The Ancient Mesoamerican Indigenous Tradition of Sweeping & Healing with Feathers by Erika Buenaflor

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Limpias (shamanic cleanses) that involve sweeping also known as barridas cleanse the mind body, spirit, and soul; prepare us for a renewal; open up pathways; and invite supernatural beings to intervene on our behalf. Limpias are the most prevalent rites in curanderismo, an eclectic Latin American shamanic healing practice, which stems from the ancient indigenous people of the Americas. Sweeping limpias are typically done at a stage of transition and/or to procure one. Sweeping rites can be performed with special brooms, bundles of flowers and herbs, eggs, as well as feathers.

Sweeping as a limpia rite can be traced back to the ancient Mesoamerican shamans. For the Mexica (Aztec) and Yucatec Maya, sweeping was a way to remove filth and dirt, which were associated with vice, wrongdoings, and disgrace. Spiritually, it was necessary for paving the way for the coming of deities, newborns, and auspicious seasonal transitions. Sweeping prepared spaces for ceremonies; it also helped to procure a favorable shift to different calendrical periods and ages. As an offering, sweeping could help ensure the success of husbands and fathers on the battlefield, as well as stave off unwanted interludes with particular deities. Brooms were a principal weapon against the destructive forces of tlazolli (earth). The act of sweeping maintained a balance against the destructive forces of tlazolli, and could transform it into something creative, regenerative, and life-giving.

In my book, Cleansing Rites of Curanderismo: Limpias Espirituales of Ancient Mesoamerican Shamans, I trace limpias to their ancient Mesoamerican roots, and also discuss how to do other types of limpias using: fire, water, herbs, flowers, eggs, platicas (heart-straightening talks), and also cover how to clear space physical spaces and activate them with a particular energy signature. For this article, I am going to cover how to do sweeping rites with the following feathers: Crow, Owl, Pheasant and Hawk feathers.

Bird feathers have their own particular gifts. Doing a feather sweep can be particularly helpful when a person needs certain bird medicine. This kind of sweep can be done with one very special feather, more than two feathers that are the same, or an assortment of different kinds of feathers. I have made beautiful fans with different kinds of feathers that have been given to me by birds and my human friends. Throughout the years, I have been given different kinds of feathers, particularly after making connections with certain birds. After I have been given a feather and before I use it to conduct a sweep, I connect with the bird who wore it, or sometimes I use the feather as a gateway to another bird by simply thanking the bird who donned the feather and setting the intention of working with another bird.

I connect with the bird by lovingly holding the feather in my hand and beaming my love into the feather. I may also place the feather on my lap, light a charcoal tablet and place some copal (sacred resin) on it, play my drum, and sing a medicine song to the bird. I may also welcome the bird feather and give it a special honorary seat on one of my altars. There are many ways I connect with the feather. After I connect with the feather, I always share my breath with it, and blow on it. The breath is a source of sacred essence energy, and has been understood as such for hundreds of years. Sharing our breath with a feather is a powerful way to activate its healing energy.

Keep in heart and mind that all feathers provide healing, clearing, and insight. With that said, here’s a little more about their gifts and meanings:

  • Pheasants wings: Help to move stuck energy and heal broken hearts
  • Crow feathers: Promote change and divine guidance
  • Owl feathers: Inspire clarity and wisdom
  • Hawk Feathers: Open pathways towards new opportunities

To do a sweep with feather(s) or a feather fan you will need: water that has been charged or blessed, and a feather, feathers, or feather fan that has been activated by you. In my book, Cleansing Rites of Curanderismo I discuss many ways to charge water, and one very simple way is to say a prayer and send the loving and healing energy of that prayer into the water. Blessed water is water that has been blessed by a priest.

When you start, connect with the spirit essence of the bird, and thank it for helping you to clear, heal, open up pathways, and renew the person that you will be facilitating the sweep for.

Spray the person with the charged water or blessed water. Take a tiny bit of the water in your mouth, but make sure it doesn’t go past your teeth. Spray the person with it. If the person is lying down, make sure to spray their crown, head, heart, solar plexus (abdomen), root chakra (genital area), knees, and feet. If the person is sitting down, spray the crown, heart, and spine. You can also use a spray bottle, if you don’t want to blow the water from your mouth. After spraying the person with water, run a rattle up and down their body. Thereafter, use your dominant hand to sweep the person with the feather(s) or feather fan. Begin at the head and proceed down the entire body, front and back. End the sweep by anointing the person with the water, placing it on their crown, forehead, throat, and heart chakra. Afterwards, place the feather(s) or feather fan on your altar, so they can get cleansed and charged.

Before ending I am going to address a very important question, can you perform a sweep on yourself? I recommend that you have someone perform the sweep limpia for you. But, if a sweep limpia strongly resonates with you and you really want to do one on yourself, place a red yarn over the center of the palm of your hand, where the hand chakra is at. The red yarn stops energy from coming back into you.


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