The Practice + Theory series is sponsored in part by the Frances Dittmer Family Foundation.
The following is a version of an interview I held over several days in September 2006 with my mother, Doña Julia Julieta Casimiro, one of the most distinguished representatives of the traditions of the thousand-year-old Mazatec culture, which is centered in the northern mountains of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Doña Julia Julieta is a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, formed in New York in May 2004, which represents a global alliance of prayer, education, and healing for our Mother Earth, all her inhabitants, and all the children, for the next seven generations. The formation of the council arose from the need to declare a solidarity among first-nation people around the world. The council is deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth and the destruction of indigenous ways of life. They believe the teachings of their ancestors will light a way through an uncertain future.
The council meets every six months, hosted by one of the Thirteen Grandmothers. The hosting grandmother can share her culture, her way of life, and her way of healing. If the wisdom of the grandmothers were combined, humanity could be re-educated to perceive each human being in a new way, within his or her context, with respect to both physical and spiritual health. In May of 2006, the Grandmothers visited Mazatec grandmother Julia Julieta in Oaxaca.
This interview brings us closer to the essence of Doña Julia Julieta’s personality, and allows us to see who she is, the process of her growth as a wise woman, a chota chine , “the one who knows.” She talks to us about the spiritual world as a guide, a curandera, a shaman, and describes what she has done over the course of her life, that is, the part she has dedicated to working in ceremony with the niños santos, or sacred mushrooms. She speaks of her experiences and those of some of her patients, in other words, the importance of her work for humanity.
In my opinion, this interview has great value for these times, when we have become desensitized to human pain, when we have lost inner values such as love, peace, self-respect, and respect for all living things, when it is so necessary and urgent to become aware of our responsibility as human beings toward our planet.
Doña Julia Julieta Casimiro was born in the city of Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, in the neighborhood of Agua Abundante, on April 2, 1936, the daughter of María Petra Estrada and Maclovio Casimiro. Her eight brothers and sisters are Herlinda, Genario, Federico, Pablo, Teodora, Concepción Guadalupe, Angélica Juliana, and Angelina Cutberta. At an early age Julia Julieta began primary school where she learned how to read and write. Later on she left school to start working, helping her mother with kitchen duties. This is how her first years passed by. At the age of 15 she met the man who would be her husband.
After a courtship of two years, she was married to Lucio Isaías Pineda Carrera on December 31, 1954. They had 10 children: Jorge Adalberto, Lourdes, Jacinto Librado, Jesuita Natalia, María de los Ángeles, Magdalena, David Lucio, Eugenia, Jazmín, and Omar.
This is one part of the story of Doña Julia Julieta Casimiro (now a widow), a woman whose students have spread her fame as a great spiritual guide around the world. She is regarded as such by all those who have received an answer to their inquiries. She cures both physical and emotional diseases, utilizing niños santos to those ends.
There are many in the society who shape a vision of the cosmos; to grow and develop as a wise woman it is important to count on the support of all family members in order to assume a position of authority in such practices. She started on the path to becoming a wise woman with her marriage to Don Lucio Isaías Pineda Carrera. He was her biggest support, and it is through him that she obtains her wisdom, because Don Lucio’s family on his maternal side, for many generations, have been wise men and women. Genealogically and culturally they have been powerful shamans, guides, curanderos, and prophets, known throughout the entire Mazatec region. Don Lucio was the son of Doña Regina Carrera Calvo and Professor Librado Pineda Quiroga. They had eight children: Victor, Joaquín, Alejandro, Eleazar, Gonzala, Lucío Isaías, Celia Julieta, and Joel.
Mama Julia Julieta tells us that after observing all the official rites and traditions of marriage she joined this family, who gave her much of the knowledge that she would later contribute to the world.
Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, September 2006
Doña Julia Julieta Casimiro
It all began one day shortly after I was married. My mother-in-law, Doña Regina Carrera Calvo, said to me, “I want to teach you about ndi shito, sacred mushrooms.” Then one night, with my husband, mother-in-law, and me in attendance, the ceremony began, during which she prayed and commended us to the Almighty. After the prayers we ate the niños santos in a safe and pleasant atmosphere, and a little while later, 30 minutes more or less, my trip began. I tell you, it was something great and marvelous. I saw the earth in its round shape making very slow turns. Everything I saw was very pretty. I saw some big palm trees that moved from side to side and gigantic bells like the ones in the tower of the church in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca. I saw how they moved and what they sounded like; they sounded like this, pom pom pom. The truth is I liked it, and it was on this path that I began my way of life.
Other teachings followed, given to me with love by my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was a great wise woman. Of course she was, the whole family on her mother’s side were very good shamans and seers. They knew; they were very wise people. My mother-in-law spoke to me about her mother, señora Cecilia Calvo, about her great-aunts Gregoria Calvo and Natalia Calvo, and about her sisters Aurelia Carrera and Martina Carrera.
