Notes from a Mayan Healing Apprenticeship

Notes from an apprenticeship with Ms Beatrice; Santa Familia, Belice. Late April 2005

*Ms Beatrice Waight, grandaughter of a midwife and daughter of a Mayan shaman, is a Mayan healer and mother of 9 children. Her father was a friend of Don Elijio, the Mayan shaman portrayed in the book Sastun, by Rosita Arecho?, and Ms. Beatrice began traveling to the States with Rosita to teach Mayan abdominal massage and plant medicine, with an emphasis on women’s health. Our apprenticeship was set up through the Evergreen Center for Herbalism School in Boulder, CO.

“You will never believe what I believe and I will never believe what you believe. But just belief is good.” –Ms. B

Mayan Healing
Mayan healing treatments differentiate between physical and spiritual causes of illness. Treatments like cupping (a form of acupuncture) and bone-setting, work with physical illnesses, from fever to diabetes and broken bones. Spiritual illnesses are discovered in the pulse and in behavioral change. Primary spiritual illnesses are: Mal de Ojo (evil eye), Susto (fright), Pesar (grief), Tristeza (sadness), and Envy. Treatments for spiritual illnesses include Prayers, Faith, Herbal Baths, Teas, Laughter, Burning Copal, Amulets, and the Primicia Ceremony. Mayan healing also includes massage of the neck, feet, back, and abdomen, including uterine massage for women.

