Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion James Padilioni on San Martín de Porres
Listen: James Padilioni on San Martin de Porres
In this talk, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion James Padilioni discusses the ritual performances relating to San Martín de Porres, the first Catholic saint of African descent from the Americas.
Padilioni highlights San Martín de Porres as a threshold figure who stands at the door and holds open the potential for spiritual transformation to his devotees within the traditions of African-American Hoodoo/Rootwork/Conjure, Puerto Rican espiritismo, and Mexican curanderismo.
His spatial and aesthetic positioning upon these altars figures him at multiple thresholds: institutional/“folk” religion, African-American/Afro-Latinx cultural identity formations, and the metaphysical threshold marked by a miraculous encounter with his divine presence.
Padilioni’s teaching and research foregrounds Afro-Latinx and folk Catholicism, Black queer religiosity, and diasporic magico-religious, ecstatic, and pharmacopic traditions. His forthcoming book is Black Gnosis: San Martín de Porres, the African Diaspora, and the Problem of Knowledge.
Steven Hopkins: Okay folks, I think it's probably the five minute, our time to start. Thank you so much for coming on this very pressured late afternoon at a pressured time of the semester. It's a real pleasure for me, I'm Steven Hopkins in department of religion, it's a real pleasure for me to introduce to you today James Padilioni who is a Visiting Assistant Professor in our department of religion and I'm very happy to announce that James has been selected also as a consortium for faculty diversity fellow for 2019 and '20 so James will be with us for another couple of years, I'm thrilled and [inaudible 00:00:43]. It's awesome for the college, it's awesome for religion, it's also for Latino Studies, it's awesome for Black Studies, it's awesome for interdisciplinary programs at the college.
Steven Hopkins: James grew up in Lansdowne,Delaware Country, Lansdowne. Lansdowne? About 15 minutes away from Swarthmore's campus, so his life has come full circle. After graduating from West Chester University with a BA in history and music, he worked at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History as a Jazz Research intern and worked at Colonial Williamsburg as a second person historical interpreter pertaining life as both a continental soldier and an enslaved farm hand in 18th Century Virginia. Staging history at this place, it's mind blowing. After this museum experience he entered the PHD program in American Studies at the college of William and Mary with the concentration of African Diaspora religion.
Steven Hopkins: James's teaching and research foreground the ritual performance cultures and plantation life worlds of the African Diaspora, including magico-religious, ecstatic, and pharmacopic traditions, Afro-Latinx, Afro American, folk Catholicism, Black queer religiosity and critical race theory. He's currently drafting his mono graphite, I think we'll find more about that this afternoon. Black Gnosis: San Martin de Porres, the African Diaspora, and the Problem of Knowledge that examines the restaging of ritual performances within both African American and Afro-Latinx communities that relate to San Martin de Porres 1579 to 1639, a Peruvian mystic friar who became the first Catholic Saint of African descent for the Americas upon his canonization that Pope John the 23rd in 1962. James also co hosts the Always Already Critical Theory Podcast. Great pleasure to introduce you. James will be talking about San Martin this afternoon. Thank you.
James Padilioni: Thank you all, thanks for coming out and thank you for that introduction Steven. And I wasn't anticipating the announcements being made here but I'm happy to be planting my feet in the ground a little bit longer than first planned and anticipates. So as might have you heard this is basically my home town. I mean, DelCo is one of these places where you can drive through eight towns in five minutes so I don't know where hometown actually is 'cause so many bureaus up here remind me of places I used to creep around in high school, those are stories for another day though. What I'm going to talk about today is San Martin de Porres and you're gonna hear a little bit of a redux, I guess of what Steven just went through in introducing who Martin de Porres is. But I have been moving in different places over the last couple of years, different institutions, but I was at William and Mary for long enough that everybody there at some point knew exactly who Martin was and I didn't have to go through the introduction is this way. But for you all this is my first time talking about him in a public venue.
James Padilioni: So Martin de Porres born 1579, died in 1639, he was a mulatto son of Don Juan de Porres who was a colonial administrator, and his mother Ana Velazques who was enslaved in Panama and then freed sometime after she arrived in Lima and I don't know if that's before of after she met Don Juan, but I'm sure that there's some interconnections there.
James Padilioni: When Martin was a teenager he was apprentice to a surgeon barber and after his apprenticeship he joined the Dominican Convent in Lima as a donado because he could not enter as a priest because of his African ancestry. So a donado is a donation, he gave himself basically as an indentured servant and was in that low position. But because of his medical, training he initiated a ministry amongst the enslaved Africans that the convent owned itself and then in Lima and amongst Indians as well for herbal and miraculous healings. He's known for, well of course his charity and his love for the poor, and the more mystical things, his episodes of ecstasy and accounts of levitation and bi location, being in more than one place, being in two different locations or more at the same time. Subtlety, being able to move through solid objects, and animal communication. I guess not talking with animals so much as just animals really being able to understand and listen to him with rationality as the accounts from the 17th century say.
James Padilioni: He was [inaudible 00:05:46] process opened in 1616 and then took a really long time throughout this 300 and so year odyssey. His first stage of veneration was achieved in 1763, then he's beatified in 1837 and then canonized finally in 1962 by Pope John XXIII as the patron of social and racial justice.
