Yesterday my husband and I were running an errand in Hamilton, the next largest town over from us, large enough to have a visible Latino community. (The town we’re living in does not–not a very visible one, anyway.) On the way back, my husband proposed that we swing by a botanica he had discovered accidentally during a GPS mishap on an earlier trip. Botanica San Miguel.
What a find! I wish I’d known about this place last semester, when I was teaching a course that touched on Afro-Caribbean religions. I want to bring students on a field trip so badly. The proprietor is Dominican, so she and I connected over that. (I lived in the DR during the 1990s.) When I told her that I was interested in stopping by because I teach courses on religion, she was very forthcoming. She took us to the little backroom where the shrines are and where she does readings and cleansings. She practices a system she calls the “21 Divisions,” which I’ve been poking around a little online to read about. I need to learn more, but my hunch is that this system has roots in 19th-century spiritism–it has that feel, anyway. I’d be fascinated to know what she understands the system’s history to be.
The spirits are classified into three major groups: “black,” which are associated with the earth; “Indian,” which are associated with water; and then “white,” which aren’t associated with any element because they’re “above everything.” Yeah, the racial politics of that one aren’t too hard to read. I’m curious to know, though, why black = earth and Indian = water; I could just as well have imagined it being the other way around.
I learned that the proprietor was baptized (initiated) here in the U.S., which was a little counter-predictive (but just a little). Most of her clientele, she told me, are Mexican, not Dominican, which definitely surprised me. It’s not just a question of there being more Mexicans than Dominicans in the area: she told me that Dominicans don’t do the 21 Divisions. I’d like to know more about that.
The store has a Facebook page. There are a lot of horoscopes posted to it, but here are a couple of other posts to give you a flavor. (The translations from Spanish to English are mine.)
My beautiful people. Today is a good day to distance [alejar] ourselves from people we do not want around us, negativities, and a very very good day for disposals because it is the day of Saint Alexius [Alejo]. Light a purple candle and tell him what you want to distance [alejar] from your life or your side.
If your husband has a lover and you want a separation, then at Botanica San Miguel we can get you that separation 100% guaranteed. With the 21 Divisions.