Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
January 12th, 2010

The Healing Power of Prayer

Becoming a spiritual healer



As a natural healer, I noticed that some clients got well in a reasonable amount of time while others, even though they might have the same complaint and receive the same treatments, never improved. This was a conundrum for me until I met Don Elijio Panti. In 1982, my family moved to Belize and I began searching for a local healer to teach me about the medicinal plants of my new home. Everyone I asked said, “You have to go see Elijio Panti in San Antonio.”

Don Elijio, a traditional Mayan healer, was already ninety years old when we met. It took a full year of visits to his stick and thatch clinic in the Maya Mountains of Western Belize before he agreed to teach healing to a gringa. Over the next twelve years, he taught me the uses of more than five hundred medicinal plants, as well as folk massage, acupuncture with stingray spines, cupping, herbal baths and prayer. Prayer, he said, was the most important tool in his work. After a year as his apprentice, I saw that Don Elijio was much more than an herbalist. He was, in fact, one of the last living Maya shamans of Central America.

During this apprenticeship, two aspects of his ancient medical system impressed me the most. The first was his attention to women’s health. More than half of the one hundred patients who trekked on foot to his clinic each week were women with menstrual complaints or fertility problems. “The uterus is a woman’s center,” he told me. “If it is not in good health, then her life will be out of balance physically, emotionally and spiritually.” He treated these women with phenomenal success, using a five-thousand-year-old method of abdominal massage that repositions the woman’s uterus in its rightful place. Now I teach these Maya Abdominal Massage techniques all over the world.

The second was his emphasis on there being a spiritual dimension to many forms of illness. People came from all over Central America to consult with Don Elijio about matters of the unquiet soul and the restless, disturbed heart. These patients, he said, were suffering from spiritual diseases.

“You are not the healer, but you are the one who collects the plants, says the prayers and prepares the sacred copal incense,” he told me. “They cannot do what we do and we cannot do what they do. Faith is what heals.”

Using an ancient kind of pulse diagnosis, he could tell within seconds if a sickness was physical or spiritual in nature. Spiritual ailments could be caused by envy, fright, grief, anger or sadness. These emotions, he said, were often the cause of physical pain, heart trouble, insomnia, indigestion, headaches and night terrors. “No doctor can cure them because their machines won’t show the sickness.”

He taught me to treat these mysterious ailments with prayers, baths and copal incense. His prayers were addressed to the Nine Maya Spirits, to Ix Chel, the goddess of medicine, and to the Virgin Mary of the Catholic Church. He adored and worshipped all of them with no concern about mingling religions. Healers must, he said, have a higher power working in their lives in order to heal spiritual diseases.

“You are not the healer, but you are the one who collects the plants, says the prayers and prepares the sacred copal incense,” he told me. “They cannot do what we do and we cannot do what they do. Faith is what heals. With our prayers and our faith people get well even if they’ve been sick for a very long time.”

Who would answer my healing prayers?


This was frankly intimidating for me. Having declared myself a fallen Catholic decades earlier, I had long felt like a spiritual orphan, with no place for my soul to call home. Who or what, then, was my Higher Power? Who would answer my healing prayers?

Whenever we collected roots, vines, barks and plants in the rainforest, Don Elijio would whisper prayers of faith and protection to Ix Chel, the Maya goddess of medicine. In time, I got to know and to feel a connection with her as deep as the one I had once felt for the Catholic saints. “She is not God,” he said, “but she is the right hand of God who watches over healers, medicinal plants and women during pregnancy and childbirth.” Ix, he explained, was the Maya word for woman, feminine or goddess, and chel was rainbow or translucent, shimmering light. Together the two words form a beautiful, poetic concept: divine feminine translucent light. Her spiritual essence is the silvery moon. She is queen of all the Maya gods and mother of all the Maya people.

To Don Elijio, praying with deep faith to Ix Chel, the Nine Maya Spirits, and Mother Mary gave his healing the power to overcome emotional darkness and spiritual disease. Here is the ancient idea of body-mind connection that has had such an impact in the 20th century.

Don Elijio passed away in 1996 at 103. Since then, the same deities he introduced me to have become my Higher Powers. Praying to them has given me a spiritual home rather than a religion, and has been the conduit for countless healings in my practice. Now, I treat the person, not the ailment, and always ask if the patient has had a fright or has felt grief since the symptoms began. Everyone, in my experience, has had a traumatic event in their past which could be the cause of their physical symptoms. Who has not felt grief over the loss of a loved one or had a broken heart over a romantic upset? These lingering emotional states affect us deeply in the physical body, but I’ve seen them cured with the Maya system of prayer, herbal baths and incense.

The Author : Rosita Arvigo
Rosita Arvigo is a natural healer based in Belize. Her books include: Sastun: My Apprenticeship With a Maya Healer, (with Nadine Epstein); Rainforest Remedies: 100 Healing Herbs of Belize, (with Michael Balick); and Rainforest Home Remedies: The Maya Way to Heal Your Body and Nourish Your Soul, (with Nadine Epstein).
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  • stephanie

    I would like to pray for my family and familys health also for myself for myself to get a job and for things to go well and mirclae for shareef so he dont go blind I feel and understand he needs guidance lord I try to be there but I dont think he is ready yet. I pray for my mother and her sickness that she will be ok and health and be able to go back to being her self. I pray for anthony that he looses weight and finds happiness and his family comes back in his life. I pray for all my family members health and life and over all life. I pray for the sick the homeless and terminaly ill . I pray for cures for the sick and happiness for the world. I pray for my pets also. I pray for gilbert and his addition and sistuiton he needs help please touch his life. I pray my brother finds happiness and love and a job. I pray for over all health wealth if the lord will allow me to recieve it i also pray happiness. I pray for guodance and for the negative things to leave my life. loveyou lord amen.

  • annemarie.minke

    I read the book Sastun in 06. The experience of the writing never left me. In adition Don Elijio visited an intuitive healer friend of mine in spirit end of 07. Her story of the initiation followed as you too described it in the book. The test was real.
    I am traveling to Honduras on a regular basis and would like to include Belize for a healing and quiet “retreat” week. Where do I find you?

  • Marie T. Koepke

    I work with therapeutic essential oils in my practice and find that addressing the body wholistically: mentally, spiritually, emotionally & physically is the only true road to health; with prayer being the most important catalyst in this process – the only true “Healer” is God! Thank you! Marie

  • Ann

    I worked for a number of years with a medicinal plant organization called Centro Popular de Medicina Popular and can attest to the healing power of plants. I agree that the spiritual part is absolutely essential in the process. The doctor who is so instrumental in Brazil is Celerino Carriconde who works in the metropolitan area of Recife on the Northeast coast. There are a number of communities who devote themselves to curing with plants and prayer. Ann

  • Tanya

    Thank you for this!

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