James Padilioni: So as an emblem of power across the black diaspora Martin de Porres walks other caminos, alternative paths and roads to sainthood that sometimes braid together with those triggers by the Vatican guarded hagiographic accounts, but he is more than just a mere Catholic Saint, but has become a santo in a diaspore tradition as a kind of gran ancestor, elevated spirit guide, excuse me. And today specifically this research highlights various alter practices that constellate San Martin within the differentiated traditions of African American Hoodoo root work and conjure, Puerto Rican Espiritismo and Mexican Curanderismo. And I approach this traditions despite their variability, I am arguing that Martin and each of them appears and materializes as an Nkisi Ndoki and I'll explain all of these later but as a Kongo watchmen type spirit who guards over the secrets of healing and cosmic power and discloses those to his devotees. And I'm arguing this based on spacial and aesthetic positioning on altars where you see his iconographic materiality show up. But that would be a lot more time for me to flash all that out for you.
James Padilioni: So just we can deal with each of these traditions a little bit on their own. Yvonne is sitting in the room, she literally wrote the book on Hoodoo so I'm not gonna try to start that all over again for you but for those who, please read black magic, that's number one. Number two, for those who are not familiar with Hoodoo root work conjure traditions, I'm just pulling out little core nuggets that I want you to keep in mind as I string these together. The root work aspect of these traditions has a core of herbalism that is focused on healing and wellness. But then there are also conjure aspects that involve ritual manipulation of sacred objects and materials including herbs and other natural elements. According the prescribed formulae and ritual gestures and magical practices, right. This is a honey pot spell, that doesn't look like honey but it's a sweet enough spell basically. Puerto Rican Espiritismo, this is a little quick plug of an image that we put this together recently with our altar projects. This is in the IC right now, this Puerto Rican bóveda, but you can think of Espiritismo again in this condensed nugget as a ritual technology for communicating with the dead and with other forms of spirit.
James Padilioni: Again, those elevated guides and patron saints. Espiritismo develops facultades and dones, the gifts of the spirit and faculties of the spirit and mediumship. And again, all of that is oriented around healing and wellness. And Mexican Curanderismo, this is a photo, pictures in interspersed throughout and video and things from some of my own field work. So this is a photo that I took actually in the suburbs of Atlanta of a Mexican Hierberia, an herbal shop. And Mexican Curanderismo is right there in the word curandero and curar would be to cure but it's curing practices that operate on three levels, the material, the spiritual and the mental. Your material hierberos or saint basic pharmacopic medicament preparations. But then mediums are working more on the spiritual and the mental level and they are channeling spirit healers and also [inaudible 00:10:03] sicknesses within trance. And an hallmark of Curanderismo is its consecrated medicinal objects and bundles, amuletos or amulet in english. These traditions, what bring them all together for me in the way I think about them is thinking about a Bantu diaspora, a Bakongo diaspora.
James Padilioni: There are some recent scholarship, I'm just gonna round this up. Or let me just go through some of this map first. West Central Africa on this region here is the Congo, Angola basin down in here, and you see the number of the enslaved Africans that came from West Central Africa out of any one geographic location on the continent that, at least the ports there were the most numerous, the most bodies moving through. Now, the majority of those that came out of West Central Africa went into Brazil, went into the Caribbean, specifically Cuba, but there is a widespread Congo diffusion all throughout the Americas. And this map gets a little more zoomed in on it and again you see West Central Africa, this is a closer up map of the port of Luanda. And so dealing with Hoodoo root work traditions in the south, Katrina Hazzard-Donald, Jeffrey Anderson and of course Doctor Chireau have all talked about the Congo influences there and I'll just quote quickly from Hazzard-Donald, she says, "It appears that the central west African contributions from Kongo culture would be both long standing and spread far and wide throughout the Hoodoo footprint in the Unites States.
James Padilioni: We also have similar questions around Congo influence, or at least scholarly discussions dealing with Hoodoo in New Orleans and it's institutionalization in spiritual churches which I'll talk about a little bit. And also in Cuban Espiritismo which drifts and makes its way into Puerto Rico in the 19th century as well. So Steve Wehmeyer and Judith Bettelheim have had a conversation around altars and spirit guide placements and as Weimar founds, "There is a profound Kongo influence in New Orleans which can no longer be overlooked by those who wish to examine the diverse and dynamic traditions of New Orleans spiritual churches."
James Padilioni: And in dealing with Puerto Rican Espiritismo directly, Marta Moreno Vega says that Kongo ancestor worship within Puerto Rican culture is one of the persistent practices that continues to infuse in African world view in the larger Puerto Rican community, and she specifically identified the fuentes of the bóveda in their circular shape and also the water inside as representing the portal between the spirit and material worlds in the Kongo and I'll talk more about that in a little bit. Last piece of that. Even in Mexico we have [John Presco 00:13:08] whose work on witchcraft and herbal healing in the 18th century, or excuse me, 17th and 18th century, she finds, "West Central Africans who embarked mainly at Luanda and other Angolan ports including Lobito and Benguela made up three quarters of the slaves brought to Mexico during the 17th century and all together 85 percent of the 200000 Africans transported to Mexico as captive slaves over the course of the slave trade held from the Congo Angolan basin. So even in Mexican Curandero traditions there is at least the potential for there to be significant amount of Kongo Bantu pharmacopic knowledge and maybe ritual as well.