I believe that in order to dedicate oneself to this profession one must be very brave, very honest, and very humble. One’s heart must be clean for things to turn out well. In truth that’s how my work has been; for that reason people believe in it. Meanwhile I’ll keep going, because God is the one who gives me the strength to keep going.
The place where I live is called sonlao (on the stone). They say that a long time ago there was a stone here in the shape of a star and it always had water. I believe that this place has a lot of strength; this place forms part of the center of the village, and it has been a site of magnetic healing power going back to pre-Hispanic times. It’s where the wise people live. I’ve lived here since I got married. My mother-in-law always loved me. She said to me, “I know you’re clever and a hard worker, so come here, don’t be ashamed, I’m going to teach you how to make a living here, here where you live, so that you won’t have to work outside your home.” That’s how it started. What’s very important to me is the confidence she showed in me; it turned out to be crucial, because confidence gives you security in any field. In the end I believe that’s how it was: a mutual commitment was made between us, with rights and obligations to educate her blood, that is, her grandchildren. In this way the reproduction of her blood would be guaranteed, as would the continuity of this work, the commitment that a man or a woman makes to assist humanity. We affirmed our ties as teacher-student and a strong bond was forged between us, one of great reciprocity. She always spoke highly of her son, my husband, Don Lucio. She told me, “Take care of him, love him, look after him; I love him very much.” She said he was the same as her husband, the Professor Librado Pineda. Maybe that’s the reason she trusted me so much. She taught me a lot about what she knew and did in the world of shamanism, how to conduct the ceremony of the mushrooms; she taught me to be brave and to know how to fight when necessary, and I mean only if it’s necessary. She taught me how to deal with patients’ crises when they were in total ecstasy, that is, about techniques to use to take charge of situations that can get out of control unless they are handled correctly. I think this work is about all the energies present at the moment. At the time of the session, one works with all the energies, with all the strength that each human being possesses, and how it’s handled, the direction we send it, and why we send it that way. A sacred space is built, a sacred time that is totally specific to the great ceremony, and that turns into the setting where the ritual with the mushrooms is carried out. This space and sacred time is governed by very pleasant sensations transmitted by the song and prayers of those who oversee the ceremony. The guide should offer a genuine security, trust, affection, love, and acceptance, because this is the most important moment and the patient must benefit from it. It’s the moment when the spirit finds itself at the highest point; it’s the moment of encounter with God. A ceremony with a good ritual eases the relationship between man and God; God manifests himself, he proves his existence, helps the transformation, makes us aware, and leads us to reflect deeply on who we are and what we want. This is when it is extremely important that the guide be present, paying attention to all that’s happening, and prepared to use each and every tool. It’s at this moment that she must use her entire being; she is a warrior, the patient’s intercessor. The guide gives herself over and is committed to His work; this is the ideal moment to show her power, her strength, her desire to achieve what has been proposed according to the case. The work I do is good; I always invoke God and the earth, the rivers, the mountains—and of course the angels and saints—with songs and prayers in my maternal language, Mazatec, as well as Spanish, also with my thoughts, my feelings, and my desires. That’s how I do good. Look, my work is genuine, it’s useful, it helps cure people. The results I’ve gotten up to now speak of a whole life’s work, of more than 30 years of care and service toward those who have searched me out.
My work began in earnest with foreigners, from Europe or the United States, people from Mexico City or other states in the Republic of Mexico. In 1968, huge numbers of people came. At that time, no one liked foreigners, whether from other countries or other parts of Mexico. Strangers were not welcome; they were all hippies with their slogans of peace and love; they were poor. Yes, you felt bad when you saw how they were treated; this was the start of the waves of people searching for one or another alternative way of perceiving reality. It’s with these people that I began working steadily with my husband, working secretly in fact, because it was frowned on to give niños santos to foreigners. That is, we worked against our culture and ran the risk that comes with opening your doors to those who don’t belong to your culture.
In 2000 I was invited by the authorities at the Anthropological Institute in Switzerland to explain my mission and its importance through conferences. Since then I’ve participated in group sessions on numerous occasions. Europe is the door through which one takes the first step to the United States. I contributed to a book on identifying and collecting medicinal herbs native to this region with Doctor Silviano Camberos Sánchez and his family. For seven years I organized the procession to the Virgin of Guadalupe, until the death of my husband in 2003. That is when I became a member of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, founded in the United States. In the fall of 2004, 13 indigenous grandmothers from all over the world—North, South, and Central America as well as Africa and Asia—met in upstate New York and agreed to form an alliance. At that time they decided to work in collaboration and under the auspices of the Center for Sacred Studies 501 © 3.
