Beatrice Waight 1948–2010
Beatrice Waight, a traditional Maya healer who spread the medicinal customs of her family and ancestors around the world, died on October 3, 2010, at the age of 62.
Originating from a small village in the Cayo District of western Belize, Waight was a multiple-generation healer who obtained her skills and knowledge from observing her father, who was a traditional Maya healer, from her upbringing in a traditional Maya home, and through training with her grandmother, who was a midwife.1 She was also trained through dream visions, a common occurrence among Yucateca Maya healers. Going back in time as far as her family can remember, the women were midwives and herbalists and the men were healers, shamans, snake doctors, herbalists, and Maya acupuncturists, said friend and student Katherine Silva (e-mail, December 4, 2010).
“Miss Beatrice impacted her patients and students with her deep faith in her Maya spirituality and way of life, the plants, prayers, and ceremonies, and her wonderful sense of humor and warm heart,” said Silva. “During her life, she carried forth her father’s role of ceremony leader, herbalist, and spiritual healer, combined with her grandmother’s role of carrying the women’s wisdom and women’s wellness the Maya way to people in her village and all over the world,” said Silva.
Among the extraordinary aspects of the vast Mayan civilization, which inhabited Belize, Guatemala, and southern Mexico for almost 2,000 years,2 was its traditional medicine. This holistic system considers bodily ills in conjunction with the affects of the spirit, such as attitudes and emotions.3 Based on 6 main ideas, one of the fundamentals of Maya healing is the concept of “life energy,” a force that connects all things and resides in every person, animal, and plant, as well as non-living things like homes and rivers and mountains. Additional beliefs include the importance of developing a relationship with medicinal plants that will be used for healing; the importance placed on using prayer in the healing process; the use of pulse reading to determine types of imbalances and the direction of the treatment; and the belief in hot and cold foods, drinks, plants, and diseases.
Just as Waight learned from her elders, Maya medicine survived by being passed down orally through generations. Now it is practiced by descendants like Waight, though it differs somewhat from the original Maya medicine due to influences from Spanish tradition and Catholicism.
Waight spent the majority of her life treating fellow villagers and others abroad with traditional Maya medicine practices, while also educating people around the world on this system of healing. From the time when her first children were small, she treated or offered healings to neighbors and family in her home, and about a decade ago, she began seeing patients, teaching workshops, and conducting ceremonies in a “healer’s hut.” A small clinic in a traditional, round Maya building, the healers’ hut was built using funds donated from noted herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar and a group of students.
Though she received midwifery training from her mother and grandmother, Waight felt more drawn to the other components of Maya healing. “She felt that her calling was not to be a midwife but to be a traditional Maya healer using massage, herbs, ceremonies, and Maya spiritual healing to ease people’s physical and emotional suffering,” said Silva. Additional techniques Waight used in her healing sessions included prayer, egg cleansings (a practice in which an egg is run over a patient’s body to remove negative energy), herbal baths, plant brushings, application of plant allies to the pulses, Maya hydrotherapy, dietary suggestions, humor, counseling, and group and individual ceremonies, Silva added.
Perhaps the most important of these were herbs. “Herbs were the center of Miss Beatrice’s life,” said Silva. “Plants were dear friends to her and she used them every day. For her, herbs were vital in the role of medicine because they were effective, available, affordable, and healing, both physically and spiritually.”
Waight had training from the Ministry of Health on how to perform basic nursing tasks, but she generally did not use these skills in her healing treatments. Waight taught at many workshops led by Rosita Arvigo, an herbalist and naprapathic physician who also practices Maya healing techniques, and also held her own workshops at her home in Belize and in the United States, England, and Mexico.
“She taught so that her tradition would remain alive and accessible,” said Silva.
In addition to her healing and educational activities, Waight advised the Belize Ethnobotany Project at the New York Botanical Garden, as well as the Student Rainforest Fund in Pennsylvania. According to Silva, Waight spent her life helping others, “because her heart was huge and she was very compassionate, and because her father asked her to take his place in a dream so she promised him she would and she kept her promise.”
Waight is survived by her children Edilberto Leonel, Nary Junior, Abimeal, Thelma, Marlyn, Berta, Judy, Jeanette, and Zena. In memory of Waight, who used her income from teaching to send 8 of her 9 children through college, an educational fund has been set up for Zena, her youngest daughter, so that she may attend a university in Belize. More information on this, as well as details on Waight’s upcoming posthumous book, Fire Heart, is available at www.missbeatricewaight.com/About-Us.html.
- Belizean herbal healer visits the USA to teach jungle shamanism. Report #556 from the Belize Development Trust. November 2002. Available at: www. belize1.com/BzLibrary/trust556.html. Accessed December 2, 2010.
- Cecil J. The fall of the Mayan civilization. BBC Ancient History In Depth website. October 15, 2010. Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/ cultures/maya_01.shtml.
- Fedyniak L. Medicine of the ancient Maya. Vitality: February 2007. Available at: www.vitalitymagazine.com/medicine_of_the_ancient_maya.