James Padilioni: What brings all of these together is these ideologies of the Dikenga and Yowa and I'll explain this out a little bit for those of you who were at the black cultural center yesterday and you saw the altar that the BCC put up. They're reusing the idea of the Kongo cosmogram where the bottom half had ancestral and deceased African American figures and the second top half had the living. And so the Dikenga and Yowa, well let me just back up with Dikenga. Dikenga is this large crystallization, so this entire cosmic realm, it has a wide application in its philosophical statements about the nature of reality and one's relationship within it.
James Padilioni: Kongolese scholar Bunseki Fu-Kiau explains that what the Bantu and the Kongo in particular, the universe as we see it and know it as the result of the primitive event that occurred in and around it this center ball that is going to become earth. Well known as [foreign language 00:15:03] that god cooked the dough. And then through a cooling process satellites and planets formed and it is the process of the cosmic expanding fires and the [foreign language 00:15:16], excuse me if it's bad, I read this to myself and I'm like, "Who do you think you are saying that out loud?" But it's in the quote and I didn't realize that it was in the quote.
James Padilioni: But according to Kongo teachings, our planet was the starting point of this, sent this fire in the solar system. And so from that center point, the top half is the material plane of the living, underneath is the spiritual plane for the dead and the undead. And then the sun that moves around is the of course, the sun's journey through the sky and its physical register but then it's also a narration of cycles of creation and endless cycles of transformation and renewal.
James Padilioni: So graphically the Kongo cosmogram may appear as a circle bisected by both a horizontal and a vertical line. So the idea of the cosmogram is part of Kongolese mythology and it's the way they relate in the widest orientations to the creation of the cosmos. And this as a graphic form and the idea could be encapsulated into these kinds of images or this little graphemes. And it need not be the full elaboration of the Dikenga Yowa as just a cross mark, is the contraction of this idea but carries the same message across.
James Padilioni: So Dikenga could materialize upon the twist and turns of the landscape and natural formations as well, tress, or excuse me, twigs with branches in them or just two paths that come together. As scholar Robert Farris Thompson talks and describes it, in the Kongo imagination the place where two paths come together as an automatic point for sacrifice and prayer, right. And that's based on this notion of all the worlds intersecting in the middle. The crossroads in a classic Kongo altar, the operative term is [foreign language 00:17:18] a phrase variously defined in the Kikongo dictionary as crossing of paths, crossing ramification, branch, bifurcation arm, point or reunion, point of separation. By this definition the grave is a crossroads where one kneels to seek, to find the insides and protection of the dead. But a fork branch, a cross traced upon the ground instantly generates the same altar. All our cosmograms as altar sign and object, the crossroads came with a thousand voices to the Americas.
James Padilioni: And you see the different variations documented by Fu-Kiau as well as Robert Farris Thompson. This particular images are coming from Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz's book Kongo Graphic Writing. This chart is a comparison of the petroglyphs in the Kongo from, we'll say like around the 16th century or so or 15th century, right around the time of Portuguese contact with some of other graphic signs that you'll find in Cuba. And the idea the cosmogram can be extended into a 5 pointed star, this other triangles inverted, diamonds there's a, again in Robert Farris Thompson's understanding, the Bakongo sacred geometry of spirit, circle, diamonds, spiral and crisscross, portraying the soul and flight, rounding the four corners of the world as power superior to time and this traces back through centuries.
James Padilioni: The other piece of this is Minkisi as an ideology. Minkisi have been identified by the Africanist Wyatt MacGaffey as, "Fabricated things, yet they can be invoked to produce desired effects, they have a will of their own, they may willfully command the behavior of human beings. They cannot speak or move of their own accord, but in other respects they are superior to ordinary people, able by mysterious means to produce effects at a distance." And he says that Minkisi they only become and Minkisi when they are filled with medicine, bilongo. But medicines in a spiritual social sense as well.
James Padilioni: And so the Ndokis, this one on the right is one that a lot of people, it's easy to identify because its anthropomorphic and it looks like a statue that we're used to in the West. That's one type of an Minkisi is the plural of Nkisi. So that's one type of Nkisi but other Nkisi like this here that was found in an archeological dig in Annapolis, Maryland, is just the kind of container or a bundle of these mixed materials, right? Little crystals and rocks and or, excuse me, buttons, little nails. Sometimes in these types of patch you'll see some nails will be bent at right angles, none of these seem to be. You also have this sun burst on the pottery here which might have been from the original pottery but also adds to perhaps why this particular pottery was used.
James Padilioni: So both of these that would be considered consecrated medicine within a Kongo worldview and that the medicine is acting not just on the physical plane but it's also working on social and spiritual aspects, things that might be today considered psychological, within the idea of Nkisi. Minkisi can be the affliction, they can also be the cure. They're a neutral spirit presence and power that can be wielded in multiple ways.
James Padilioni: And all of these should also be considered as a graphic form of communication, right. And not just writing but three dimensional graphic communication that brings together elements, diverse sculpture realm, song, gesture and divination tools. number, color, hoodoo identifiers and the light.
James Padilioni: So that's my set up in the frame so that way you know how I'm thinking about these kinds of phenomena. And I wanna show you these case studies. We'll start with Ella Watson, so this is from 1942, Washington DC. Ella Watson was a charwoman or a custodian for the Farm Security Administration. At this time this photo was taken she had worked there for 26 years. She was photographed by Gordon Parks as part of the new deal programs of the FSA where they were documenting poverty and the kind of everyday lived experience of impoverished Americans. So this photo American Gothic where he has her posing with her broom and her mop is the most popular of that set but there are over 90 of them taken, not only did he take pictures of her at work but she invited him back to her house and then he ended up going to her church as well, which is where we really get to, or at least this is where my research comes in here.
