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’.