A Spiritual Gathering

African Culture Day photo by Elio Delgado.
African Culture Day photo by Elio Delgado.

By Jorge Milanés

For 50 years I have lived in Cojimar, together with a part of my family.  We live in a small house but one with a large yard full of guava, mango anona, papaya and avocado trees, which offer very agreeable shade, our privilege.

Our family sometimes gathers for parties in this yard.  These are not the usual kind of parties, but spiritual gatherings, part of the Santería religion.  Santería is an offshoot of the religions that the black slaves from Nigeria brought to Cuba with them in the 19th century, which later blended with the Catholic religion.  Since that time, my family and others follow these traditions.

Invariably when the ceremonies are over we dance to salsa and reggaeton music.  Really! How great those parties are when there’s a lot of food, rum and dancing.  Although, in truth, lately it’s not easy to arrange them – everything’s so expensive!  Despite that, last week we had a gathering and it was very interesting.  A part of the family participated, as is almost always the case.

We put a white tablecloth on a table and on it we placed seven clear glasses with water, some flowers – among them a sunflower – and two lighted candles.  Under the table was a washbasin with holy water, flower petals and perfume.

We all sat around the table and began to pray two Our Fathers.  Then my cousin read seven prayers that convoke the spirits and when she had finished we stood up.  Someone broke the ice by singing, at first alone and then in chorus, the songs that go with the ceremony.  These facilitate the entrance of the spiritual currents of the family or others from our spirit chain.  It’s important to be relaxed, with your mind quiet, focused on the ceremony.

My role was to blow tobacco smoke and spray rum from my mouth onto the table.  Aunt Olga, the one most versed in this, ordered us to make a circle around the table, holding hands.  We sang and danced, at first softly then a bit more loudly and more expressively.  We threw our hands forward and backwards.  She began to rock forwards and backwards.

She closed her eyes and began to utter peals of laughter, her dance became more markedly different.  She jumped out of the circle of hands and grabbed her dress, shaking it from top to bottom, and twirling ceaselessly in imitation of the waves of the sea.  Her expression was euphoric; a spirit had entered into her.

We stopped in order to hold her and sit her in a chair.  She asked for tobacco and a gourd of anise liquor. She drank it sip by sip, savoring it.  We knew who it was because of the drink; none of the other family spirits drink this liquor.

She introduced herself and greeted everyone, then got to her feet and gave each of us her hand, from the youngest to the oldest.  She gave us one hand and later the other crossed over; without loosening the hands she shook them from top to bottom three times ending in the up position so that we would shake our hands in the same way, starting from that position.

Later she sat down and began her consultations.  My cousin asked her about a trial that she had pending for the next week and she answered in her language: “You aren’t going to have it, because the other person is not going to present themselves ever at the hearing.”  To date, that’s the way it’s been.

In my case, she made some jokes, since she’s a woman.  Later she described a person who works with me and she suggested that I help him; she predicted that we were going to see a lot of new illnesses, including some unknown ones, and recommended that we take good care of ourselves.

My sister asked her about an uncle who was in the hospital and she told us that we should expect the worst, that it was all true.  In this way she would answer each one of those who asked her something.  Finally she asked if there were anyone left waiting, because she was going to depart.

All of us had asked our questions.  “May God be with you,” she said, drank another sip of liquor, repeated the same thing and said softly two times: “Until another meeting,” and she left.

Her farewell was very calm, like her stay with us, since she has experience.  She was a very elegant slave of African origin who worked in the house of plantation owners during the time of the colony.

My aunt returned to her normal state, heavily perspired and concerned about the time, since she had to go home.

When a spirit “passes” they leave behind a state of ecstasy.  I haven’t had that experience yet, but that’s what my family says.

As always, we closed the spiritual session with each one taking a glass from those on the table.  We raised them up with the candles and all and we gave thanks to all of the spirits who visited us.  Later we threw everything into the garbage, far from the house.  We had something to eat and the salsa and reggaeton part began.