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Los Misterios

by Nely Morel

Even before I knew what my grandmother did, I wanted to be like her: Igualita, pin-pun.

Africa hugged the parts of my grandmother that were taught to be neglected and frowned upon. Africa kissed the top of her head, y Papa Dios summoned Africa to do the same to me.

God has a way of doing things, and I've always been told not to question it.

God gave me Africa for hair. Tamarindos from El Agua Dulce for the iris of my eyes and smeared a whole cup of Piloto Dulce de Leche on my skin. There wasn’t a beat I missed with these eyes, the biggest brownest things you can see. You can plop my eyes out and use them as the same marbles we use to play Belluga. These are the same marble eyes I used to scan the shack that housed los Misterios. Belie Belcan. Anais Pies. Santa Marta La Dominadora. Santa Bárbara. El Barón.

Amongst the many others, whose pictures and statues remained propped up with many different offerings on their altar. Agua bendita pooled freshly in a small fountain. This was home to many, sacred for us all. I didn’t like being enclosed in the shack; I felt as though someone might just pop up and talk to me. Or better yet, scold me; I hate being scolded. My grandmother made a beautiful home for all the Misterios and ancestors to live, and so she could practice the many gifts Papa Dios had given her.

Around our neighborhood, whispers y chisme would sweep the streets of my grandmother being a witch. I would proudly declare that she was and that I, too, wanted to be one. Little me didn’t understand that when they anointed my grandmother a witch, it was with ill intent, not admiration. People, especially my paternal side of the family, would say, “Esas no son cosas de Dios!” Still, I couldn’t understand how something so magical couldn’t be.

As a child, if I was comfortable around you, you couldn’t pay me to shut up; you’d have to feed me to get some sort of silence. I’d ramble on about the adventures I’d taken on with my grandmother. There wasn’t an Orasanta I’d missed. I’d wait outside of the home my grandmother was working. I’d plop myself in a small wooden children’s chair, recite the prayers, and joyfully sing the songs after. Más chisme would sweep through; somebody would ask, “Hay y porqué ella tiene tanto rosario puesto? Ella está muy chiquita, no se va a casar si sigue!”

Wandering ears would wonder why I attended so many funerals; it wasn’t a children’s place! I simply wanted to be like abuela. I, too, wanted to be close to God. I felt closest when I was accompanying her; it felt astonishing to remedy the needy.

I picked up my first Tarot deck at the tender age of 7. My paternal family would have been in shambles at this revelation, but I remained silenced because I wanted to discover more. I wanted to learn about los Misterios. I started practicing, I started reading, and the people were awed; shocked that I somehow knew what I was doing. Little did I know mami didn’t want me to walk that path.

My paternal side of the family did not want to entertain anything related to 21 Divisiones. Catholic Church and its lessons were implemented. I was going to follow the Catholic way one way or another, a la buena o la mala. They were going to “save” me. I needed no saving. It made no sense why women never had a high position within the religion, and the more I questioned, the more I fussed, and the more I dismissed. I could hear the irritation in their tone, vibrating right through each syllable.

Confusion arose from this even more when I came to the states. I remember walking into the train and asking mami if what we did was witchcraft; mami’s eyes flared, “Como! Claro que no, como que witchcraft. It’s not witchcraft at all! We don’t talk about it publicly; people don’t understand!” That was the end of that conversation.

When visiting friends’ homes, their parents had a way of noticing that I wasn’t Christian or Catholic. They, too, thought I needed saving, just like my paternal side of the family. They’d size me up and ask me, “Ahh, eso es un escapulario. Tu eres Cristiana, Católicamente, oh que?” After I revealed where my heart and spirit lay, I’d be questioned incessantly.

I was told stories of how “eso no son cosas de Dios mi niña” or how I must repent and come to an understanding. I’d listen and try to give in my input, but to them, I was just a child that knew nothing. Afflicted by negativity, I thought, wow, maybe God doesn’t like me. I felt lost. I considered that perhaps I truly had no understanding of what I’d been practicing considering it was a practice that mustn’t be spoken of outside of the home.

I began to understand why mami insisted it was no one’s business. Why do many shy away from the question, and why are our altars hidden? People didn’t understand nor wanted to. Someone always had a bad experience that led them to see demons y Satanas.

I ceased to believe for some time—strayed away, and thought I needed something safer. Cowardly, I renounced the magic I fell in love with. Unable to stay away from reasoning, I couldn’t be scared of something that was innate.

With gained knowledge, I’ve become aware of how much people demonize the practice of love. Catholicism on the island and how it was implemented. In a community where they say, do as they say, not as they do, it's easy to inherit a shame that does not belong to you.

Que tapen ellos el sol con propio dedo. I refuse.


Nely Morel is a creative Cibaeña that resides in NYC. Nely creates all types of art & is showcased on Instagram @NelysJomo

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