Botanica moments

22 07 2009

botanica5

1. I went to a rather scary botanica in east Oakland right before I left California. Saw a lot of interesting stuff, and they had dozens of statues of Santa Muerte. If that had been the first botanica I had ever visited, I would have been really creeped out by it.

In the back, next to the consulting room (botanicas tend to do a lot of that kind of business), there were two twin niches: one to the Virgin of Guadalupe, another to la Santa Muerte, all decked out as if she were a Virgin. If I had a camera, and was permitted to take a picture, I would have. The contrast between the “light Mother” and “dark Mother” was Jungian theory in living, folk Catholic color. They were going to have a “fiesta de Santa Muerte”, but I could not make it, since by then I had left California.

2. Not quite a botanica, but something similar: it was at the New Orleans Spiritual Voudou Temple, which if you go in the entrance, looks like a botanica with a New Age flavor and ridiculously overpriced. Anyway, I took advantage of their offer to go into the “altar room”, though few ceremonies actually take place there. As I entered and exited, I noticed a large doll dressed in white with a mitre on its head.

“Hey,” I thought to myself, “that’s John Paul II.” I was too afraid to ask my guide about the doll, but I was not surprised to see him there. So you know, at least in one place in New Orleans, a Voudou priestess invokes the spirit of the late Pontiff. JP-2, we love u!

There is an actual botanica up the street a bit from downtown, but it mostly deals in candle magic and statues. Plus, it has more of the original, Cuban santeria / palo mayombe flavor to it. It has a particularly impressive statue of St. Lazarus, or Babalu-aye.

3. AG and I went on a tour of the French Quarter that ended at St. Louis No. 1 cemetery and the tomb of Marie Laveau. There is still devotion in the city to the Voudou Queen, and various piles of Mardi Gras beads and trinkets were left at the foot of her free standing grave. But I noticed another offering on the side of the tomb that was a little odd: a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. I hope her devotees will bring her better reading material in the future.