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Red Medicine

Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing

By Patrisia Gonzales

Publication Year: 2012

Patrisia Gonzales addresses "Red Medicine" as a system of healing that includes birthing practices, dreaming, and purification rites to re-establish personal and social equilibrium. The book explores Indigenous medicine across North America, with a special emphasis on how Indigenous knowledge has endured and persisted among peoples with a legacy to Mexico. Gonzales combines her lived experience in Red Medicine as an herbalist and traditional birth attendant ith in-depth research into oral traditions, storytelling, and the meanings of symbols to uncover how Indigenous knowledge endures over time. And she shows how this knowledge is now being reclaimed by Chicanos, Mexican Americans and Mexican Indigenous peoples.

For Gonzales, a central guiding force in Red Medicine is the principal of regeneration as it is manifested in Spiderwoman. Dating to Pre-Columbian times, the Mesoamerican Weaver/Spiderwoman--the guardian of birth, medicine, and purification rites such as the Nahua sweat bath--exemplifies the interconnected process of rebalancing that transpires throughout life in mental, spiritual and physical manifestations. Gonzales also explains how dreaming is a form of diagnosing in traditional Indigenous medicine and how Indigenous concepts of the body provide insight into healing various kinds of trauma.

Gonzales links pre-Columbian thought to contemporary healing practices by examining ancient symbols and their relation to current curative knowledges among Indigenous peoples. Red Medicine suggests that Indigenous healing systems can usefully point contemporary people back to ancestral teachings and help them reconnect to the dynamics of the natural world.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

The knowledge keepers in this book retain the authority over their ideas and words and the rights to use and reproduce their work, in particular: Lucila Contreras, Katsi Cook, Maria de la Cruz, Enrique Maestas, Celia Pérez-Boothe, Martha Ramírez-Oropeza; and Aurelio Ramírez Cazarez, Aurelio Ramírez Campos, Raúl Ramírez Guerrero, and Filomena Cedillo Parra (as guardians of traditional medicine of their respective communities in Amatlan de Quetzalcoatl...

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pp. xvii-xxv

This history begins with an offering of cotton and macaw feathers, yellowblue plumes and eagle down to the weaver, the spider inside these stories. Before I can write these words, I put cotton on the spindle of the great midwife, the life weaver Tlazolteotl, who is Nahua guardian of midwives, birthing women, the Mexican sweat lodge, and other purification rites. As Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie...

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Introduction: Spiderwoman Called Up This Knowledge

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pp. 1-12

“I feel all three of my children were born in ceremony,” Lucila Contreras told me years ago in a journalistic interview. “Being pregnant itself, and giving birth itself, is a ceremony.” Lucila Contreras’s birth stories (and those of her children’s father, Enrique Maestas) allow us to understand a birth matrix and a matríz (womb) of ceremonial knowledge and revered relationships with the natural world. This Indigenous woman’s declaration of the sacred act of birth...

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1. Anatomy of Learning: Yauhtli, Peyotzin, Tobacco, and Maguey

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pp. 13-35

The word has spread in the village. A partera is coming. My maestra, doña Filomena Cedillo Parra, comes to the village where I am staying with on of the tatas (elders) who is her compadre de medicina. These elders who have trained me represent that male–female balance so prevalent among traditional Indigenous peoples of Mexico. Each has provided me with a spectrum of knowledge regarding Nahua medicine, regarding birth, ceremony, limpias, plantas...

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2. Birth Ceremony: Storying Sacred Knowledge

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pp. 36-67

Amoxtli san ce tojuan (November 2002) documentary interview: Lucila Contreras, looking dead center into the camera, introduces herself, saying that she is from Yanahuana, the Cuahuiltecan name for San Antonio, Texas. She recounts that she didn’t know what to say when people asked her, “What kind of Indian...

