SPIRIT LED ME to scroll across an Instagram post one morning when I first learned of Maestra Cuauhtli Cihuatl, who goes by CC. The image that caught my eye showed a woman: a healer and elder, reverently holding a lit popoxcomitl and wearing a bright red embroidered huipil. Her head and hair were covered with a matching red paño and most noticeably, her ears were accentuated with a pair of large gold hoop arracadas.
I instantly felt a connection.
I found myself going to her Instagram page more and more, not just for her candid sharing of her lifelong path in traditional Mexican curanderismo, but for comfort to my spirit as well. Her Instagram account offered such a flowered impression of the woman behind it—rows and rows of heartfelt, medicinal snapshots of her life as a healer and community leader. There was so much shared wisdom, the wisdom gained only through doing the work: the illuminating and often painful work of untwisting hearts, of realigning the connections between others and spirit.
I’ve been on my own curanderismo journey for what feels like a lifetime. Formally, it’s been about sixteen years, including ten years working with women and children within my community after completing my four-year commitment to La Danza Xochimetztli, or Moondance, in Mexico.
I’ve sat with and within myself and observed, and I have learned under elders who taught me what was passed down to them. All of this work has facilitated my physical and spiritual healing and has fed my work as a writer, mother, and healer.
I was honored when Ofrenda Magazine invited me to interview Maestra CC. She has gifted several works to the publication, and it felt absolutely fitting to dedicate a space for her to tell her story and share what is in her heart.
One of the greatest surprises from living a life connected to spirit is you are always open to surprises, seeming coincidences that are actually reaffirmations that you’re on the right path, but in a way that you never would have imagined.
One of the greatest surprises from living a life connected to spirit is you are always open to surprises, seeming coincidences that are actually reaffirmations that you’re on the right path, but in a way that you never would have imagined. Moments of perfectly executed synchronicity have led me to believe that the spirit that moves the world around us is so much wiser than we are, and infinitely more creative. Spirit has always found innovative ways to bring me towards healers who have brought me insight I needed through their presence.
Healers like Maestra CC.
I connected with Maestra CC, introduced myself and sent her my collection, Coatlicue Girl. She responded lovingly and let me know it had resonated with her heart.
Through that connection, I learned how similar we are. Maestra CC is a queer elder and grandmother with Lipan Apache ancestry; she is a writer, poet, and healer born in the powerful Rio Grande Valley borderlands. La medicina is embedded in her lineage. Raised by her curandera grandmother, she grew up learning to decode the language of the plantitas, of the desert, of the wind.
She learned to identify and follow her own path, entering the U.S. Army early on, and was invigorated by the rigors of military life.
“It was like a ceremony,” she explains. “We woke up with the sun and said goodbye to it every evening.”
Weeks after our interview, so much of the imagery she had shared about her military life stayed with me, like how taking apart, cleaning, and reassembling her rifle was like a meditation, and how she would have visions and connect with the natural world around her on long, mandatory jogs and hikes.
After the military, her visions eventually led her to the enchanted New Mexico desert, where she became a wife and mother, and then a university student, earning advanced degrees.
Through it all, the medicina was always moving.
Through it all, the medicina was always moving.
One of the original founders of the curanderismo program at the University of New Mexico alongside her compadre Eliseo “Cheo” Torres and the late iconic healer Elena Avila, author of Woman Who Glows in the Dark, Maestra CC has taught countless students the decolonial framework of the soul, the flowered path of the self.
Her life path eventually led her to her current partner and the other half of her heart. She has built her curanderismo practice in Bernalillo, New Mexico, a circle that has through the years become a thriving community.
“Mi abuela decía que la medicina es para todos,” she says. Her grandmother taught her that the medicine is for everyone, and she has made that her life’s work and constant song.
Through our short but potent exchanges, I also discovered that Maestra CC had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, her oncologist estimating she might only have months to live.
Spirit always knows.
I was devastated to know of the diagnosis she was facing.
I know it well, as I have been walking alongside my mother for the past three years on her own stage-four cancer journey. Witnessing my mother carry excruciating pain in her body has been a difficult, soul-and-spirit-depleting time, as well as a time during which I’ve had to hone my own healing abilities, my own medicina, to do what I can to make her more comfortable.
Maestra CC has good mornings and bad, but through it all—the tiresome, difficult days on an experimental chemotherapy, and the long hours at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center—she is also thriving. She is still teaching, leading curanderismo workshops and retreats, and continuing on with her commitment to the medicine and her community, to the land.
About her diagnosis, she says, “Creator is the ultimate timekeeper,” words that humbled and strengthened me and can serve as a guide for us all, especially those walking themselves or a loved one through a difficult diagnosis.
Maestra CC has given Ofrenda so much of her palabra, her heart-speak.
Like language, curanderismo is always changing and transforming to match the needs of the present time. I enjoyed our plática that covered so many topics, like how tradition and the old ways that were passed down can be modified and modernized but still have to be respected, and the importance of lineage in these ways, learning under an elder, putting in the hard work, and being tied to and accountable to a community.