James Padilioni: So this photograph has been analyzed recently and this suite of photographs has been analyzed recently by a few art historians and religious studies scholars. And here is Martin right there and this is Ella Watson's two grandchildren and several other religious figures. Saint Therese of Lisieux, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sain Joseph, Sain Anthony, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. But what is important from here, and there's a lot of things that I could say about all of this.
James Padilioni: To get to the quick points, or not the quick points but I guess the ones that I want you to take away, is that recently the scholarship that has been written around Ella Watson's private devotion to life, and I'll just flash these pictures for you. Colleen McDaniel and Sally Promey have both approached it but they've done so in an oscillation between Protestant and Catholicism, and thinking about, is this Catholic? Is it Protestant? So for her part, Colleen McDaniels, when she goes through all of these elements she says, "Parks might have introduced the bible in order to make." So Gordon Parks, the photographer, "Might have introduced the bible in order to make Ella Watson's prayer life look more Protestant, in this way she fit better into the "Negro Church"."
James Padilioni: And so she's thinking about this picture here where she's reading the bible to her grandchildren, and that's her daughter here in the back. And this other photo where the bible is added to the dresser because it's not in this one, right. That the speculation is, well maybe Gordon Parks as a photographer wanted this to look more like a Protestant black situation. Maybe, right? Okay.
James Padilioni: Sally Promey in her treatment of this, she focuses in on the materiality of the actual statues themselves, writing in documenting chalkware which was a early to mid 20th century kitsch material that was used for devotional objects. And she says, "Both Protestants and Catholics made Christian use of this whitest of white medium, though Catholics apply houses and manufacturers more frequently produced figural objects drawing attentions to such things as skin color, devotional postures and bodily comportment. In a Christian culture of conversion that metaphorically and scripturally equated whiteness with purity and salvation, chalkware was not a neutral medium in material politics." And again, I'm not gonna disagree that white signifies whiteness in a white supremacy framework, but in both of those cases, trying to figure out what these material signs might read in a only Christian oscillation, right. That one element like adding the bible to this becomes the toggle point between Protestant of Catholic. Although they do mention that she's a member of a spiritual church, and I said that we would get back to that. So before trying to figure out what's happening with her dresser, let's look at her church.
James Padilioni: Gordon Parks entered it into the archives at Sain Martin's Spiritual Church, although that was not the actual name of it, it is the [Verback 00:25:47] Memorial Church, named after the pastor who founded it, Pastor [Verback 00:25:53]. But Saint Martin's must have been at least the significant name of the idea that he took away. And I have a suspicion why, but you'll see.
James Padilioni: This spiritual churches Zora Neale Hurston writes about them back in 1931 saying that a strong aroma of Hoodoo clings about them. And this are photos from Ella Watson's church in 1941. You can see the way people are dressed, it kinda looks like it's maybe a Pentecostal situation or she might be a nun if you didn't know that this wasn't a Catholic Church perhaps. There here is a rose, roses in a bath, so it's a kind of a ritual floral preparation, I would call it an omiero if we were dealing with Santeria, but it's not that. This photograph here is looking at the at the altar of this church from the back, I'll explain some details in a second, but you can see Sain Martin is across the top of this threshold in word form. This here is Sain Martin in statue for. And so the spiritual church movement has multiple lines of origin, and as a black religious movement we can turn to Mother Anderson as a pivotal figure who moved from Chicago down to New Orleans to start her first spiritual church.
James Padilioni: But preceding her and influencing the ambient of spiritual ideas was the 1948 Fox sisters and the rappings that started. We also have Allan Kardec's 1860s French spiritism when they're doing seances. So all of these elements make their way together in New Orleans and in the spiritual church institutionalization, that one might think of it as a Kongo revival movement, especially if you keep in mind what we have already established about Hoodoo having the strong West Central African component to it. So while it can't be stated that all Hoodoo practice incorporates Catholicism, although Zora Neale Hurston noted that a lot of Hoodoo does have a Catholic varieties and then there's Protestant variates, and then all spiritualism doesn't incorporate Catholicism. You get this kind of Venn diagram, at least in this case, this is one of the spiritual churches that is both Catholic and Hoodoo.
James Padilioni: Stephen Wehmeyer explains that spiritual churches, "Blend Roman Catholic iconography and material culture, altar, statuary, priestly vestments, et cetera, with energetic Pentecostal preaching style and scriptural [inaudible 00:28:31] to Jesus. Prophecies, sprit communication, laying on of hands and other ecstatic forms of worship are employed by some of the most gifted ministers and bishops." So there's a lot more that I could say about that church but I'm gonna cut it right here because what I want you to look at is this threshold that we have that separates the altar from the inner altar. Where Sain Martin is in word graphic is flanked at the top but then, like I mentioned before, the statue form of him sits on the side as well.
James Padilioni: Inside this space you have people standing there wearing mortar boards and cap and gowns looking like graduates. They are graduates of the Saint Martin's metaphysical school, which is why I think that Gordon Parks got this kind of confusing though that everything is Saint Martin's. Saint Martin's refers to the people in that little room, and the Saint Martin's metaphysical school was a school designed for members on the church so that way they could work on their mediumship skills, to develop their gifts of prophesy and laying on of hands and those kinds of things.
