Wise Women, Fierce Sisters, Spiritual Healers

la receta y cosas de la botanica

Historically, women have moved in the world of spirits, remedies, healing, and protection for themselves and their loved ones. When their lives became difficult or frightening, and especially when their children’s future seemed threatened, they leaned on each other in prayer, tradition, and rituals. Women were in charge of hearth and home, but had little personal power outside the home in many male-dominated societies, and tragically, the same holds true today for millions of women around the world.

Women’s reliance on and connection to nature’s free pharmacy and the wisdom imparted from mother to daughter throughout the ages were a natural way of life. Many women employed an arsenal of spiritual armor against evil, danger, and the unknowns of the world in the form of prayers, the evil eye, and communion with God, goddesses, the Virgin Mary, and other deities. The spirit world and spirituality were ways in which women dealt with life’s uncertainties.

My maternal grandmother was a wise woman. Meme was a spiritist and a healer, who had a very close connection to the spirit world and to nature. She was an elegant, tender-hearted, fierce defender of her family and loyal to her many friends, who still speak about her with kind words and a smile. She had a quick wit, a ready smile, open arms, and she was a beauty. Meme’s mystical connection to the spirit world began at the tender age of nine when her beloved mother, Amancia died. As a Catholic, Meme was accustomed to the spirit world of the martyred saints and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who interceded on her behalf to keep her mother’s spirit close by, so it wasn’t a stretch to welcome spirits into her life.

My grandmother and my aunt, who married my mother’s brother, happened to have a lifelong friendship with a medium by the name of Doña Pina, whom I visited until her death. Pina, a kind-hearted, diminutive, dark-haired woman with the most piercing black eyes I’ve ever seen, had inherited her spiritual gifts as a child from her mother, another renowned medium in Ponce, Puerto Rico. I grew up hearing their stories, told in exquisite detail, of the spirit world and of those who inhabit ‘the other plane’, which exists near the world we know; kind of like the family who lives one flight up in your apartment building. Some you liked, others not so much. Some stories scared me witless, others offered comfort. I know now that many of the scary stories were meant to keep me on the straight and narrow path, and to keep me safe, alert, and aware as a child and as a young adult.

Thanksgiving and PR trip 2012 155

New Age spirituality was nothing new to Meme. She spent her life being watchful, alert, and sweeping the negative energy, spirits, from her home. She even swept a few unwanted female friends away from my grandfather, but that’s another story. Meme knew which plant, flower, and herb to use for certain ailments and was quick to send you on your way with a recipe and a little bag of plant cuttings, so you could grow your own ‘pharmacy’. She could tell you the best method for sweetening up a stale love life, how to read people, and especially, how to get rid of unwanted visitors. And what to do if you found a rotten egg in your front yard, which she said was clearly an hechizo, a curse,  from a jealous neighbor. Meme imparted much of her wisdom to her daughters and to the granddaughters who would listen, as I’ve done with my own daughter, an intuitive from a young age. My son just rolls his eyes when we broach the subject, but he listens to my dreams and stories of synchronicites because they happen in his life, as well.

My girlfriends from Iran, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Virginia, West Virginia, Greece, Jamaica, and El Salvador, have shared similar stories with me told to them by their mothers and grandmothers. When I shared my friend’s stories with my grandmother, she just nodded. When I told her about Deepak Chopra, the third eye of intuition, and Eckhart Tolle, she grinned and said, “Ay nena, eso no es nada nuevo”, meaning “My girl, that is nothing new”. She was right, of course.

Meme’s stories fed my already vivid, childhood imagination and pushed forward, full throttle, my love of oral and written storytelling. Although a few tales of spirits frightened me, I couldn’t get enough of Meme’s stories. They are with me when I write my books about humble, yet extraordinary women doing extraordinary things in difficult times.

I’ve been known to cleanse a home with Catholic prayers, sage, and incense. I still say the rosary with a lit candle. Much like my ancestors, I perform these rituals in faith, for they are a personal source of comfort and clarity during times of personal and familial troubles, and global unrest.

Peace to you.



Award winning novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s career paths as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker and refugee case worker, continue to inspire her stories.

Eleanor’s debut novel, ‘A Decent Woman, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, is published by Sixth Street River Press. The book is a finalist for Best Historical Fiction, English, in the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club. Eleanor is featured in the award-winning anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani.

