My Shamans Witches and Magic class took a field trip to the Botanica San Lazaro in Clifton. I asked students to write their reactions. I found their responses so interesting I'm posting some excerpts here.
"I felt happy with all the resources they had. It was to the point where I started to cry when I went upstairs and found the yoga / Buddhist room. I know for sure that my friend and I with some other friends will come back again...I did not feel inferior for believing in those beliefs like what E. B. Tylor would say. I felt equal to every human who entered the store."
"Who knew that being in a small room can change a lot of things and change your perspective on life? Even though it was a small place, it was filled with many different beliefs, filled with items that are very powerful and have so many spiritual entities."
"I personally found the store to be a tad creepy because I hadn't been exposed to that environment before...this experience opened my mind in realizing that magic isn't weird. It's really no different than praying to a god."
"Sir James Frazier [sic] believed that magic, religion, and spirituality were the practices of barbarians, but I believe that the very existence of the botanica proves otherwise. People from all sorts of religions and all different walks of life go to the shop, your average Joe and quite possibly people like doctors and businessmen. The store welcomes these people and is a space where no one is judged for their beliefs. All that go to the Botanica are equal within its walls. "
"The field trip was not at all what I expected it to be. I imagined a place much darker, more like an evil place, but it was actually opposite: welcoming. [the owner] wasn't scary and didn't try to sell us anything but instead explained how the candles work for different people.
He explained you can't just buy a money candle and light it and expect money... your money might come from success instead of believing you'll just get it...although I really don't believe in magic it was an interesting shop of sacred things, candles, oils, and I learned interesting things. I really liked that no one that worked there tried to force their beliefs on me or force me to buy anything. I was able to sit back and learn. ... overall this was a unique experience that I will never forget and made this class feel more real, like more than just a class."
"I was thoroughly impressed with the Botanica in Clifton. Its wide selection of books, ingredients, icons, and tools were all I could ask for. After some browsing, I began to ponder on Frazer's law of homeopathic and contagious magic and was able to apply this knowledge to classify objects...musical instruments such as a rattle make the same noise as the rain, the law of similarity became applicable and thus came to the conclusion that a rain dance with the rattle would invoke the skies to produce rain. There were also many components that fell into the category of contagious magic such as crystals, seed bracelets, and other objects that require touch in order to work.
The thought processes that conduct magical rituals, incantations and words are far more advanced than Sigmund Freud believes and writes in his work. It requires immense logic and critical thinking as well as pure human and natural power to even comprehend the principles of any sort of magic. The primitive people of which Freud does not know everything about had the strangest influence of spirits and Gods in order to create these laws and complex rites of the magical world. How could Freud truly understand people and principles that follow God(s) if he cannot fathom faith himself? ....the staff of the store ... provided the wisdom and positivity I needed for my own spiritual quests."
"The trip to the botanica has been one of the most interesting and eye-opening experiences I have had. It is incredible to see such a mix of cultures and beliefs together in one place. There is one thing, however, that stands out across all the different belief systems. That is the faith given to such things that we saw in the store...lighting the candle won't just do it; it's all in the mind. It's omnipotence of thought. It is believed; therefore it is real.
The same thing happens with a stone that I bought. The stone represents strength and clarity ... Do I believe it? No. Do I think the man was right, that the spirits were calling and guiding me to buy it? No. I believe that the rock was beautiful and I just really l liked it because it is my favorite color, green. Maybe because I do not believe in its power, it will not work for me.
There are so many figures that Freud would have had in his office, to remind himself that he was above them all. Every culture was represented. I will go back to see what I can learn."
"I arrived at the store after everyone had left and didn't stay long. Immediately, I had a bad vibe...Do you want to confuse your enemies? There's an oil for that! It seems very much like sympathetic magic, perhaps because the herbs which create the oil are like the qualities they represent.
I have a hard time believing these oils work. If one believes burning herbs like sage can clean spirits from a home, then so be it. I personally think the shop could do with some spiritual cleansing, ironically. Perhaps through working with the dark side, the owner has opened up his doors to free-roaming spirits of all kinds...I do think anyone can be vulnerable to certain tendencies when the door is already opened. I may go back to the store with my friend who claims she sees spirits...Freud would call my friend schizophrenic in an instant. I find myself in the middle, which perhaps means my interest in the supernatural represents my lack of evolution, even as an atheist."
"I was completely overwhelmed upon walking into the store. I have never seen such a wide assortment of artifacts and icons. I was so shocked that they had it all mixed together like that, but happy about it as well. Once he started explaining to us the spiritual connection behind everything it felt just right because personally that's how I view religion.
We all worship the same God, we just give him different names. And that's where we got it wrong in my humble opinion. I saw a vast amount of things, most of which I knew not their uses. : soaps, salts, baths, rocks, all labeled for some emotion or deity. Shermer said intelligent people are creative, well to come up with rituals that call for any number of the items present there in order to pray to your god or procure something is pretty creative.
I feel most of the men we've studied thus far would roll their eyes at a shop like that and shrink back in disdain. But who are we to judge? I don't believe in pretty much anything in that shop to assist me in being spiritual, however I don't see myself as better than any one customer who walked in. Most of the books weren't in English, however they seemed very insightful and interesting if not foreign in concept to me. Frazer would say all of it was for lesser people because educated people don't believe in such nonsense, but truly, what's the harm? Believe what you want to believe."
"I first picked out a crystal which caught my attention. Crystals are viewed to have metaphysical properties such as protection. I feel as if this can be related to the notion of animism which we have discussed in class. The stone is thought to have living qualities and its energy, through touch, is transferred. This is also like contagious magic...while I was skeptical, it did seem as if many synchronistic events continued to outpour. For example he took one look at me and told me I shouldn't eat red meat. I am a vegetarian. he calculated from our birthdays what gods we should worship. Mine is Yemaya. "
"The first thing that I noticed when I entered the store was the smell of incense. It brought to mind vigils and rituals, like the one described in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. ... the sale of so many kinds of plants, and the presence of so many customers during our visit, really drove home just how prevalent belief in the powers really is. It struck me as odd that there was little to no stock regarding Gaelic and Nordic faiths, but upon reflection it makes sense, as adherents to those faiths are not as prevalent in the U.S. as elsewhere. I hadn't expected to see it so crowded, as this part of New Jersey is, at first glance, more "orthodox" in faith. My favorite item was the "evil be gone" air freshener. If only it were that simple."
"I remember seeing a lot of female figurines that represent Goddesses. the male figurines that I saw were smaller and less detailed than the female ones. When I was why the male ones were smaller and appeared to be less significant, the store owner told me they were merely used for voodoo and "spells of a carnal nature."