James Padilioni: What you also see is this diamond with a five point start in the middle with really no other context around it at all, and maybe that's a Christian symbol but I think we're really pushing it, right. Maybe it's star, it's not a star of David so for me that is the sign that solidifies that this is a Kongo recreation, this is the element of the Catholic Hoodoo that is showing itself on the wall in that variation of the cosmogram, not the four pointed circle, the idea of all those different variations that I showed you in those charts of diamonds and starts also showing up.
James Padilioni: The other things that makes this interesting is that there was a spirit in the south called Uncle, and Uncle spirit was described by a Hoodoo practitioner as having a clock in his belly and this is in, I should actually get the name right, it's Harry Hyatt Middleton, I always get those, which one is the first name and the middle name, but. Harry Hyatt Middleton documents that the Uncle spirit had a little clock in his stomach and was a watcher, and so Stephen Wehmeyer compares that to this idea of the Ndoki as a watching figure and that Martin is here underneath this clock. I don't think that's a random positioning. There's another photograph of this church, let me explain this a little bit better. Gordon Parks took a picture somewhere in this church that on the wall is a photograph, right? And in the wall photograph is the Martin Statue in a different location in this church. So I know that at some point in between the wall picture being hang up and the day that Gordon Parks showed up in 1942, the Martin statue was deliberately moved underneath that clock, it wasn't like it just randomly got there. And so the positioning of Martin underneath the clock is evocative of him having this cosmic knowledge of times and seasons in this dikenga understanding. Also Saint Martin's being the threshold between that metaphysical knowledge of expanded spiritual knowledge and hypnosis.
James Padilioni: We also have the element of sunrise which with the cross in the middle might seem like a Christian resurrection symbol, but if we're looking at the sunrise we're facing the symbolic [inaudible 00:32:20] and I don't know if that's the actual [inaudible 00:32:25] I might have to get an old DC city map to find out. But again, if we're thinking about the cosmic realm as this chart of the souls through the sky that is modeled on the sun's journey through the sky, then to look at the sunrise with a cross in the middle, to see Saint Martin over the threshold, it's these graphic forms that double, or triple even, in various different configurations here.
James Padilioni: So going back though, to the altar. What I most important is that you have a cross mark hanging in the of her mirror, where the mirror like the water that Marta Moreno Vega identified and Stephen Wehmeyer had talked about mirrors in Hoodoo that what is most interesting about the mirror is what's happening on the other side of it because the mirror is the [inaudible 00:33:13] water that separates spirit and material worlds, right? And so this altar is at least potentially contrative and a cosmogram.
James Padilioni: And if you were to look at it, the reflection of these candles lined up and then going into the mirror would make a cross, right. You would actually have a cross here if you could be standing there in front of it. The other element here that I think is really critical is the little elephants because elephants, and this is from the [King Cairo 00:33:41] Company Hoodoo catalogs that were making their way around the early, mid 20th century as commodification was hitting the urban migration of the great urban black migration during the great migration. You're getting the deep south Hoodoo culture transitioning where people are not fashioning everything by hand anymore but they're buying things, right. And so Hindu icons, in this lucky ring as a mystically symbol of the great elephant, headed Hindu god of good luck, I guess. But it adds too conjurative elements and the mystic power of her dresser and in some way might also be an African miniaturization 'cause elephants are also African, right? So I don't know if she's thinking that that elephant is Hindu of if that elephant reminds her of Africa perhaps.
James Padilioni: Next case study. But ask me more about all of that 'cause I have more to say. This is Sancista Brujo Luis, who is a practicing espiritista, he's also, he practices Sanse so that's why Sancista comes in. He calls himself a brujo because he practices brujeria as well. He's a santero, a little bit of everything. He's a palero, practitioner of the Kongo Cuban tradition Palo Mayombe. Let's see, am I missing anything else? He's also presidente de mesa and he has also received ceremonies in 21 Divisiones, which is Dominican Vudú. He's all over the creolized Caribbean in his practices.
James Padilioni: This is one of his videos, I'll just show it to you, but you see here. I was watching this video one day not looking for Martin de Porres but it was there and it opened up another camino in my own research. [Spanish 00:35:55]
James Padilioni: You get the idea. There is another story to be told here about 21st century cyber space as another venue for African diasporic religions. His YouTube channel since September 2011 has gained 30000 subscribers, he has 339 videos that he's posted or uploaded and they have a mass. This is as of August 2018 so I might need to update this. Three point four million views, so he has big footprint in this cyber spiritual spaces. And he's even started to branch into Wicca traditions which is interesting.
James Padilioni: For all these reasons I approach him as a competent participant and I'm gonna be quoting from his book, as well he has a book that he published in 2015 called Luz y Progreso. He knows a lot about these traditions 'cause he's studied them in ways that maybe not your average practitioner has had to think to write a book about it. But it also makes him a good informant. So here is a still of the bóveda that has Martin the Porres on it and all of these. Again, there is a lot that I could say here but just to get quick to the point, I wanna focus in on these panels or pañuelos that are hanging in front and how they correspond with either the statuary or some of the sacred objects that are on here.