I’ll describe some of the problems of the patients I’ve worked with. I’ve helped people with emotional problems, who for years had other treatments with no results. I’ve worked with homeopathic doctors. I’ll describe the case of a patient who had been depressed for a long time and who told me that she noticed an improvement after she participated in one of the ceremonies. She said, “I came to be cured because I suffer from chronic depression, and while I was on my trip, I saw my birth as I was passing through the birth canal.” She said, “I wasn’t afraid, I felt secure, because of the imposing personality and spiritual force of Mama Julia. She mediates between different realities, because eating the mushrooms isn’t like anything else; they have a soul as well, and this soul has strength, and that’s what helps us to penetrate to other states and other realities.”
The job of the guide is to stabilize the trip, with the help of all that’s in the setting, especially the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a symbol of strength for all Mexicans. I’ve learned that trips make patients both physically and emotionally stronger—I say physically because the patient’s heart was delicate; that’s what she said before her trip. She said that she felt tired, exhausted, and that’s the reason she came to the ceremony. What I experience gives me a feeling of well-being, and I believe it’s worth it to have a trip. On the whole I’ve concluded that traditional medicine, the medicine used by our ancestors, the medicine that comes from the earth really works in today’s world where technology and science are very developed. This is satisfying and gratifying to me.
Another one of my patients, a health professional, has described his experience in a conversation:
“The ritual began as usual, at Mama Julia’s house. It was my first experience with mushrooms and the anticipation made me very anxious and afraid. I wasn’t sure what this experience would be like for me. It all began with prayers, invocations, and songs to the Virgin of Guadalupe and to God.
“My first question was what would I feel, how would I know that my trip had started? Mama Julia told me to be calm and that I would simply know.
“After seeing colors and feeling palpitations I began to experience the memory of a past life. At that moment I didn’t know what it was about, there were simply visions. I remembered having been a curandero who wore a bear’s head, and this distinguished me from the rest of the tribe, and the people respected and admired me greatly. In that faraway time, someone had taken the women and children of my tribe, and the people asked me to go and find out who was kidnapping them. As the shaman of the group, I undertook a journey to search for the kidnappers. Along the way I met a very attractive woman and immediately felt ensnared by her.
“She took me to her tribe and introduced me to its chief. At that moment I instinctively realized it was this tribe that was kidnapping the members of my tribe. I decided to investigate more about them, using a shamanistic technique [to trap] them: many months passed before I decided to return to my people. In the meantime this woman taught me many of their arts, their magic, their mysticism, their powers, their ways of healing. I was curious about where they kept those who had been kidnapped, what they did to them, and why they made them captive, and for this reason I decided to stay a little longer. During those months of contact with the tribe, I fell in love with this woman. She loved me but also had a secret relationship with the chief of the tribe. When he realized that I was going around investigating, and that his woman was also attracted to me, he decided to have me killed.
“One day when I was at the river bathing myself, I felt a knife enter my back and I fell down. I felt a great pain between my left shoulder blade and my backbone, I saw women’s feet running away, and everything around me went dark. Once again I was in Mama Julia’s house with a great pain in my back. Mama Julia rubbed my back and in a short time she cured me and the pain disappeared.
“Two years after my experience with Mama Julia, I met a woman with whom I identified. We became friends and she asked me to perform a regression on her. I agreed, and during the regression she began to tell me her story, that she was the member of a clan that kidnapped people to perform very bloody rituals on them. She described someone with whom she had fallen in love, although she had a relationship with the chief of the clan. She told me how that man had been killed. She explained what caused his death, where they had stabbed him, with a wealth of details. I was very surprised to remember and understand my trip with the mushroom. Two years and three months after her regression, we went with Mama Julia to close the circle between the two lives that tied us together.
“At this moment she and I no longer see each other but we understand many things about our present by understanding our past together.”
After people working in the health profession reported their journey experinces to me, I can say that I have added to the knowledge of other human beings. I have been part of their education. I have inspired an interest in healing through spiritualism in other people. These people are my branches. I believe that I have created a school for all those who search for an alternative way to cure their illnesses, and they in turn can help to cure others.
My work has harvested souls, a great achievement for humankind, for all of us who believe that things in the world can be better, if we attempt at every moment to do things well: to show respect, to value what has little value today, to feel proud of our identity, to defend our traditions, to defend our traditional medicine, to love and respect our elders and listen to them with great attention, to teach children to live with respect, peace, and love. The mission of all human beings who achieve consciousness is to take care of themselves and Mother Earth.
Translated by Margaret Carson
—Jesuita Natalia Pineda Casimiro is an anthropologist, ethnographer, and historian based in Mexico. For the past six years she has traveled in the mountains of northern Oaxaca to study the methods and materials used by the healers and shamans of the upper and lower Mazatec region.