Altar Work: The Limpia

We make art of life in the sacred hoop. We inherited that mission through a small slice of the Toltec tradition that came through ancestral inheritance and the experience that life on Earth gives us all. It is the foundation of our altar work (trabajo).

By the time Cortez came to Mexico my ancestors, the Mexica, known more commonly as Aztecs, had already taken by conquest the Toltec tradition embedded in Mexico City, Tenochtitlan. The Toltec way of life, with its infinite laws and principles, has one defining characteristic. No matter what one does – lead armies or clean toilets – one does it with art, finesse and with elegance and precision. There’s some “Do it artistically,” but the actual philosophy leans more toward “Be the act, be the art.”  This knowledge was and still is a foundation of our cultural and physical survival because art, in all its many forms, changes worlds.

Legend, which I remind you has basis in truth as interpreted by the witnesses of the event, has it that Cortez’s wizard, a man named Botello, was not killed, as history (written by the conquerors) reports. This, by the way, is the man who advised Cortez to burn the ships and march on to Mexico.

During a fierce battle on a bridge Botello’s horse was found, but Botello’s body never showed up. The legend tells us that one of our master healers/sorcerers, wizards, a nagual we say, saved Botello from death with the intention of learning the European “medicine” that was hitting so hard.

Apparently Botello, as have many a captured European man since then, became a part of the tribe and, in this case, faded into history. Indigenous and European healing methods, witchcraft, and other talents fused at that point, while the fight for Tenochtitlan, Mexico City, raged on.

This is why one sees the mixture of the Catholic pantheon right along with the Indian ways and deities on traditional altars from Mexico to Chile.

Our humble altar is one of infinite number that has birthed from that legendary moment. A standard practice at healing altars also came from that moment, a healing pass that is practiced at 99% of latino/hispanic folk altars. The Limpia, a spiritual/mental/physical/emotional cleansing.

From a Cuban dictionary comes this definition:


Superstitious cure that involves rubbing a person with certain herbs to free them from bad luck or some evil spell.

We obviously don’t agree with the superstition part. If it works, it’s not superstition, it’s science. Maybe it’s a science we don’t understand, but we continue to use it because it works. And while it’s true there can be some “rubbing with herbs” in our traditional lineage, here it is more like a pass. “Smudging”  with smoke is a word that gets close to describing a pass.

Also while there a multitude of ways to do a limpia the best known method is with an Egg, many times accompanied by Chile and Lemon/Lime. If the practitioner is more Christian/Catholic leaning you might hear an Our Father or a Hail Mary as the practitioner passes the Egg. A more indigenous leaning practitioner might mumble, roll eyes or something else while holding the Egg at places around the patient’s body. Here we do some singing, rattling and drumming; we use fire and smoke, most times.

The part about freeing the person from “bad luck or evil” is quite right, but it’s more accurate to say that the limpia frees them from the energy of bad luck or evil. All of us know energy exists and now, from more advanced science, we know that even inanimate objects have energy of some kind, at some frequency, at some volume, with some effect, etc. We also know that energy affects energy.

A Story

If I wave a small feather in the face of man aiming a rifle chances are good he’ll miss. Energy affects energy, right?  

We’ll call the shooter John who does miss and is now blowing steam, as they say. Because of that stupid feather in the hands of a now alleged co-worker/teammate, John doesn’t qualify.

The incident really affects John. Everybody he crosses that day gets some of the anger and angst, not directly but thrown, slammed, wrung out everywhere he goes, by his word or deed.

Energy again, more of it, affecting more energies as it passes through their field of influence.

That night, after kids are in bed, his wise wife suggests he see a curandero, a traditional Mexican healer (but found in all Latino cultures), for a limpia. The next day he does just that.

The healer has some smoke going. It always smells a little funny around here. He’s waiting for the upset John with an Egg, a dry Chile and a Lemon.

The Curandero passes them over the smoke saying a short prayer as he guides the Egg bundle in geometric passes around John’s heart, navel, up and down his spine, around his head, as if combing out invisible debris. Then he places the trio of food – all sacred to human survival – at his forehead, his heart, liver, spleen, naval and finally at his wrist and other joints.

Now John begins to wonder about his personal spiritual condition, wondering if he should either go to church more often or begin a more serious practice of spirituality. He wonders if he hurt his daughter when he said he didn’t have “time for this shit.”

New energies, right? Perhaps energies with a better future than the energetic events following his shooting range/feather incident?

So what changed? Energies changed, shifted. Crappy feelings and urges dissipated and some clarity about more important things came to mind. How?

We know the energy fields of foods affect the energy fields of human beings. The practitioner in our story intended those three food items a certain, unusual, way. We used their energy externally as opposed to eating it.

The healer’s energy, the patient’s, and the food items, agreed and that made something change.

Make Art

Published by Mike Callas

Michael Parra Callas authors and presents both non-fiction, aimed at better living in hard times, and fantasy, focused on magic and the imagination. El autor escribe y presenta ambos, no-ficción, para vivir mejor en tiempos difíciles, y fantasía para inspirar la imaginación.

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