The explosion of eastern and fringe religions in the U.S. can be attributed to a myriad of causes – from the public flogging the Catholic Church has received lately, to the widespread violence of religious fundamentalists in the Middle East. This big-religion weariness has not only created an unprecedented interest in the Eastern traditions, but also in the cruder (and once taboo) syncretic religions of Santeria, Voodoo, and Palo Mayumbe. According to many accounts, more and more Anglos are turning to these African-based religious traditions for the simpler, non-political, and more organic spiritual experiences they offer.

As a Cuban American, I am most familiar with Santeria – a tradition that emerged in the 1600’s when African slaves arrived in the New World and were immediately baptized en masse by the Catholic bishops. Their religion suppressed in this strange new land, they clung to their beliefs by attributing the virtues of each of their holy deities to a Catholic Saint. Now they could worship freely under the guise of Catholicism.

Santeria and Voodoo are alive and flourishing today, and nowhere can you more easily experience this colorful subculture than by stopping by one the city’s hundreds of Botanicas, or religious shops in the largely Hispanic and West Indian neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, and Uptown. These a places are one-stop shopping for all your spiritual health and beauty needs – kind of like a Sephora for the Soul. You can get advice, your aura cleansed, or find the right perfumes and washes to rid evil spirits and attract love or fortune. The art direction on most of the products’ packaging is equally brilliant. You can literally fill your medicine cabinet with some of the coolest looking goods and best smelling lotions and potions for twenty bucks.

So take a trip out to the boroughs and come back with products that will make you the envy of your girlfriends. You may even be able to get rid of some of the ones you don’t like so much.


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