Espiritismo At My House

My practice is simultaneously traditional and eclectic...or both, since in folk magic there's a tradition of using whatever is handy, and in Faery we don't care who you dance with so long as you dance with the one that brung you.  However, I don't mean that I just pick up bits of this and pieces of that without regard for context.  I do different things concurrently and sometimes they blend well but frequently in order to do something justice I have to just do it in full, as it were, and separately.  This can get unwieldy at times; I warned my husband before I moved in that any flat surface was apt to be converted into an altar.  Currently the mantel piece above the hearth, my antique buffet, the top of a bookshelf, a step-stool from my childhood, and a small folding table are all occupied.  At other times I've had altars on a bathroom shelf, in the kitchen, and  an entire ritual room with directional altars plus at least one or two of the others.  I'm not sure my husband really understood me when I said he would be getting my Gods as roommates, but he bears it with reasonably good grace.

Pictured above is my boveda, which is a characteristic Espiritismo type of altar.  There are different types of Espiritismo (Criollio, Cruzado, Folklorico, Mesa Blanca or "white table") and they do things slightly differently; some include photographs of the dead, some do not, some use different numbers of glasses, colors, et cetera.  The simplest version is just one glass of water, one white candle, and maybe a flower; even more simple, my friend and mentor Dr. Beatriz Morales Faba will make sure to have a glass of water for the spirits on the table whenever she is reading cards or talking about anything spiritual, even (especially) when she is writing about spiritual things.  I first encountered Espiritismo through helping her edit her work; she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the development of Santeria in New York beginning in the 1950s, including  some interactions between Puerto Rican Espiritistas and Cuban Santeros.  She also wrote the entry on  Santeria and Espiritismo for the The Oxford Enclyopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States, which I helped her edit.  I started keeping a boveda about twenty years ago, and have done so off and on ever since.

Espiritismo, I should explain, is Spiritism by way of the Caribbean based on the writings of Allan Kardec but also strongly influenced by African diasporic traditions such as Santeria/Lucumi/La Regla Ocha and Palo Mayombe, folk Catholicism, and the indigenous Taino religion. Per Dr. Morales, over time it has taken the place of some of the ancestor rituals in Santeria, such that some Santeros may tend to view it as part of Santeria to some extent, but it is a separate tradition.  It does not require initiations like some other traditions do, though being a medium requires some skill and knowledge; in theory a person could develop their talents as a medium just using Kardec's books, but in reality that is a hard row to hoe. Besides, without the songs, practices, and knowledge passed down through generations, you'd be practicing Spiritism, not Espiritismo.

Aside from setting up a boveda and working with their own cuadro (court) of helping spirits, Espiritistas hold misas (masses) where participants give and receive spiritual  messages.  They are generally presided over by a strong and experienced medium, with one or two assistants, although everyone is encouraged to speak if they are moved to do so.  A friend who is an ocha priest in Lucumi invited me to some misas held by his ile and presided over by his madrina. (Lucumi is organized as a spiritual family structure, with a house...ile...consisting of priests and priestesses and their godchildren, ie initiates and students).  It was, not surprisingly, both similar in some respects and distinct from both Pagan rituals and other African diasporic celebrations I have been to.

There is a dress code:  everyone wears white or light colors, women typically wear skirts, and everyone's head is covered.  Seats are not left empty.  People are expected to come and go as little as possible, and when you get up you should leave some token so your chair remains "occupied" (I like to use an embroidered handkerchief I have had most of my life, but that's just me being extra.  It could be your car keys).  Everyone ritually purifies at the beginning.  There's a kind of order of service which follows Kardec's Collection of Selected Prayers, and traditional songs.  The air gets heavy and close as the spirits gather, and they tend to direct the rest of the proceedings, through the most experienced mediums.

As I say, a misa requires connecting with others who have experience, but setting up your own boveda at home is relatively simple.   I have found Luz Y Progreso:  A Handbook for Developing Mediums by Sancista Brujo Luis very helpful, although it assumes both contact with a community who practice and familiarity with Spanish.  His YouTube channel is also helpful, especially if you go back and find his early introductory videos.

 If this appeals to you, start with a clear tidy spot, a white cloth, a glass of water, a white candle, and a flower.   For me personally, my boveda is both a complement to my other ancestor work and a practice that I can do when I'm tired, run down, rushed or generally not "feeling it."   I can light a candle, knock on the altar,  cleanse myself with Florida water, and feel centered and connected.  I know my spiritual court who have pledged to work with me in this lifetime...have my back.

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