Growing up in Miami, you have probably come across a botanica and wondered, "what exactly goes on in there?" Well, we wondered the same thing, so we decided to go undercover and try to find out what makes these Latin magic shops so ubiquitous in the Magic City.
After stepping inside, we had to wait a while as the proprietor was giving someone a reading in the back room. We wandered around, taking in the familiar (incense) and unfamiliar (candles shaped like women and men), and wondered: What were we getting ourselves into?
We have to admit that when we heard footsteps approaching, we expected an old, Cuban woman, plump around the hips, wearing some kind of turban to come out smoking a cigar. Instead, we came face-to-cleavage with a tall, blonde woman with greenish-blue eyes and pale skin. She also didn't sound Cuban. We could swear she sounded Mexican, but we might have been slightly delirious at this point.
We needed a reason to be in there, so we quickly invented a problem that needed a magical solution. We told the woman we had a brother who was deep into drugs. How could we help him?
It seems that aside from supplying the local Santeria community, botanicas are mainly a storefront for the services of a santero or santera (basically a Santeria priest or priestess). Santeros perform limpiezas (cleansings) and other trabajos (rituals) to bring back your ex, win the lotto, or off your boss. (We're totally kidding. You can't win the lotto that easily.)
We could understand the need to drum up extra revenue. After all, how many voodoo dolls can one sell in a week? We were told that there were two services that could be done to rid our brother of his drug addiction. One was a potion that the santera would make for us, to be dropped in his food or drink every three days. This one is called the ebbas de San Pedro and would run about $150.
The second was a more potent remedy available called las tripas de el Diablo (the Devil's intestines), which consisted of the santera performing a ritual...a ritual that would cost us $250. Both of these services are guaranteed.
We told her that we were temporarily out of cash and would have a hard time coughing up that sort of dough. Wasn't there a cheaper, DIY method?
After advising us that novices could not perform rituals on their own and that it would be irresponsible of a santera to instruct an amateur in spell-making, she saw that there was no way we were gonna cough up any serious money to save this imaginary wayward brother of ours.
And due to our limited funds and limited knowledge, she had two suggestions. We could simply light a white candle for him every day, or we could buy three of the problem-specific candles the botanica sells, and place them in the shape of a triangle and light those every day.
We might have looked a bit skeptical, because she then reiterated that her services were guaranteed. We decided not to push the matter by asking the terms of the guarantee and made our way back into the hot Miami afternoon. Keep your third eye out for our upcoming Dummy's Guide to Botanicas where we will explain the different inventory and its uses as told to us by an indoctrinated santero.