No sympathy for the devil

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/July 24, 2006
By Jessie Milligan

She was born after her mother's difficult labor in the village of Jiquilisco, El Salvador, in the years before the troubles. The doctor told the family she probably would not live, but she did, and it was seen as a miracle.

As a child, the girl named Milagro, which means 'miracle,' had visions. She saw the future. She could feel and see emotions beating like bird wings beneath even the calm exterior of a person's face. She fled a civil war in 1981 and went first to California and then Fort Worth.

Now, Milagro Montero is an established curandera -- a nontraditional 'doctor/therapist' who has served Fort Worth's north side since 1987.

At Milagro's Botanica Yerberia at Azle and Long avenues, Montero reads fortunes, gives spiritual counseling and offers cleansing rituals to rid her customers of physical and psychological malaise. These take place in the back room of her shop, beyond curtains where all is done in private and she speaks not a word about the process.

Montero, 57, counsels up to 12 people a day, mostly on affairs of the heart. She does not deal in black magic, and anyone who wants retribution against an old flame will not receive help from her.

Inside her shop, part of an old strip mall, Montero, a Roman Catholic, sells pictures of the saints as well as healing and soothing herbs, candles, amulets and oils.

Packets of powders promise abundancia and suerte, abundance and luck. Sprinkle them in the bath or on the skin. They hint at offering a return of energy, a winning of the lottery and the protection against evil, as in the potion labeled Corre, Diablo, Corre to tell the devil to run away. There are jinx-removing bath salts and Suerte Rapida (fast luck) room spray.

The ingredients often are not listed, but the message is clear: Buy this and believe. Your luck may change, if only from the belief itself.

'If you don't have faith, it will not work,' says Cindy Akram, 23, Montero's daughter, who translates for her Spanish-speaking mother.

Other medicinal herbs do their work regardless of faith.

Palo azul, one of her bestselling herbs, is believed to treat conditions of the kidneys and bladder. Researchers from University of Texas at El Paso say the herb is a urinary antiseptic, one with unknown side effects.

Hoja tila, consisting of the leaf, bark and flowers of the linden tree, is another popular herb, one used to treat various nervous conditions.

Like many herbs used by curanderas, these are herbs that were in use by Indians in Mexico before the Spanish arrived. Other potions descend from Santeria, the faith formed by the blending of West African religion with Spanish Catholicism in Cuba.

Montero's yerberia keeps these traditions alive.

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