James Padilioni: This whole configuration is a metrial representation of the cuadro espiritual. And Sancista Brujo Luis defines these ideas, "We are all born into this world in the company of the principal spirit guide, a patron saint and a guardian angel assigned by us by papá dios. They lead us along the path of living a well rounded and stable life, while at the same time they watch over us through the tribes and tribulations of physical existence. As time passes and we grow from adolescent to adulthood we accumulate wisdom through the experiences of life. We also accumulate more spirits that become a part of one's cuadro. These spirits have many functions. Some aid us in learning, other in work, some in dealing with difficulties, and still yet other help us in healing." And so his cuadro is pretty developed, he has been practicing for quite a while here and he, each time that you, as someone's faculties develop and as you learn through meditation and though other techniques exactly which spirits are in each of your commissions, then you add elements to the bóveda. So it grows in mirror with your own spiritual development. So this one is quite developed and his facultades must also be as developed alongside of him.
James Padilioni: These different commissions are El Santisimo, so this is what they all stand for. El Santisimo who represents papá buen dios todopoderoso as he phrases it, the almighty god. Then you have a principle head spiritual guide which is also known as a santinela. Then there's the commission of the saints, en las siete potencias Africanas. So already there I'm not sure if he's referring to Catholic saints or if he meets African diasporic santos. But the Catholic saints and the siete potencias Africanas have their own interesting relation.Then there is a commission of the Kongos negros, esclavos [inaudible 00:39:32]. So here you have a Francisco and down the ground, it's hard to see, oh it's hard for me to see, I don't know if you were seeing it. Yeah, okay, that happens for you too. So there are some African figurines that are on the ground. You see them there now? Okay. So those are your Kongos.
James Padilioni: Then you have a commission of Indios. There's a commission of gitanos, orientales, árabes, all right, arabs, hindus, orientals. I don't like saying these things. Espiritismo is like the colonial ... The psychoanalytic read of this is this is everybody that the Spanish is afraid of that somehow showing back up on this bóveda too. But then you also have familiar spirits and muertos, the family members that are deceased. Antepasados, ancestrors that are a little further, and then espíritus necesitados, bendita ánima solas, the soul of purgatory.
James Padilioni: When I've talked to Brujo Luis and asking him exactly where, which way does Martin show up in this cuadro. He told me that he has was grandfather's patron saint, and so Martin is here in the cuadro in the position of the blood ancestor line. But his pañuelo color brown is also the same color that one would use for the commission of chamanes, chamans, brujos, hierbateros and trabajadores espirituales, so people who do spiritual work because brown and its cognate green both signify the earth, and so herbalism knowledge. Brown is also used for the Kongo Commission. And the Kongos this is how they're described by Brujo Luis. "They are our warriors and very aggressive in nature. They aid in removing black magic, defending against the cold enemies and protection from the dark arts and necromancers." So that idea of the Ndoki which is a bit of an aggressive, the figurine that I showed you before. Those Ndokis are believed to be more aggressive or watchful. And I don't know if aggressive makes it seem like they're evil or bad in some way, but you would want an aggressive watchdog if you had people trying to break into house or something. So there's nothing wrong with an aggressive watcher if it's only being used in defense, right?
James Padilioni: The other thing about this, did you see the way the still from the video, you see Sancista Brujo Luis is actually feeding or activating the statue. Looks like there is a bottle of liquor there and this might be Martin incense, it's hard to exactly tell but he's got palo santo in his hand. This is a picture of an escobita as he described it to me, a little broom that he makes for Martin. Martin's nickname is Fray Escoba, Brother Broom.
James Padilioni: This goes all way back to the Colonial Period in Peru. Because he was a donado or a servant in the convent he was known as Brother Broom because you could always see him holding his broom, or at least that's the way the colonial iconography and mythology takes shape. And so to this day his nickname Fray Escoba, Brother Broom, is popular in Latin America. And so making a broom for him becomes part of, even within the Catholic tradition, when I went to Lima, Peru to do research at the actual convent that he lived in, people were selling brooms right outside the church. And it's because it's him it's like the broom is a neutral Catholic symbol in this relation. But if there were any other broom being sold offshore it would immediately take on those brujería connotations as it does here.
James Padilioni: Speaking of brooms, the last thing, this is a segue out of the last case study. I asked Sancista Brujo Luis if he had ever seen someone call upon San Martin during a healing where an espiritista medium goes into a trance and is actually doing [inaudible 00:43:45]. And he said that he has seen it, it's called santigado and it's been a long time because as he said the old people are the ones who used to do this and that sadly those traditions are dying out.
James Padilioni: I'm thinking of this idea of the broom and trying to carry the broom line through. I'm not talking about it too much but you saw American Gothic, right? With Ella Watson is holding her broom turned upside down. So it's crazy to say this, in the book, I'm so used to say this in my dissertation, but in the book that broom element will carry through, I just don't have time to talk about it now, but this is a Mexican Curanderismo ritual called de barriendo el susto, sweeping away the sickness, sweeping away evil, where brooms as magic objects can change fortunes or they're sweeping away negative energy, they clear things out. The Kongo would call this [inaudible 00:44:43] which is a broom sweeping ceremony. So we have an account of Martin showing up in a healing trance ritual setting, in a Mexican Curanderismo setting. From 1977, as my segway. Luis hasn't seen it happen in the Puerto Rican community in a while and I'm trying to see maybe if it's still happening, is it happening in other communities.
