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137 CHAPTER SIX “HealThyself”: HolisticWomen Healers in Middle America —Elaine J. Lawless The night before I was to leave town on a European trip, I went to the urgent care unit at my university hospital around 7:00 pm for acute sciatic pain in my left leg. I was the only patient in the waiting room. I was called in right away, and the doctor came in—a soft-spoken, calm white woman who appeared to be about fifty years old. Her slightly graying hair fell loosely down her back. She asked me to lie down on the table while she manipulated my hip joint to ascertain why I was in such pain.After only a few minutes of asking questions and probing here and there, she stepped back a bit, looked at me curiously and asked if I would mind if she performed some“alternative healing”on me. I suppose that I was too shocked to say “no,” so I found myself telling her I would actually appreciate it. I was eager to try anything. She moved, then, to the end of the table and stood behind my head,gently holding my skull in the palms of her hands. She slowly and carefully manipulated my head, cradling it back, encouraging me to release it fully into her hands, telling me to trust her to move it as she wished. I tried to comply. She performed several other gentle manipulations under my ribs and chest, at my hips, and held my feet for quite some time about twelve inches in the air while standing at the foot of the table. Then, moving more quickly, she walked around my body, moving her hands lightly just above my body as though she was “feeling” the air around me, murmuring softly under her breath, indicating for me where she felt“hot spots.” Finally, with quick, brisk movements, she began to scoop the air from above various sections of my body and dump that air into the sink in the corner of the room. She did this several times, back and forth from the table Elaine J. Lawless 138 to the sink.When she stopped these movements, she stood over me with her hands above my hip and told me she thought I would now be able to walk without too much difficultly. A bit stunned, I got off the table and staggered out the door, drove home, and left the next morning for my European trip. Now, many years later, I cannot actually say if what happened in that urgent care clinic at the University Hospital cured the pain in my leg. I can, however, say that I got on the plane the next morning, walked a great deal over the next ten days, and cannot recall enduring any pain. Perhaps my ability to get up the next morning and leave Missouri as scheduled was simply my own determination, but I do in fact know the healing moment in the urgent care clinic late that night had a profound effect on me far beyond any “healing ” that might have happened. As a folklorist interested in women’s healing practices, I was more than a little surprised that a medical doctor had asked if she could do “alternative healing” on me in a university hospital room. Little did she know I was a woman ripe for such an experience, an academic who has spent a career reading and writing about belief and religious practice. I have often wondered how she could have known that I would be open to her alternative healing methods rather than report her to the authorities. Eventually , someone actually did report her activities, and she was eventually asked to leave the hospital, which made it quite difficult for me to relocate her when I wanted to write about her as a“healer.”1 At the time I first met her, I had no idea this physician was part of a local “healing community” of women who regularly meet, share knowledge, and practice various healing modalities in the small academic town where I live. In addition to learning from each other on a regular basis, they also are exposed to and learn new healing practices offered by healers who occasionally visit from other areas, so mouth-to-mouth and hand-to-hand learning about healing takes place all the time. Some of the women in this group regularly treat clients in healing sessions in clinics, while others...


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