Read the sad case of the snow-cone man "witch doctor" murder. The woman accused of killing the snow-cone man allegedly did so under the spell of a "witch doctor," or bruja. The LA Weekly story references "Afro-Cuban" religion, which is named Santeria, and describes the presence in Los Angeles of botanicas, but one question I had was whether the accused went to a botanica to see her bruja, and if so, which one. Whatever the case, it's good to see botanicas in the public eye again. They are part of the fabric of L.A. street life. With both good and bad consequences, as this case shows, the truly faithful can make any belief system real and powerful. Not all botanicas are dens of sin and darkness. In 2005 at the L.A. Times, I wrote a front-page Column One piece about Charles Guelperin, an Argentine-born Santeria priest who runs Botanica el Congo Manuel at a strip mall on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood, where he channels a 400-year-old Cuban spirit named Manuel. I attended a seance with Manuel and reported on meeting and "interviewing" the foul-mouthed spirit. Here's an old LAist link on the piece. And an excerpt:
Santeria is practiced in homes and in an increasing number of botanicas, such as El Congo Manuel, sandwiched between Pizza Loca and Pupuseria Loca in a Hollywood strip mall. The shops are one-stop spiritual markets that sell statuettes, oils, candles, herbs and other objects.
A botanica often feels like a cross between a cramped Catholic rectory in rural Latin America, a kitschy Halloween store and maybe a well-worn private TV den in Maywood. Botanicas almost always smell of fresh incense and dead wood.
Lately I've been seeing spiritual shops in L.A. cater to people who want help from illicit Mexican folk saint La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. The L.A. Times recently reported on a photo exhibit celebrating one of the most rough and lawless neighborhoods in all the Americas, Mexico City's Tepito, the claustrophobia-inducing, mafia-run barrio bravo that I've had the pleasure of visiting a couple times (and surviving). As you can tell by the above photograph from that show, Tepito's roughnecks are notoriously devoted to Death.