Currently, I am reading Women Who Glow in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health by Elena Avila, a registered psychiatric nurse and curandera. The book is about her journey from a young, poor Mexican American growing up in El Paso, Texas to one of the most respected curanderas (faith healers) in the United States.
Curanderismo is something I have been drawn to for awhile now as it integrates the whole body, mind and spirit into the treatment of illness. It’s history is fascinating and comes from the blending of indigenous, African, and European cultures in the “new world”. There is a heavy emphasis on plants, the natural world, spirituality, community and tradition (ancestors) and when done correctly it is really quite effective.
Much of the book has resonated with me as I too grew up on the border of two cultures and faiths and have struggled with my own path/identity. I could babble on about this topic forever so if you have an interest feel free to message me, but for the sake of the blog I want to focus on one thing that really caught my eye: the power of names.
According to Elena the identity of our soul is very much tied to our name. In some cultures it is forbidden to name the child while it is still in the womb. In Judaism you are not to name a child until it has lived for eight days which is when the soul enters the body or to give the child the name of a friend or relative who is still living. Some cultures (such as the Aztecs) name their children based on the calendar or leave the job of naming children to the elders who can read souls. Everything in folk healing is charged with meaning and because I studied literature/lanuage in college this way of looking at disease and health really makes sense to me.
My name is Alejandra Isabel, I also have a Hebrew name which is Sarah. Recently, I asked my mother why she chose this name. She said it was one of several names she liked along with Rebecca, Rachel and Sarah (all Hebrew names), but when she saw how light skinned I am she gave me the name Alejandra because she wanted people to know I am hispanic. She was an activist during the Chicano movement and fought hard so that her children would not have to be ashamed of their roots. I also recently discovered that the name Alejandra means, “defender of mankind” which as a second generation activist and wannabe healer tickles me pink. Isabel is a name that has been in our family for over 400 years and is also the middle name of my mother and grandmother. Her family converted from Judaism to Christianity before being expelled from Spain during the inquisition and it was the name of Isabel the Catholic the queen responsible for their displacement. It is a name that occults and protects and means “God’s promise”. Finally, there is Sarah which I chose myself as a young girl and is also a family name. My paternal great-grandmother was named Sarah and noone knows much about her so I feel carrying her name is the only connection we have. Sarah means “lady” or “princess” which is the part of myself that I would like to honor more.
My name when combined is who I am at my best: A strong female advocate.
Do you feel connected to your name? If not, what would you change it to?