Plant Spirit Prayer
The spirit of the plant will follow you home to strengthen your healing if you remember to ask for help and to give thanks, otherwise the plant spirit will stay in the ground. When gathering medicine, give your complete confidence in the plants and faith in God that the plants will heal. With faith, everything is possible. In the book Sastun, this prayer is called the Ensalmo and goes:
“I am the one who walks in the mountains seeking the medicine to heal the people. I give thanks to the Spirit of this plant and I have faith with all my heart that this plant will heal the sickness of the people. God the father, God the son, and God the holy spirit, amen.”
Ms Beatrice follows the same practice in her daily Xiv, the gathering of plants. This is the prayer that she gave us and made us repeat to her.
“I am [name yourself], walking through the hills, the valleys, the creeks [name the place where you are], collecting [name the plants] to heal [“the people”, or a particular person]. I give thanks to the spirit of this plant and I have faith with all my heart that it is going to heal [this person]. I give thanks to the spirit of these plants in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Amen.
Asking permission and spending time sending positive intention to the harvested plants as you are mish-mashing them for teas or baths or tinctures is also part of how this works. Without the prayers, the spirit of the plant will stay with the plant; if you would like its healing properties, you must ask it to help heal. When you have worked with the plants, be sure to give them back to the earth.
“like calling the guardian angels”… Copal is the resin from a sacred tree, crumbled and burned on charcoal burner discs as incense to help treat spiritual illnesses, and for purification and prayer.
Black Copal to ward off or banish bad juju and negative things, to clear the energy after a fight or fright, or if lots of people have been visiting [you can mix it with rosemary, dried basil, and garlic peel]
White, Amber, Grainy Copal to bring good luck, peace, happiness, for dream visions and new projects, to bring benevolence and to call upon the positive.
Offering protection against evil spirit beings or evil sent by human beings, including hexes, envy, and the evil eye. A piece of black cloth and black thread sewed up around: *Grainy and Amber Copal, *3 Herbs of Grace *Crystal
After the wearing or keeping for three months, remove the crystal and place it out under the full moon in a clear glass container bath of water, white rum or other clear alcohol, and sea salt for cleansing. Burn or bury the bag with herbs and copal, which will have absorbed the negative energy.
An old Mayan ritual to give thanks to, worship, and ask favors of the 9 Mayan spirits and God. A Primicia may be held on full moon nights, or nine times throughout the year for planting, harvesting, rain, sick people, and to show love for the spirits – it is through Primicias that spirit are invited to the world of mortals, and prayers are answered. Participants in the ceremony traditionally dressed in white. The formal prayers to the four cardinal points are made through call and response singing, and special prayers may be written on slips of paper and placed upon the table. Participants may make many prayers for others, but only one prayer is made for the self. Afterwards, the people drink the atole, a sweet corn mashed beverage, and we burned the prayer papers over a candle outside. [This reminds me of a story from the book Proverbs of Ashes about a Polish woman who would write her prayers on little slips of paper and stick them in the bushes outside her church.]
4 Cardinal Points
Mayan mythology lays the world square, and there is someone called a ‘bacab’ holding each of the corners of the world. In the rare event of an earthquake, perhaps one of the bacab got tired and let go… Ms Beatrice did not speak much about the extended mythology, but a Mayan shaman who held the Temazcal ceremony for us in Tulum shared the following about the 4 cardinal points and the 4 doors of purification:
East where the sun rises, the beginning, the color white, Christ consciousness
West where the sun sets, the feminine energy rising, the color Red, the womb of the earth and the telling of fears
North the silence, the color black, forgiveness
South the manifestation, the color blue, the energy of hope and joy
Sastun has this to offer in the way of the holiness of 4: the 4 virgins of Carmen, Guadelupe, Fatima, and Lourdes, the 4 domains of Ixchel, goddess of medicine, Lady Rainbow, guardian of the plant spirits: childbirth, weaving, medicine, and the moon.
“The 3 Herbs of Grace”
Marigold, Basil, and Rue.
Or Calendula, Basil, and St John’s Wort in Western climates.
-Peppermint, Cloves, Garlic, Chamomile, Rosemary, and Yarrow are right up there too, in the little book of essential herbs –
These herbs are the foundation of much spiritual healing work with the emotions, as well providing relief from physical illness and pain.
Doctrine of Signature
Plants look like what they’re good for.
Not all the time, but there is a metaphorical or intuitive connection. For example, when a leaf crosses a branch it is a sign that the plant has medicinal powers. A plant with heart shaped leaves may be good for blood and heart related treatments. Ms Beatrice repeatedly pointed out purple flowered plants that were good for nerves, yellow flowered plants for infection, or for their liver cleansing properties, and red flowered plants for either building blood or to stop bleeding. A red Hibiscus flower, eaten raw to help stop cramping, for example. Plant healing power is down in the roots until the sun calls it up to the leaves. So an intuitive gathering would find roots in the morning, and leaves in the warmth of day.