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3. Ceremony of Memory: The Call and Response

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pp. 68-89

One night in 1600s Mexico, two Catholic priests chased a large bat out from their quarters, throwing their hats at it. The next day, an old woman came to one of them and asked why they chased her away. She told the priest they had chased out a bat: “Well, that bat was I, and I have been left very tired.1 She disappeared from the grounds before the priests could pursue her. Why...

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4. Ceremony of Sweeping: Symbols as Medicine

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pp. 90-119

My grandmother’s brooms were not used just for sweeping floors. She had a special one that she used for cleansing rituals. As an adult woman, I learned rituals of sweeping the house right before midnight on New Year’s Eve and, later, “ritual sweeping,” or limpias with herbs that elders taught me were the instruments of Tlazolteotl. The first time I read about Tlazolteotl and her broom...

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5. Ceremony of the Land ¿Y dónde está tu ombligo?

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pp. 120-158

In ceremonies, our prayers invoke the ombligo, a spiritual center where energy gathers and disperses deep in the fire of the earth. My interest in the ombligo (umbilicus or umbilical stub) began amid the element of the earth when mine was buried in the ground with special prayers, the ash from a hearth, and rosemary. It is powerful to know that a part of me is buried in the earth...

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6. Ceremony of Time: Time as Medicine

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pp. 159-168

The midwife’s narrative of a peyote ceremony elaborates on a sacred interval when the appearance of the morning star (depending on the time of year, this occurs between three o’clock and four o’clock in the morning) is part of “a sacred moment when the Earth is standing still.” Cook compares this sacred time to a period in a long labor when everything seems to be at a standstill and...

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7. Dreaming Ceremony: Medicine Dreams

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pp. 169-187

Dreams are part of my personal medicine. My own relationship with dreams and dreaming began when I, as a little girl, dreamed the migration of my Kickapoo relatives. Over time in my dreams, I have been visited by spirits speaking Kickapoo and Nahuatl or showing me symbols, and old dances and songs that were later understood and explained to me by tribal elders. Preserving...

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8. Curing Ceremony: Spiders in Her Hair

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pp. 188-210

Grandmother Celia finds Spider near her hair, her long white hair, not yet braided for the day. She saves Spider and goes to shake it outside, where Wind takes it. Sun Dance Grandmother goes back to her braiding, and in her mirror she sees lots of little spiders in her white strands. Spider mother had had some babies on white hair woman, lots of little baby spiders clinging...

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9. Ceremony of Return

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pp. 211-228

Many scholars have investigated the treatments of susto as expressions of various cultural healing systems. Whether they were studying Zapotecs in Oaxaca, or Mixteco farm workers exposed to pesticides in the United States, or Latinos’ concepts of susto, or that of Nahuas in various stages of “acculturation” in Mexico, most found that all of these populations shared a common understanding of susto...

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pp. 229-238

Offer cornmeal to the above-below-all-around; north, the south, east and west; east, west, north, south, center; above, below, around. Yellow pollen, blue pollen. West, North, East, South. The threads have become tangled. Look up to the morning star, pointed uterus for the stories’ telaraña. Where are your threads? Show me your red thread, your smoking thread. The...


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pp. 239-246


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pp. 247-266


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pp. 267-272

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About the Author

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pp. 273-314

Offer cornmeal to the above-below-all-around; north, the south, east and west; east, west, north, south, center; above, below, around. Yellow pollen, blue pollen. West, North, East, South. The threads have become tangled. Look up to the morning star, pointed uterus for the stories’ telaraña. Where are your threads? Show me your red thread, your smoking thread. The...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599714
E-ISBN-10: 0816599718
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529568
Print-ISBN-10: 0816529566

Page Count: 313
Illustrations: 42 halftones, 16 color plates
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Traditional medicine -- North America.
  • Indians of Mexico -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Indians of North America -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Healing -- Mexico.
  • Healing -- North America.
  • Mexico -- Social life and customs.
  • North America -- Social life and customs.
  • Birth customs -- Mexico.
  • Birth customs -- North America.
  • Traditional medicine -- Mexico.
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