For practitioners of Santería and vodou, mystery has always been the vessel of the sacred. Since the days of colonialism, when slaves kept African gods alive by cloaking them with the names of Catholic saints, keeping a secret has meant preserving one's culture. Although the world has changed, practitioners of syncretic religions today are as secretive as ever. Indeed reticence may be the very measure of quality. This year's choice shop for incense, spell-casting oils, and books of the trade is Vierge Miracle and Saint Philippe Botánica. For days the female attendant at this shop kept New Times at bay, refusing to answer even the most basic questions. The store's façade is playfully decorated in purple-painted faux bricks. Ezili Dantó, a mother-warrior spirit depicted as the Virgin Mother with child, is painted high above the entrance doors. Compas music from a nearby record store flows through the incense-scented air inside. Colorful, sequined libation bottles featuring deities' pictures fill the top rows of a glass-enclosed bookshelf. And in a nod to Afro-Cuban culture, you can find candles and perfume staples like Rompe Brujo (spell breaker), Intranquilo (restless), and Ven-a-mi (come to me). For serious ailments of the body and soul, a consultation with owner Elsie Joseph is recommended. If lack of faith puts a damper on your cure, the vibrant colors of Little Haiti street life at NE 59th Street and Second Avenue will chase away those doubt-creating spirits.