Botanicas in Latino culture: a fact of life.
One of the first things that I noticed when I first moved to Los Angeles was that in areas with high latino populations, botanicas could be found in high concentration scattered throughout these neighborhoods. Imagine my surprise one afternoon when I was driving down Pico near Western Ave and when I saw what I can only call the Walmart of botanicas.
I must admit that from far away it looks like a large warehouse that has been retrofitted to look elegant and like some Latin American Costco. The ceilings are very high and the aisles are full of thousands of candles for all sorts spiritual uses. Wanna put a hex on your girlfriend for cheating on you? Of course they gotta that.
Botanicas (according to Consumer Reports!) in Latino culture are all about Santeria, or way of the saints, is often misunderstood in the US as a form of African alchemy or sorcery. The truth is that Santeria, much like Voodoo was the way that African slaves adapted to living in the New World. It was how they preserved their culture and social institutions as their religious prerogatives demanded. they had to call their Gods by Christian names so that they could continue to appease their Gods. In African Yoruba religions, human beings have to appease their Orishas so that good things come to them in real life. For example, by offering a deer one night to a roaring fire after cutting the deers neck and collecting the blood, then the Yoruba believed that in this way the spirits could “pass through the earth” and be put at our disposal. If you wanted good harvest with corn, then that specifically meant amount of corn harvested went hand in hand with how much corn you sacrificed.
So to keep their traditions they had to disguise their Gods in the form of saints within the dogma of New World Christianity, hence the name Santeria. It seems that these traditions continue to this day, only that sacrifice and good luck have morphed into something akin of putting my dollar pills to be more like Ron Jeremy in the bedroom, hence the million and one candles that seem to sell well.
If that was not freaky enough for someone that just moved here from Iowa, the Virgin Mary statues with skull and bones does not help the matter any either. Also as part of botanicas in latino culture is what Mexicans call La Santisima Muerte and it is something altogether different and far more sinister. It is the worship of the patron Saint of Mexican drug smuggling and the altar of death and all sorts of scary things associated with Central and South American narco/sicario lifestyle.