In the Latino Community you will frequently find a Botanica. A Botanica is a marketplace that sells religious articles, such as statues, prayer books, and candles. They also cater to the Santero who depends on the Botanica’s for plants used in ceremonies, baths, healing and cleansings. Botanicas also sell many of the implements that a Santero depend on for the ceremonies they perform. However, the Botanicas are not only for Santeros, but for anyone who is in need of such articles as I mentioned. Many Santeros will tell their clients the items they will need and the client will make the purchase. Many people will just walk in out of curiosity, because of the displays in the window. Or the sweet smells that emit form the shop. These shops are normally found in Spanish speaking communities. However, more and more they are springing up in non-Latino communities.
A Botanica Spiritualist is an individual, who practices the arts of spiritual reading, herbalism and healing in the Botanica. They will have a place in a corner or in the back of the shop where they will conduct their work. They are sometimes a Santero or Santera (female).
Santeros or Santeras are men and women who have been initiated into the rites of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. They are the priests and priestesses of the religion: they are the godparents and children of Orisha’s (Deities). Santeria is the practice of the Afro-Cuban religion, which originated from The Yoruba people of Southwestern Nigeria, West Africa. The literal translation of the word Santeria means the worship of saints.
When the Yoruba were brought to the ‘New World”, all they could bring with them was their religion of Orisha worship which is based on Yoruba Deities and consisted of magic-religious practices. When the Dutch, British, Portuguese and Spaniards colonized the Yoruba people, they made a deliberate effort to ridicule and abolish all forms of indigenous religions
Orisha are the deities that govern specific elements of nature, also the heads of the initiates. Also means “selected heads” (Ori)
The practice of visiting a spiritualist or a Santeros has been going on for as long as I can remember. As a child brought up in the 1950’s, my maternal grandmother would take me to such places. Both my grandmothers were spiritualists: that is when my fascination with Spiritualism and Santeria began.
At that time, only a few Santeros, spiritualist and Botanicas were known. The practice was very hush – hush at the time. I could be sure that my grandmother would know where they were all meeting and who the best was. It was not until my late teens when I understood the difference between a Santero and a Spiritualist.
After many years of following my grandmother to readings all over New York City, I begin to make a few very important observations. One was that a majority of the clients were women – many of them had problems with a boyfriend or husbands; they felt their husband or boyfriend was cheating on them, or they wanted more attention from them or wanted to attract a mate. Some had physical, emotional or mental health issues. They were all seeking advice on a variety of problems.
As I got older, I began to understand why few men followed their wives to the readings. One good reason was that the Santero or Spiritualist had the ability to probe into the problems and see what was happening. So the men stayed away, they did not want to be confronted with their infidelity, and be “found out” that they were cheating.
Going often to the spiritualist with my maternal grandmother who was also a very good healer, I began to develop my abilities. I feel that was part of my training in a way. I would have the strangest dreams and began sleep walking at the age of 5. At that time I slept in the same room as my grandmother. She would follow me as I walked in my sleep at first she told me it was only inside the house, then I started going outside into the street. I never walled further than the corner of our street then I would return to a bed.
The course of action in her eyes was to get options from others. On we went to Spanish Harlem, the Bronx or Brooklyn. We went a lot, at least every 2 weeks. So here I am enjoying being with my grandmother in the living room of the various spiritualist or Santeros waiting our turn. As I mentioned, I was developing something not sure what, but you could not keep me quiet. I began to see things about the other people that were waiting, so I would innocently tell my grandmother what I was seeing or feeling. As a child who does not really know how to whisper. Of course the people were listening and were curious. I couldn’t enplane anything all I could do was to tell them what I was seeing. The spiritualist or Santero got wind of what I was doing. From that day forward no matter what time my grandmother and I arrived we were next in line. I know my grandmother was very happy about that because we did not have to go early and wait.
I clearly remember the one and only time my father went to a Spiritualist. Of course he did not go freely being a non-believer. He always said that they were fakers and just taking people’s money. His own mother was a very strong spiritualist who had amazing gifts of foresight, he would not believe her. It was my mother that forced him to go. Reluctantly he went. The 3 of us entered to the apartment of the person, the room was filled with people as in a doctor’s office waiting their turn. My father was very uncomfortable waiting. Lucky we did not have to wait long. We entered the room, Dona Francesca (not sure of the spelling but never forget her name) was sitting at a table in the dark room lit only by candles, the room was filled with the smell of Florida Water (a traditional cologne water used in the Latino community), incense and cigar. She smoked cigar, I was always fascinated because I thought that my grandmother (father’s side) was the only women to smoke them). My parents sat down, I stood next to my mother.
Dona Francesca began mumbling some prayers and I can see my father’s eye rolling in his head as if to say Oh BROTHER. Then she began talking and what came from her mouth made my father break out in a cold sweat. I can’t remember if she was in a trance or not but she basically told my father that he was having an affair with a women living on the Lower East side of NYC, she described her and told him to be careful because there were going to be problems. This had confirmed my mother’s suspicions but she stayed calm. My father of course denied it in order to save face. Dona Francesca stopped him when she gave him the women’s name. Needless to say my father’s jaw dropped but continued to deny everything. My dad was a good actor he could turn tears on as easy as turning a water faucet. I remember he got up and left, my mother and I stayed behind.