Sunday, November 10, 2002 - IT'S POURING down rain outside, but Beatrice Waight, 53, a traditional Mayan healer and midwife visiting Oakland from Belize, doesn't mind. "I like this weather," she says. "It is similar to Belize. If it were snowing, I would run."
Miss Beatrice, as everyone calls her, is receiving patients at the Park Boulevard offices of acupuncturist Barbara Wilt. She is also teaching classes at the Montclair Women's Club. Last Thursday, she taught a class in traditional Mayan healing. On Nov. 14 her subject will be "Healing the Spirit." There is clearly a demand for what she does because her healing appointments are booked solid.
Spiritual healing figures heavily in the sort of bush medicine Miss Beatrice has been practicing all her life. She comes from the remote village of Santa Familia in the Cayo District of western Belize. Her father was a shaman and her grandmother a midwife.
"My father did acupuncture with thorns," she says. "He did the bonesetting, cuppings. He did blessings on us. When we were sick, we never went to the doctor. My grandmother took care of us when we were having babies." Miss Beatrice has had 13 children, nine of whom are still living. Five still live at home with her. The youngest is 14.
Mayan acupuncture, she explains, is different from Chinese acupuncture. Special thorns are used, and then only rarely, to drain blood from a bruise. Cupping -- placing a cup on the body with a candle inside that forms a vacuum when the flame burns out -- is common to many indigenous healing traditions.
Like an acupuncturist, Miss Beatrice takes multiple pulses, eight to be exact. She prays in each pulse, searching for the source of the patient's spiritual illness, which may be caused, she says, by grief, the evil eye, fright and sadness, among other things. "I also recommend herbal baths," she says. "The main herbs I use are marigold, basil and rue. We call them the three herbs of grace."
In the United States, where rue is not so readily available, she substitutes rosemary. The marigold and basil she uses at home are more aromatic, she says, and their leaves have a slightly different shape. She uses them in baths, teas or tinctures.
"When I go to pick my plant," she says, "I have a prayer I have to address to the spirit of the plant, asking it to come and follow me. Because if you just go to the plant and pick it, nothing will happen. We give the stems back to the earth as an offering, with some tobacco, cornmeal or copal in a ceremony to thank the spirit of the plant for healing. It's not me that does the healing. The plants are my allies."
She contrasts the sort of healing she practices with Western allopathic medicine, which "is more about drugs than anything else," she says. "But there are things a doctor has to do, like a big operation. I am not trained in that. As a healer, I know my limits. I know what I can and what I can't do."
Her native language is Yucatecan Mayan, "the original," she says. She also speaks Spanish, English and some Creole, the mixture of Spanish and English used in her part of the world. She began traveling in the United States with Dr. Rosita Arvigo, who teaches the sort of uterine massage Miss Beatrice learned from her grandmother.
Uterine massage is an external massage, a specific technique designed to put the uterus back in its proper place. If it is out of alignment, Miss Beatrice says, there are 32 separate symptoms that manifest in the body, including headache and lower back pain. Uterine massage can help with problems of infertility, painful menstruation and a host of other female reproductive illnesses.
Miss Beatrice traveled with Dr. Arvigo for two years and then began traveling on her own. I met her at the end of a month-and-a-half teaching sojourn that had taken her all over Colorado, where she sometimes had 85 students at a time, and would soon lead her to her first visit to the redwoods, in Forestville, where she planned to lead a ceremony.
"I think people here are more into material things and they don't take time for themselves," she says. "Especially now, we should always join and pray for peace. The world is in a turmoil, not just here but everywhere. Where I live, we pray when a hurricane is coming. We join and make a ceremony for the hurricane not to come to Belize. We send the wind somewhere else. When we need it, we call the rain."