Here is the legend of copal and its curative smoke

Diego Hernández was charged with using copal in healing rites in October 1679 after being accused of it by a mulatto. This is how the tale develops.

Here is the legend of copal and its curative smoke
The planting and harvesting of aromatic bursera resin is of social, economic, religious, and cultural importance to many marginalized communities. Credit: Semarnat

In October 1679, Diego Hernández was accused by a mulatto of using copal in healing rituals. When the accuser saw that the Holy Office could clear Diego, he said that Diego spoke Nahuatl, which scared the inquisitors because it showed how close he was to the native people.

In addition to this, more people declared that he cured their stomach ailments with copal, and they paid him with food. Diego was found guilty of heresy and they decided that to reform him, he should stay away until he learned the Christian doctrine.

In pre-Hispanic Mexico, illnesses were related to certain deities, and each one had its healing ritual. In addition to having a ritual use, copal was also used as an offering to the gods, an ointment, an infusion, or for conjurations depending on the ailment that afflicted the patient, from a headache to mouth problems.

In October 1679, a mulatto man filed a complaint against Diego Hernández, a black Creole slave, for idolatry since he possessed a copal and used it for healing rituals. When the Novo-Hispanic authorities went to see the accused, he said he had this resin in the form of incense, which the Spaniards thought was heretical because it had been used in human sacrifices by pre-Hispanic people.

The inquisitors ruled that he could obtain pardon as long as he proved and justified his innocence, but the situation worsened when the accuser declared that he had heard him confess in the Mexican language, that is, Nahuatl, during Holy Week masses. The Holy Office considered his fault more serious because if he knew the Mexican language well, it indicated constant communication with the indigenous people. Without proving these assumptions, Diego had already been found guilty of heresy in court.

Hernández explained that the use of copal was only for personal use since he used it to cure his stomach when he felt some discomfort. However, his confession was questioned because other witnesses affirmed that his stomach pains had been treated by the black Creole. Faced with this situation, Diego argued that he needed the copal for his ahuehuetes (bodily ailments). The inquisitors, without understanding what he was referring to, asked him for a precise explanation of what that meant, but he was unable to do so.

The negative connotation of this information was reinforced when the witnesses explained that, as payment for these cures, Diego asked for food for the aforementioned ahuehuetes. For the inquisitors, this only translated into offerings for their idolatries. Finally, the Holy Office agreed that Diego Hernández needed to be reformed, so they ordered his master to hand him over to be locked up until he learned Christian doctrine.

Source: AGN