Women who Glow in the Dark and a New Mexican-Turkish Axis

So, I have recently returned from a conference/summer school on Meso-American traditional healing practices at the University of New Mexico. The participants were an interesting mix of academics and practitioners with the slant towards a general audience amongst the presenters.I am hoping to continue connecting to the scholars at the program, which is repeated every summer in Albuquerque.I gave a couple of short presentations on popular beliefs and healing practices in Turkish culture. Its going to take some time to unpack a lot of what I learned and so I wont do that here. However, I know that there is a tension that I am going to continue to look at between modernity's insistence on hard cold reason and the post-modern shift towards integrating traditional knowledge and whether those who have continued with both tradition and its contemporary modernıst critiques have reconciled the two or selectively kept what traditional knowledge has made it through the net of modernity's gaze. In particular, I am interested in notions of ritual healing for trauma as found in curanderismo vs. other treatments for more physical ailments and whether the same weight is given by practitioners to the more empirically verifiable issues such as the physical benefit of empacho treatments compared to the more psychological issue of healing susto (fright and dissociation in modern western psycho therapeutic terms).

My first point will be to look at the reconciliation of these different threads of wellness discourses (allopathic and traditional) as they manifested in the life of a curandera and psychiatric nurse by the name of Elena Avila (writer of 'Woman Who Glows in the Dark'). My preference is to ground these issues in the personal and physical as much as possible. Parallel with this, I will be looking at similar Turkish cases where there could hypothetically be something of a reconciliation taking place but about which I am more doubtful, having the initial impression that in the area of wellness, there is a greater polarity around the issue of traditional beliefs in Turkey than found amongst, for example, Mexican-Americans such as Elena Avila for whom a multicultural and pluralistic outlook had become more normative in much of society and the medical industry specifically, progressively throughout her lifetime.

At the moment I am trying to draw the line under this section on new topics in my research repertoire. It may look like I have collected a lot of subjects but this has been a conscious choice to continue to look at ritual through the dynamic of space (as in my doctorate - but moving to new examples and issues, such as post-secularism, heterodox Muslim groups in Turkey) and also to a secondary branch in my work on ritual: its value as a practice for well being.

I hope to make some interesting discoveries but am not yet sure how to do this without turning this into a second PhD. I am hoping to break the main themes that come up into article-able subjects, step-by-step. Let's see how it goes. :-)

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Comment by Shipra Upadhyay on January 2, 2013 at 12:10pm

Hi Logan..Off course..it is not confined to Vedic Hinduism..I m still trying to trace the its route...

Comment by Logan Sparks on January 2, 2013 at 11:14am

Thanks for your comments, Sheipra! I ahve a question for you: Do you have a sense of the geneaology of this practice? Would you trace it to a route older than what we thing of as Brahmanic/Vedic Hidnuism? I have the impression that these therapeutic elements of ritual tend to be very old.

Comment by Shipra Upadhyay on December 28, 2012 at 3:29pm

Hi Logan..nice to have glimpse of your interesting research here..Practice of healing could be better understood as continuity of tradition...Here indigenous communities do practice methods of healing during pre and post-natal stage to reduce the tension and anxiety..

Comment by Logan Sparks on August 16, 2012 at 12:31pm

btw, I used the Turkish example as parallel to the chinese one because of the rejection of certain parts of tradition. These same Turks might be entirely allergic to any form of ritual or consultation with any substantial Islamic elements. Maybe also parallel is the reliance on herbal medicine to a much larger degree in Turkey than the more 'western' societies I have lived in. Some might see this as a very ordinary form of medicine with no metaphysical implications but I pass herbal medicine shops every day on the way to work that hang large amounts of garlic outside there shop for sale next elaborate evil eye protection talismans. Garlic is also considered to ward off the eye. So the connection between the magical and the natural is implied and exhibited. As far as I know, in the Mexican context this is generally even more the case.

Comment by Logan Sparks on August 16, 2012 at 12:25pm

Hi John. Thank you for this comment. Yes its a good point that is also very much relevant to my study as far as I can see at this point. I know thatt both here in Turkey and in Mexico, there is a certain amount of class and general social marginalization that traditional healing practitioners experience. Its been artşculated to me in both societies explicitly. There is also a perception that class in Turkey is reflected in the relationshio to these subjects ın tricky ways. For example, the badge of secularism (to varying degrees, but most importantly as a self-perception and articulation of identity, religious praxis aside) does not indicate a Turk does not hold traditional beliefs or belief in the supernatural. Belief in the evil eye is highly common amongst secular Turks and amulets to protect from it are absolutely ubiquitous here. It is a stereotype of Kemalist/Secular women that they generally have a few psychics on speed dial. A Guatemalan woman that I interviewed told me that curanderismo had been the almost exclusive province of poor and indigenous people (presumably partly because they used it as an inexpensive form of health care and were maybe also less influenced by the more affluent community's embrace of modernity, on a discursive level, in connection with the issue of practicality). She says, though, that with these poorer communities now being involved with drug trafficking, the patrons of the curanderos are now the wealthy who ask them to conduct ceremonies for them. So, there is a lot there. How much this will go in a comparative direction or will use Elena as a main case study, I still don't know. It very much depends on whether I can get my act together methodologically or not. That is always a debate!

Comment by John McCreery on August 12, 2012 at 4:55am


One thing to be careful of in cross-cultural comparisons is the relative social positions of the people you are talking about. In a Chinese context [where a ritual called "catching frights" (sounds a lot like susto) was the one I saw performed most often, almost every day, when I was working with my Daoist healer] there is a broad spectrum of attitudes toward traditional healing practices, with highly educated people frequently accepting claims made on behalf of acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine, while rejecting cures offered by shamans and spirit mediums as superstition. 


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