Or try asking the plants themselves; opening up the intuitive sense that allows your mind to receive information from sources outside of technology or human interface is what allows wisdom to ripen in you. Dreaming with the plants: lying down to sleep with them and asking to know them, is a fine and faith-filled practice of meeting plant energy in a realm where the human psyche and the archetypal energy of the plant can relate.
One of the main things she recommended was no sex while bleeding. Let the blood flow out during this time. She had a particularly nasty story about a woman who conceived a monster during menses, which remains quite vivid in my mind, but is probably not necessary to pass along.
Avoid ice-cold things, pickled food, and sour (lemon/lime) flavors, for they will cause clotting in the blood. Cramping is caused by these clots of blood stuck in the uterus., especially if a uterus is “tipped” and the blood becomes stagnant. Stagnant blood leads to[forms?] cancers, tumors, and fibroids. Chamomile tea made with 3 mango leaves will move old blood. So will allspice – which is very strong and to be avoided during pregnancy. To stop excessive bleeding, make a quart of tea from 3 red roses, at least 6” tall (stalk and leaves included in this tea), and 3 cinnamon sticks. Boil for 10 minutes and then sip when cool. Bed rest with feet up also. No Ginger either, during menstruation, for it is too hot and may cause excess bleeding. Ginger tea may be nice however, just before menses. Also, doing steam baths 5 days before and 5 days after the bleeding cycle. [More on steam baths in the steam bath section]**What about Oregon grape and golden seal?*
Candied Ginger, and orange peel, either chewed upon or boiled for tea, will help with morning sickness. Avoid the allspice if your pregnancy feels weak. Also wait until after the first trimester to ask for foot-rubs if you want to be sure of keeping the baby.
Ms Beatrice believes that a first time baby will never be early, but that if the pregnancy goes past 9 months and 7 days, that something is wrong. Childbirth goes according to the moon; a woman will give deliver during the same moon in which she became pregnant.
Much of this information came to Ms Beatrice through her grandmother, who was a midwife for 60 years. She didn’t necessarily know the “why”, only that it was so.
After Childbirth & Breastfeeding
After the cord quits pulsating, cut and tie the cord and burn or bury the placenta close to a tree or plant. Use golden seal root powder, and almond, olive, or balsam bark oil around the umbilicus.
After childbirth, stay away from fried food, tomatoes, ginger, and onion (causes colic) for a moon cycle, if not longer. Black pepper, cumin, garlic, and cloves are good for you though, during this time.
Breast milk is a good way for a child to receive antibiotics during the first three months, and the bond between mom and child is built and strengthened beyond its foundation in the womb through breastfeeding. Ms Beatrice used breastfeeding as birth control, but she insisted that it must be full-on breastfeeding, and that if the baby’s feeding rhythm is interrupted for even a day, that some other birth control would be needed.
Headaches, diarrhea, pain in joints and the low back, and moodiness and tiredness are symptoms of the beginnings of menopause, which may begin around the age of 38. Steam baths come highly recommended during this time. Lime juice, which is cooling, and red hibiscus tea, as well as honey, bee pollen, and seafood, are all ways of balancing temperature in the body and providing the iron and iodine that the body needs. No ginger or allspice during menopause. The Female Tonic, which is good for hot flashes as well as uterine conditions, she recommends using every day for 3 months at a time, on and off.
Once a woman moves into menopause, Ms Beatrice recommends eating mucilaginous foods like okra, red hibiscus, prickly pear, and spinach, to help keep the vagina from becoming dry. She also recommends wild honey in the vagina “to give the man a real treat”. Olive oil works also as a lubricant.
When the menses has stopped, but the body may still be experiencing its hormonal signals, she recommends abdominal massage to keep the uterus and the solar plexus supple and engaged.
Steam baths
Ms Beatrice was not a fan of douches, recommending steam baths to prepare and assist the uterus in the shedding of one moon’s cycle, and to ease some of the passing of menopause. For each steam bath, drink one cup of the water you are steaming, so that the herbs reach both inside and outside. Make the steam bath as the last thing at night before sleep, 5 days before menses and again 5 days after. Do not do steam baths if you are pregnant or for the first 5 days after giving birth.
Using the plant medicine prayer, collect 3 sprigs of 3 herbs, 6” in length if they are fresh, or one handful dried, of each herb you are using. Mish-mash the herbs, and then boil the herbs in a large pot of water for about 10 minutes. Sit naked from the waist down on a slotted chair over the pot of steaming herbs and wrap a blanket around your legs to hold the steam. Do the steam bath on the chair for about 10 minutes, until you can feel the steam entering and you start sweating.