James Padilioni: I found an account from 1977 in Texas where a Mexican medium had Martin show up. This is documented by the journalist John Davidson, so he's an Anglo-Saxon journalist who as he said, "Went out to look for voodoo practitioners and curanderos across Texas." And he shows up and this is how he describes it in this center in the [inaudible 00:45:33]. "The impact of the incense-filled dark room was immediate. Above, a large round light pulsed purples and reds like the magnified eye of a fly and there was the echoing sound of a recorded Latin mass. The room was as thick with religious and magical icons as with incense, and it took a moment to sort out the images of Christ, Buddha, and the Virgin Mary among the various saints, spiritualists, and folk saints. Christmas streamers hung from the ceiling and there were three sky-blue pulpits for the sun, the moon, and the stars. Mister Castro and two other men took the pulpits, the five women in white sat together, and we all formed a circle sitting around the room." And then after a while he says there's people were singing and praying and trembling rose and then the trembling fell. And trembling rose and then the trembling fell and nothing happened.
James Padilioni: And then finally, "A stolid-looking woman in white slumped in her seat next to the woman with red hair. She nodded a moment to the droning prayers, then jerked up. Short panting gasps escaped her as she rose automatically to her feet. The gasping accelerated, her arms began to swing, and she rocked back and forth in her sensible black oxfords as if attempting a leap into cold space. Chilled incomprehensible words trembled from her mouth, and it appeared from the swinging arms that she was launched in flight. Everyone rose and the circle revolved before her, each person stopping to be touched blindly with her hands. I didn't understand anything she said, but Castro said the spirit was San Martin de Porres, the black Peruvian saint who cares for the poor. He was healing us through her hands."
James Padilioni: So that account is interesting because it seems like Martin was enjoying a heyday in the '70s as [Charo 00:47:08] and [Xaviera 00:47:08] who are documenters of Mexican Curanderismo along the Texas border, they said that Martin was growing. They published in 1981 that over the last 15 years up to that point, so from around 1966, Martin was growing and attracting a considerable following along the Tex-Mexican border. And he becomes a saint in 1962 so I think that timing there, there was a bump up in the '60s and '70s and other things were happening along the Tex-Mexican border with Martin as well. But however much that heyday might have been enjoyed during the '70s, his association with Mexican folk healing persists into the 21st century.
James Padilioni: Between July 2014 and January 2016 I undertook four ethnographic field trips to the northern suburbs of Atlanta Georgia, specifically the towns of Lilburn and Norcross in Gwinnett County to observe folk Latinx devotions to Martin de Porres. Gwinnett County like many regions in the Nuevo South has recently experiences what [Sergo 00:48:09] [inaudible 00:48:11] "Hispanic hyper growth. A demographic explosion in which Hispanics have increased nearly 400 percent in some of these northern Georgia towns since the 1990 census and I bet you the 2020 census will have that be a much bigger leap." In the last 30 years, dozens of botanicas, hierberias and other proveyors of magical religious items popular in folk Latin religion has sprung up along Buford highway which is described as containing, "The greatest ethnic owned business concentration in the South Eastern United States and the seven mile corridor is known as international corridor according to the Atlanta better business bureau."
James Padilioni: So I visited 11 botanicas located in several shopping malls, typical of the Latin American style, this wide open spaces filled with kiosks and I found Martin iconography in five of those. In Plaza Latina one kiosk sold Martin velas, candles, alongside a large selection of herbs, so that picture of those herbs from earlier. Few shelves over he was there next to Niño Fidencio de Jesús who is a popular Mexican folk curandero from the state of Nuevo León. And this right here, this large amulet that I found not for sale but over top of a, I asked the shop keeper if I could take a good picture of it, so I have it in my hand here but he had this kind of hanging over his doorway, but it's not like a real door 'cause these are open kiosk so it was kind of just like pinned. But this amulet is known as el Secreto de la Virtuosa Herradura. Here is Martin de Porres right here on his most famous prayer card iconographic figures. And this is a very popular charm in Mexican Curanderismo and folk Catholic practices. It's been documented in other scholarship as far as off as Toluca, Mexico. There are el Secreto de la Virtuosa Herradura has also been seen in Arizona.
James Padilioni: Eliseo Torres who's a new Mexican curandero and a scholar says that these amulets are basically plastic bags containing a number of items or trinkets and each item in the bag is significant. We also have this account from Jim Griffith, it's published in his book Hecho a Mano. This is from Arizona where Martin Caballero who's also the main saint here on this is next to Martin de Porres again.
James Padilioni: Also Eva Castellano who's a curandera in Oregon, it's documented that on her family altar there was a statue of San Martin because he performed the miracle for her family, but then San Martin Caballero was also there because, "As she says the authorities have to be on the altar." And so this Martin, Martin doubling, it's an interesting phenomena that at least we've got several examples of it now. And the other thing about this, you have the horseshoe here is wrapped in shiny red satin with gold, the horseshoe was ringed with garlic cloves that also have these little gold sequins on top. And all the shiny aspects is what we would call apotropaic magic, but it's repellent, red and gold as this kind of power colors.
James Padilioni: Because what these herraduras are doing are, when they're set up in shops, and again, this is also in a shop, it's not for sale, this is for the shop keeper's own well being. And that you would want not only something good coming into the store but you don't want this, you don't want shoplifters, right? So these types of amulets when they're put in stores are doing this kind of repellent work or kind of Ndoki type guard dog, right?
James Padilioni: It might be interesting to think about these forms of Mexican Curanderismo coming into Georgia as a return and not the first time migration. Hoodoo folklorist Catherine Yronwode documents that there is a very similar Hoodoo hand as it's called from Waycross Georgia in 1940. She cites it in reference to Harry Hyatt Middleton who's a folklorist who documented a lot, thousands of these accounts where he went all through the South.
