derives from the term curar, meaning “to heal”. They use natural remedies involving herbs and diets but their primary method of healing is the supernatural way which involves ritualistic dances and ceremonies. They perform barridas (ritual cleansing) to heal illnesses such as susto (fright), empacho (digestive problems), mal de ojo (the evil eye) and mal aire (bad air).

Physical illnesses can be treated in a variety of ways from herbal mixtures, teas, and poultices to deep massages, smudging, ritualistic dances, and sweat lodge ceremonies.

Different types of Curanderos
Yerberos are herbalists.
Hueseros and Sobaderos are bone and muscle therapists.
Parteras are midwives.
Consejeras or Senoras
are counsellors.
Curandera Total are the most well-rounded “shamanic” healers. [5] [6]

Instruments Used:[7]

Sweat Lodges
SweatLodge.jpg [8]
Sweat Lodges are dome-shaped dwellings made from tree branches. Hot rocks are then placed in a pit dug beneath the center of the enclosure. To create the steam, water is periodically poured over the hot rocks. The hot rocks are said to represent their oldest living relatives. The sweat lodge is said to represent the womb of Mother Earth. This is intended as a reunion of the spirit with the earth as well as purging toxins out of the body.
Sweat lodges are more than steam rooms, they involve a very spiritual ritual from the time it is built til it is being used. The rituals are accompanied by songs and chants. Willow saplings are tied together to form a square. The four sides represent the sacred four directions. The roof symbolizes the arch of the sky. The sweat lodge is then covered with animal skin. The sweat lodge is considered a living being. The steam rises up to the Great Spirit and comes back down to Mother Earth as the sweat of the individual.
In case of serious illness, sweat lodges are used to rid the body of bacteria (through high heat), excess salt, and flushes toxic metals such as copper, lead and mercury. The heat also helps with sore and aching muscles, and increases blood flow to the skin by dilating the capillaries. The steam water can also be mixed with traditional herbs and poured onto the hot stones to create a special vapour that can be inhaled and catalyse healing.[9] [10] [11]

Smudge Sticks

Smudge Sticks are bundles of specific herbs or plants that are said to cleanse and rid the body, and the home, of negative energies that therefore promotes healing internally and externally. The herbs or plants are bundled together and ignited on one end. The smudge stick is then waved around and fanned toward the place to be healed. The smoke then envelops that area, clears and takes the negative energy and releases it to another space where it is transformed into positive energy. Hence, that area is then cleansed.
Common Herbs Used in Smudge Sticks [13]
  • Sage / White Sage
  • Cedar / Pine
  • Lavender
  • Sweet Grass
  • Mugwort
  • Copal

Medicine Pipes
A medicine pipe is a device used by the Native Americans to invoke the healing spirit and ask for its blessings. Participants of the ritual partake in inhaling the smoke (tobacco) and blowing it out towards the heavens to share with the Great Spirit.[14]

Medicine Bundles
Medicine bundles are used by the Native Americans as a symbol for healing and spirituality. It is a small bag made of animal skin and contains a variety of symbolic objects. The objects can vary depending on the individual. Commonly, items that can be found in the medicine bundle are charms and stones that represent the healing spirits, and a medicine pipes used during healing ceremonies.[15]

Medicinal Feathers
Medicinal feathers are used together with smudge sticks in healing ceremonies. They represent the air and wind that carry messages up to the Great Spirit. [16]


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  2. ^ Null, G. (1996). Native american healing. Retrieved from http://www.garynull.com/Documents/nativeamerican.ht
  3. ^ Native american medicine. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.faqs.org/health/topics/12/Native-American-medicine.html
  4. ^ Carlos, . (Photographer). (2009). Curandera. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.gracesesma.com/id25.htm
  5. ^ Curanderismo. (2009). Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/od/glossary/g/curanderismo.htm
  6. ^ Curandero. (2009). Wikipedia. Retrieved (2009, December 20) from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curandero
  7. ^ Desy, P. L. (2009). Native american healing traditions. Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/od/tools/a/nativetools.htm
  8. ^ Standley, L. J. (Photographer). (2000). Sweat lodge. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.drstandley.com/nativeamerican_sweat_lodges.shtml
  9. ^ Sweat lodge. (2009). Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/od/glossary/g/sweatlodge.htm
  10. ^ Dunn, S. (2004, February). Rituals of healing - native intelligence - native american sweat lodges and spiritual healing. Natural Health, Retrieved from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NAH/is_2_34/ai_112450023/
  11. ^ Gudzune, J. R. (2008, March 3). Mandan sweat lodge. Retrieved from http://nativeamericanfirstnationshistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/mandan_sweat_lodge
  12. ^ Farral, D. (Photographer). (2009). Smudge stick. [Web]. Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/cs/native/a/smudging.htm
  13. ^ Desy, P. L. (2009). Answers to your smudging questions. Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/cs/native/a/smudging.htm
  14. ^ Gudzune, J. R. (2008, February 23). Medicine pipes. Retrieved from http://nativeamericanfirstnationshistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/medicine_pipes
  15. ^ Gudzune, J. R. (2008, February 10). Medicine bundles. Retrieved from http://nativeamericanfirstnationshistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/medicine_bundles
  16. ^ Desy, P. L. (2009). Feather frenzy. Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/cs/native/a/aa_feathers.htm
  17. ^ Sohm, J. (Photographer). (2009). Medicine feather. [Web]. Retrieved from http://healing.about.com/cs/native/a/aa_feathers.htm