By Katarina Hybenova
Elisabeth runs Elias Botanica on 1252 Myrtle Ave, a place where you can get religious amulets or talk to your deceased relatives.
It’s up to you which one of the Bushwick’s faces you choose to see everyday. You may choose to see galleries, trendy bars, poverty, dirty streets. Some Bushwick residents choose to see mystical and spiritual side of their every day life…
If you live in Bushwick, I am sure you have noticed a number of stores selling religious objects, amulets, candles and folklore medicine. They are called Botanicas and they are common in Hispanic countries, especially in the communities with ties to the Caribbean. Botanicas in Bushwick are not dedicated to one religion or belief nowadays, they are a “complex mixing of various immigrant populations and religious traditions, bilingualism, assimilation, and the marketing of culture… “
I have been passing by a Botanica Elias on 1252 Myrtle Ave, which is around the corner of my house, for months. I’ve often been able to smell the incense burning in front of their door for the entire mile. I have seen altars with offerings of beer, whiskey, money or candy to a statue of Jesus, or a black saint. I have also recognized statues of Buddha, elephants, and other symbols typical for Hinduism, Buddhism and other eastern philosophies.
I was intrigued but a little bit intimidated, so it was only shortly after Halloween that I found the courage to come in. Elisabeth, a co-owner of the store who is originally from Haiti, smiled at me as I requested candles for good luck. She told me that I need seven tall colorful candles, but I bought only three of them. A pink Divino Nino Jesus, green Buena Suerte and blue Pisces astrology one. As she was adding drops of incense oil and glitter into each of the candles, Elisabeth casually mentioned that they just had a burning skull appear in the store. “Right above the burned spot where the man is repairing the floor,” she said. I looked and saw a worker removing burned floor between in the door, which connects the store with the back where Elisabeth reads tarot for her customers. She offered a reading, but I respectfully declined.
A couple of months went by before I visited Elias again. Yellow and blue scarves were hanging on the door as I entered. A pale yorkshire was standing in the door and he requested constant attention as I walked in, jumping as high as up to my waist. But when I tried to pet him, he bit me. Oh well… “Alex! Don’t be needy!” A young boy from Haiti behind the counter smiled at me. His canine teeth were long and pointed. I froze. But he turned out to be really nice, so I didn’t escape right away. He said that Elisabeth was giving a reading, and let me photograph the store while I waited. An elderly woman came out from the back and left the store. Shortly, Elisabeth invited me to the back and, despite not liking being photographed, she let me take a couple of pictures of her and we talked.
When did you open the store?
About 2 and half years ago. Before that I worked in another Botanica.
Can you explain me what is the purpose of this store?
It is a religious store for people who practice mystic work, like Haitian voodoo or African magic. It is a Santeria for people who believe in miracles and that everything is possible.
So it’s not just one specific religion. Do have these religions something in common?
No, it’s not just one religion, it’s universal. It is for people in this world who believe in what we are doing here rather than to what is being done in churches. I was myself raised as Catholic, but I chose what I do. Like everyone else has a choice to explore what they believe in, and to find out about other stuff that Albert Eistein and Aleister Crowley were talking about.
What kind of spiritual work do you perform here?
Most of what we do here is Haitian voodoo. We also practice African magic and formation of the laws. Laws mean the earthly souls. The souls that pass on, but still live within us… Most of this deal with roots. There can be different divisions of saints. For example this is Saint Baba [she points at a statue of a black female saint standing on the table]. She can have four different divisions.
What about the colorful scarves on your door?
We work with colors a lot. Each color has a different meaning, and signifies a different influence. If we want to achieve peace, calmness and purity, we use white. Red is life’s blood, and signifies passion. Pink is passion too. Green is for peace among family members and for earthly things like money. Yellow is radiance, color of the sun. Black is very controversial and a lot of people choose not to use black. But I like the color black. I also like purple. Purple means dignity.
How long have you been practicing your religion?
I have been practicing a religion since I was 9, but I have been serious about this for about 7 years.
How do the people in Bushwick perceive your work here?
Three quarters of people here believe in what I do, and they have seen it work for themselves. They keep coming to me for more and more miracles, and to fix their pains in their private lives, especially their love lives, or to restore the peace in their families. They also come for financial blessings and prosperity and for spiritual cleansings. I do all these things, and it is my way of giving back. This is what I chose to do. It might not be what everyone likes, but this is my choice. When I’m gone, one of my kids will continue this tradition. This is my calling…
Do you read tarot cards?
Yes, I have 21 different decks of cards. Each person likes a different deck and they chose which one they like the best.
Is it expensive?
No, it’s $21 per consultation. But it depends, because sometimes I let the spirits to come through me, and that costs more, because then the spirits possess me. I let in the ancestors, the relatives, who speak through me with other people, with their families. It’s really touching and emotional sometimes. People feel gratified and satisfied to hear from the dead.
What about the pay you receive? I heard many different opinions. Some people say you shouldn’t accept money for this, but some say it’s necessary…
You know, for the money I get, I buy offerings, food, flowers, whatever the saints like. The rest of the money is collected for the bills. I have to pay my bills, so that I can run my business and help people. So money is not as important, but it’s a necessity to keep the store open. If the customers don’t have money, it’s ok…
Do you think you have a special gift or anyone can become a spiritual guide like you through study?
No, I don’t think that anyone can do this. I was born with a gift to see into the future. I have been able to predict a lot of things, since I’ve been doing this. A lot of people take it insignificantly, but what I predicted happens right in front of their face. Whenever I give readings to my customers, it’s accurate. If they don’t see it right away, they will see it within 2 or 3 days. I believe in myself; it’s a gift from God. I cherish the gift that I’ve been given and I will continue, although I there is a lot of controversy and a lot of people doubting… If the customers did not prove me, I would not be here.
There are so many psychics in the city. What do you think of them?
I don’t classify myself as a psychic. I’m a medium that transforms information depending on what the interest of my customers is. I can’t explain it, but what I can say is that I will not condemn any psychic or medium, because they are certified in what they are doing. I have to support them, because I believe in this, and I live it everyday. Regarding other psychics, I don’t care, I’m me, I’m original, I’m unique, I’m different from everyone else. I’m not proud of it, but I’m thankful and humble…