James Padilioni: He was a, I believe an Anglican Minister, was it? Which is such an interesting, why an Anglican Minister? Is the Anglican Church the American version? No. Episcopal. How he got interested in that is another interesting story but someone tells him, this is the account. "Take a horseshoe and dress it in red." And then Middleton says, "Dress it in red?" And the person says, "Dress the horseshoe over in red and place it in front of the do backwards and forwards and you'll run good business."
James Padilioni: Middleton was using dialect so I guess I'll talk about that later. "What do you mean you dress it in red, what do you do?" "You take and get it, you have to get it over the stove. Get a red piece of cloth and you just wind that, you know, that horseshoe all over in that place and put it over the door in the back and you won't have any trouble by the customers. You're gonna draw more then." So this is what someone in Georgia in 1940s said, "Get a horseshoe, wrap it up in red and put it over the door, it will keep bad customer away and bring in good ones." Middleton then saw the horseshoe that this man was talking about and described it as perhaps the largest hand ever wrapped in red.
James Padilioni: There are other accounts of horseshoes that are wrapped in shiny materials like foils, and again I think it's something with does shiny effects. You also have flash that Robert Farris Thompson talks about as an aesthetic but has a spiritual value. Shiny, flashy objects. So it's hard to say which comes first, the Mexican herradura amulet or the Hoodoo hand, but there's clearly a commonality in their special and aesthetic aspect. And as noted above John Davidson when he was going around Texas in 1977 documenting Hoodoo and, or as he said Voodoo and Curanderismo. He's in East Texas, a region where poor blacks and Mexicans alike were visiting the same Hoodoo candle shops and he reports this at Stanley's Drugstore in Houston he saw a Mexican woman rummaging through a shelf of amulets, charms and crucifixes while a black woman in rundown, his quote, "In rundown house shoes was lingering over the magical powders." Could you see black and Mexican people sharing the space of that store. When he visited the hoodoo Doctor Perry a few miles away, he sat in the waiting room behind the black woman next to a Mexican family.
James Padilioni: So you have this really interesting zone in East Central Texas where the cotton fields of East Texas start to blur into, as you see in here, this is an old map going back to the early 19th century but all of the parts of Texas right around here where the Mexican Chicano population after Texas becomes part of the United States is still there and then the cotton fields are there. The reason why Texas was annexed by the United States was so that cotton slavery could expand there. So I think there might be some really interesting work that could be done on East Central Hoodoo and Curanderismo and thinking about the Catholic influences in Hoodoo not only being centered in New Orleans but that we have this further western Latin zone as well.
James Padilioni: And the other thing that I think [inaudible 00:56:12] says this is that Katrina Hazzard-Donald's discussion around several plants, High John, Low John the Conqueror, but one of them she identifies as being related, or perhaps the same as the [Jalapa 00:56:26] plant which is from the Yucatan Peninsula and relates that back to an 18th century escaped slave.
James Padilioni: And so I bring this conversation together to consider the possibility that there is a mutual and shared heritage of horseshoe amulets and then wider folk healing and magical practices between indigenous Mexican and back to Congolese Africans. And as much as the horseshoe I photographed can be a prose of an index of the rapid expansion of the Latin American migrant community there, right. Here is Georgia on the border of Spanish Florida. We can think of these elephants perhaps in Latin America or the Latinx diaspora returning to Georgia just as new layer on top of the thick accumulations of black diaspora ritual and magic performance.
James Padilioni: So the last slide that I have for you is one that I just kind of threw in there today and this is something that I was talking with Yvonne about very recently. The book Mama Lola that is beloved to many of us who have studied diasporic religious traditions, I've never seen this particular copy. I don't which edition this is or maybe they changed, they're like several different versions of the copy of the front cover. But this one I noticed has Martin de Porres on Mama Lola's author and it looks like a Paket Kongo next to them.
James Padilioni: But I'm not going to open up another, right now I can go to a whole another we can do this whole thing again. I'm showing you this though because I think what's more important than tracing Bakongo genealogical lines of descent, what is really interesting to me is the intimate and practical analysis of how these altars arrange and order the lives of their attendants and their [servatours 00:58:13], right.
James Padilioni: Martin works, and it doesn't matter if he's from the Congo or from the urban land or if he was Catholic. In the lives of the people who practice and invoke and whose stand for and make gestures to [inaudible 00:58:33] their altars, he works. And not only does he work but he gets worn out and you can see it, right? This statue is worn, it's been touched, it probably had candle wax dripped all over it numerous times. And that is not a piece of art that's just sitting there for observation.
James Padilioni: In her work on African diasporic spirit mediumship practices in Chicago, Elizabeth Perez recognizes that the people who practice that, African Americans and Afro Latinx folks who are practicing each other's tradition. She says that these practices are, "Seen to deliver access to forms of knowledge and impossible to obtain otherwise, and regardless of their Afro Atlantic beginnings, they work."
James Padilioni: And that's what I want to close with and think about. How Martin shows up in these ritual contexts because he works, right? He's ethicatious, he oversees and guards his devotees like an Nkisi Ndoki. He interphases between the world of spirit and the world of matter, and he stands at the crossroads and the threshold offering a healing balm protection to his devotees. Thank you.