The historical record tells us that pre-contact with Europeans, African traditional healers did treat both natural illness and social illness through a combination of modalities, herbalism being one of them. There were healers with specialities then just as there are medical doctors with specialties now. I believe that Palo and other African and African-rooted spiritual traditions are capable of and possess the technology to treat disease - be it natural or social - in the 21st century.
As I see it, the challenge lies primarily with the treatment of disease borne of natural causes. Because the Western medical field and healthcare industry, particularly their American variants, still, for the most part, discount the value of non-Western healing modalities, healers from non-Western traditions, no matter what system they have trained in, nor for how long, are rendered both unethical, criminal, and in some scenarios, a threat.
The contemporary, Western medical system, values an allopathic approach, which seeks to suppress symptoms and thus gives primacy to the specific part(s) of the body that is ailing and treats it/those. Healing medicinal traditions such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine consider the body as a system and seek not just to suppress symptoms, but also to reestablish harmony in the body. Unlike conventional Western medicine, these kinds of medicinal traditions also consider spiritual and energetic factors and their impacts on a person's physical health.
Palo divination speaks of all kinds of illness and is capable of developing strategies for healing. The skill of the diviner is what allows for a precise diagnosis and precise development of a course of treatment. However, let me be clear: an ethical diviner should, and in my opinion, must, always be prepared to recommend their client seek medical attention from a skilled and licensed medical practitioner. Unless said diviner is also a licensed MD (medical doctor) or ND (naturopathic doctor), he or she can not legally treat any illness.
The client, too, must know what they want. Many clients turn to divination and herbalists (who may or may not be Medical Doctors or Naturopathic Doctors) because they have seen no improvement through their conventional medical treatment and/or because they are sick of being treated like a car part, so to speak. Palo, in particular, treats humans like complex systems that must be working in good concert in order for a person to be considered well. That means ALL the aspects of the mind, ALL the aspects of the body, and ALL the aspects of the spirit, must be working in equitably in the service of the person's well-being. When one aspect starts to fail, it will affect all the others. A spiritual issue may manifest as a psychopathy, physical illnesses can cause anxiety and depression, unresolved generational trauma could manifest as congestive heart failure.
In Palo Mayombe, the process through which illness, regardless of its origin, is ascertained is executed via divination and generally involves 1. investigation, 2. development of a course of action 3. effectuation of remedy. The course of treatment, differs from person to person. Like medical doctors, we confer with our colleagues - and in our case, our elders - for advice. Like medical doctors we maintain our clients' privacy with the utmost confidentiality. Unlike medical doctors, our course of treatment always includes a spiritual component, evident in the process we undertake to execute a remedy.
As priest-practitioners of a tradition developed in a time foreign to the present one, we must be true to the dictums of our tradition while not traversing ethical and legal boundaries.
A very special thank to the ladies of the Women Only Orisha Group on Facebook, particularly Iya Eñi Achó, who spurred a lively discussion in response to last week's article, of which this post is derivative.