When not writing, Eleanor loves facilitating creativity groups, reading, gardening, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time. She adores her two adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is at work on her second novel, ‘The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada’ and thinking about the sequel to ‘A Decent Woman’ titled, ‘Mistress of Coffee’.






The Running Themes in A Decent Woman

As a novelist, I often enjoy allowing the themes in my stories to develop organically. The themes of religion and spiritism, among others, run through A Decent Woman. My main protagonist, Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife born into slavery, was raised in the Yoruba tradition, which is not the same as voodoo or practicing black magic. Ana speaks to the spirits of her ancestors and to the orishas, the gods and goddesses of her Nigerian ancestors, as she prays the Catholic rosary and honors the Blessed Mother of God.

BOOK COVER SEPT 2014 (2) (1)Serafina, a devout Catholic and one of Ana’s midwifery clients, becomes her best friend later in life. Both women are baptized Catholics and although they share a great devotion to the Virgin Mary, Ana continues to practice the Yoruba tradition, so as to cover all bases in protecting herself and her clients, which was common.

I spent many years of my childhood in Puerto Rico–my religious and spiritual life was a mix of religion, spirituality, with a good dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. All through my childhood, I attended Catholic schools and went to Mass every week. As a teen, I visited a psychic after my first boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident, and I still pray the rosary in the car when I travel. I check my monthly horoscope, as well…perhaps like Ana, I’m still trying to cover all my bases.

An excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“One day I found the cowrie shells on my bed. I didn’t know who’d returned them or why. I hid the shells in my room and went to the kitchen to prepare the priest’s lunch. As I was serving the almuerzo, I heard yelling. I was given a few minutes to gather my belongings and was escorted off the property by the same young priest who’d found my things. I was accused of practicing witchcraft. He crossed himself, barely blessed me, and shut the rectory gate in my face.”

Serafina furrowed her brow and shook her head. “That’s so cruel. You were so young. What did you do?”

“I was young. Thankfully, it was early enough in the day for me to find a safe place to sleep before the sun went down. At first, I was confused; I had no idea the Church considered our Yoruba traditions black magic,” she said. “It is the religion of my ancestors.

“But, you do believe in God y la Virgen?” asked Serafina, watching her closely.

“Yes, of course. I believe in God, the Virgin Mary, and all the Saints. We slaves had different names for them. My Yoruba traditions are now mixed with Catholicism from so many years in Porto Rico, and I pray to them all,” said Ana. “You know, I still remember the church bells ringing the day I was thrown out. I crossed the church grounds and looked up at the sky, watching the clouds around the church steeple. The white steeple looked gray that day, and suddenly, hundreds of palomas flew around the tower. So many doves, I could barely see the sky. I followed them across the street to the park to figure out my next step, and one dove landed on the marble bench where I sat. I thought it was the Holy Spirit!”

“Maybe it was, Doña Ana! You never know!”

“I doubt it, child,” Ana grinned. “It was a sign of something, but I didn’t know what. I sat on that bench all day long, paralyzed with fear. And that’s where I slept, right in front of the church where surely God would protect me. The next day, I met Doña Milagro, who taught me everything I know about being a midwife.”

Another excerpt from A Decent Woman –

“You’re giving me your turn?” Emilia nodded. Ana made the sign of the cross before pushing aside the heavy, black velvet curtain. She sat in the chair closest to the entrance and looked around the medium’s reading room. The only source of light emanated from a single candle on the small table in front of her that also held an ashtray, a small stack of mismatched sheets of paper, a stump of a pencil, and a bowl of water. To the right, Ana saw a small bookcase stuffed full of old, dusty books with titles she couldn’t read without sufficient light. The room was probably crawling with spiders, she thought. She looked down, expecting to see a huge insect crawling up her leg, and then she stomped on the floor to deter any bugs.

“Hurry, Fela,” Ana said, smoothing her dress, and smelled the musty smell of cigar smoke. Behind Fela’s chair stood a two-tiered altar that held a multitude of religious statues, icons, candles, and vases. Most statues had white faces, some had black faces and hands, and most of them had either rosary beads or scapulars hanging from the necks. Ana couldn’t help but giggle at the statue with the over-sized pair of spectacles. Numerous vases of all sizes held freshly-cut lilies, wilted bunches of flowers, and stiff, dried flowers standing in stagnant water. The heavy scent of patchouli and frankincense reminded Ana of a church. But this church was of a different world—the world of spirits.”