Even before I knew what Lucumí or as it is most commonly referred to as Santeria was, I knew upon crossing the threshold of a Botanica one fall day, something steeped in deep and dark mystery was taking place behind the curtains of that back roo
My first visit to a Botanica, I walked through the doors seeking candles and incense and was instantly transported back in time to a quaint little Spanish village . The aroma of cinnamon and orange peels simmering in a pot wafted throughout the little storefront, bottles of oils and washes with a hooded skeleton figure intrigued me . My eyes taking in the varying crosses and candles of Patron Saints was reminded of The Catholic Rectory that I spent many of my formative years attending church.
I was mesmerized by the rows and rows of jars filled with herbs and seeds while a soft music of drums and Spanish words I couldn’t make out played melodious beats in the background. I wondered around in a daze seeing but not knowing, and I came upon a back door with mysterious scents and sounds of chanting and I was drawn in. I had a paralyzing fear in the pit of my stomach, yet I was propelled forward by an incessant need to know. My hand reached out and as I grazed the lace curtain that blocked my view a small petite woman who called herself Maretza flowed out and took me by the hand inquiring what had brought me in.
I was snapped out of my trance by the appearance of this small woman who exuded so much energy and the fog that had entranced me lifted. I remember that I was looking for some incense and candles for healing for my grandma who was sick. She steered me down an aisle all the while asking me questions about my grandmas health, she picked out several candles, some oils and my incense, gave me detailed instructions and wished me a blessed day. I found myself sitting in my car holding my bag and change, and wondering in such confusion what had just taken place.
It wasn’t until a few days had passed by and I was sitting around talking with a friend of mine while burning my incense, that I began to recall the sheer strangeness of it all. I replayed to her how I had walked through the store hypnotized by this mysterious music with a call and answer response and drums beating in my head and discovered this back door. She sucked her teeth and drew in her breath and gasped theatrically that I was in a Voodoo shop.
She crossed herself and told me to stay my ass outta them type of places and away from those kindda people.
I felt the sting of her words as she called into question my Christianity slap me across the face and I felt ashamed. Why had I even felt the need to seek out alternative prayers from the other realm to help heal my grandma; Wasn’t my prayers to Jesus enough? I did what she said and threw everything that I had bought at that store out, and prayed to be forgiven for tampering with the dark.
I tried to push the whole incident to the back of my mind, but that back room and those drums kept calling me. I found myself day dreaming about them at odd times of the day, I would unconsciously drive past the shop and hope to catch a glimpse of Maretza in the window. It was like I became obsessed. I spent hours on-line reading everything I could about Voodoo. Most of it contradicted itself, and what little knowledge I did find was shrouded in even more mystery.
I grew enough nerve one day to go to our local metaphysical shop. I nervously glanced around looking for signs of devil worship or voodoo sacrifices taking place. Seeing only the shop keepers, and a few people dressed in gothic attire, I relaxed some and began to enjoy my surroundings. This shop had a more commercial feel to it. They had books, and stones of all varieties, as well as candles, herbs, and oils. I picked up a few books and some stones. I didn’t want to seem like a novice so I kept my conversation to a minimum while checking out. I hurriedly got my things and rushed to my car not wanting to be seen, that old feeling of shame returning. This time I pushed back adamant with myself that I had done nothing wrong. I went home and read my books in a frenzy for knowledge. I was floored with disbelief, every book I had read seemed to show proof that the very fiber of my being, my faith wasn’t what it appeared to be. I went back to the store for even more books, I also went to the library to try and find varying insights to balance my research. I needed as much proof as I could get before I could allow myself to recognize another faith system outside of my religion.
The realization that I wasn’t a Christian hit me like a ton of bricks a few months later.
My husband was the first person I whispered this newfound revelation to. I was so broken down and defeated. The months of seeking knowledge and searching for the truth had taken it’s toll on me. I was worn out from the spiritual battle my soul was waging against itself, and to be honest I was lost. I felt like 8 years of Parochial school and hours of prayers of thanks were all lies. How could the people who were supposed to protect me and teach me be so lost and confused themselves. This wasn’t our faith and religion, it didn’t belong to us and would never free us. The day I accepted that self truth was the saddest day of my life, it was the day I turned my back on Christianity.