Good herbs to use for steam baths are mint, red clover, basil, rosemary, plantain, rosemary, and calendula.
There was some discussion among the herbalists about different tincture possibilities. Clear alcohol works well – everclear has the highest alcohol content and therefore may draw the most potent dose from the herbs, but it may be a bit much for everybody…potato vodka is a good bet, brandy is also nice, and red shiso vinegar is a great non-alcoholic option for tincture medium. There are all sorts of little blue and brown bottles you can buy, to contain tincture, but my friend Laura recommends using big jars to steep the tincture in, and then transferring into smaller bottles as needed for travel or friends.
Gather the plants with permission and prayer, mish mash them, and place them into a quart jar or some such equivalent, and make sure that they are completely submerged in alcohol. Then cap the jar and let the mixture steep for a least a moon cycle, shaking it up occasionally. Strain the herbs through cheesecloth, squeezing gently to retain as much of the concoction as possible, and you’re all set.
Abdominal Massage
Ms Beatrice began her massages by praying over pulses of her patients with plants. She asked people to close their eyes and imagine “white light, white flowers, and guardian angels around you” and then held a few leaves at each wrist, and then at the solar plexus, and the third eye. For both men and women she began the massage at the solar plexus, which she called “Pandora’s Box” because of the amount of emotional energy stored here. When dealing with the updwelling of old fright or grief, she invited people to tell their troubles to an “old tree that can hold it”.
For men she would work with her hands “like a hoe, not a rake” in from the edges of the abdominal cavity towards the umbilicus at the center of the circle. 10 strokes each from sternum to belly button, and in from each of the sides, and 10 strokes each starting from 2” above the pubic bone, and in from the hip bones.
For women, the strokes were the same, but the primary intention was to palpate for the position of the uterus and to feel for any fibroids or other masses that might be present in the uterus. The uterus is no easy organ to find; it took Ms Beatrice a year of practice to develop the feel for it in her fingers. It feels like a small fist. The strokes in towards the center of the abdomen help to reposition a uterus that has dropped, or fallen forwards and is resting on the bladder and urinary tract. If a uterus is fallen back in retroversion and pressing on the colon, it may cause constipation and low back pain – especially during periods – and may also cause endometriosis. Ms Beatrice recommends jumping on a trampoline for 10 min in the morning and evening to help bring it forward but says that it may take a long time. If this is the case, she says to stay away from dairy and take in lots of iron and fiber from figs apricots and plums.
Symptoms of a Displaced Uterus
*Painful Periods * Late, early, irregular periods * Dark, thick blood at onset and end of menstruation * headache or migraine with period * Dizziness with period * irregular and painful ovulation * varicose veins in the legs * tired, weak legs * numb legs and feet while standing * sore heels when walking * low back ache * Endometriosis * Endometritis * Uterine polyps * Uterine fibroids * PMS/Depression * uterine infections * frequent urination * bladder infection * vaginal yeast conditions/ vaginitis * Blood clots during menstruation and excessive bleeding * chronic miscarriages * premature deliveries * weak newborn infants * false pregnancies * painful intercourse * constipation * difficult menopause * cancer of the cervix, uterus.
Causes of a Displaced Uterus
*Repeated pregnancies close together with difficult deliveries *Bad professional care during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum * Carrying heavy burdens just before or during menstruation, and too soon after childbirth * Walking barefoot on cold floors and/or wet grass * Wearing high heeled shoes * Running on cement surfaces * Injury to the sacrum or tailbone from a fall or severe blow * Chronic constipation * poor alignment of the pelvic bones with the spinal column * chronic muscles spasms around low back and sacrum * carrying young children on hip for prolonged periods of time * Modern Life * Emotional armoring from rape, sexual abuse, or incest.
Faha – the truss
Mayan Spiritual Healing
Causes of Spiritual Illness:
1.Evil Eye – Mal de Ojo
2.Fright – Susto
3.Grief – Pesar
4.Sadness – Tristeza
5.Envy – Envida
Herbal Baths
Burning Copal
Primicia Mayan Ceremony
Tonic Ingredients

4 thoughts on “Notes from a Mayan Healing Apprenticeship”

  1. JB,

    thanks for posting this. I am looking forward to a real good read through. Is it ok to print it off?


  2. I love this! I wrote a Young Adult book a couple of years ago about a young girl who discovers that she is actually a curandera, from a long line of Maya healers. It is a book series,actually , called the Martika Galvez Mystery series. I hope more and more people tune into this ancient powerful medicine!

  3. I wonder if you could share , if you know of any healers in Belize who still work along the lines of Miss Beatrice. Recently returning from Belize, I have made some contacts, and set up some things for our 2014 trip, am seeking to learn more. We are also interested in ethnobotany. We are already engaged to be taught by Dr. Arvigo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *