Joined: 9:50 PM - Jul 31, 2010

11:13 AM - Jun 23, 2014 #21

Chago had helped the older woman on the last part of their route. He felt better after having prayed to Santiago de la Vega. Yes, this was not exactly the way of Santiago he had walked almost ten years ago, but it was equally uplifting spiritually. And his fellow pilgrim, Concha, was a pleasant company that God had sent him to save and protect. Well, if he thought better, it wasn’t so clear, between them two, who was protecting whom – as both benefitted of this fateful encounter.

He had expected the crowd, the commotion, the deafening noise, as he had Santiago de Compostela and Maracaibo as comparisons. He washed his hands and face in the holy water spring, sprinkling on his head too, to keep away bad thoughts (and bad luck too, if he could), praying meanwhile to San Lazaro for healing his soul and forgiveness of his sins. He kneeled in front of the efigy of the saint, putting the offerings on the sheet. He was bringing the saint, according to Concha’s advice, a big purple candle, a coconut, dry wine, spices and incense. He had tried to buy in the market of Santiago de la Vega the same spices he had offered once to Hermione, as he was praying for the rest of her soul as well.

For the statue inside the church, he had gold and silver coins and seventeen candles. He kneeled in front of the saint, praying fervently, after having arrived with difficulty there:

”San Lazaro, friend of Jesus, brother and protector of the suffering, who knew the pains of illness and Christ's visit gave you back your life in Betania, please receive friendly our prayers in this hour of distress. Pray our Eternal Father to give us serene and sure confidence in Jesus’s power. San Lazaro performing miracles, please mediate for us with God so that we receive an answer to our prayers," he recited as he had learnt in the days prior to the pilgrimage and on the road.

He had read all the prayers for San Lazaro, according to the custom, since nine days before. Saints loved novenas. This was merely the culmination of the prayers, in front of the saint, telling him all the trouble of his heart.

”San Lazaro, I am praying for the rest of the soul of Hermione, dead violently and without a candle, nor a known tomb, may God give her the needed forgiveness. Also, God’s servant Juan Santiago is praying for good health, prosperity, and for learning which is the path he must take for honouring You. San Lazaro, help me heal my soul. Help me learn what I have to do for it, because I don’t know yet, and I want to learn it, in order to do God’s will. If possible, I would like not to be alone my whole life,” he added humblely, with a big sign of the cross.

When trying to return to the door, he had to protect Concha too, as people were scrambling around. More and more worshipers packed into the church, and suddenly, somewhere to his left, a fistfight broke out in the crowd, which a priest tried to break off, calling God in his help and the punishments of Hell for the unruly. Chago pushed Concha out, without paying attention if the unlucky priest got a flying fist or not, by mistake, before being recognized as God’s messenger.

Finally, the midnight mass started, and he listened with attention, participating as required, with all his soul and devotion.

He followed the procession in the streets, thinking it was no different than what he had done a month ago for La Chinita. Upon Concha’s silent request, even if he didn’t play his guitar like one month ago, he imitated the other dancers. There were more unusual moves for him. He hadn’t seen many holidays in Cuba, and he hadn’t taken part in any local dances, not of the kind directly imported from Spain. But the rhythm was mesmerizing, and the dancers put all their energy into this specific way of devoting to a saint. It wasn’t difficult, once getting into it, to follow the moves and clear his mind of anything else than the prayers.

It was a different experience than the Way of Santiago, but equally empowering spiritually.
Last edited by Santiago Moreno on 12:08 PM - Jun 23, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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12:01 PM - Jun 23, 2014 #22

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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

After the procession they had returned near the church. It was dawn, the beginning of the feast day, with many more people to come. Concha and Chago found a little place to sit on the ground, somewhere aside, not in danger to be trampled by the newcomers. They were tired, but happy and given that they couldn’t go to sleep yet, Concha knew what Babalu Aye was telling her to do for Oggun’s messenger, how to help him.

”I think you know that every individual has a destiny from God, a destiny fulfilled with the aid and energy of the saints, if you care to nurture a personal relation with the saints,” she told Chago while seeking for something in her bag.

She couldn't tell him directly that even since the night before, the orishas had told her what to do, why she had been sent in his way. But even those who were meant never to be initiated, could learn to respect and obey, as much as they could understand about Santeria.

”The ways to communicate with the saints might be different, as you have just seen. There are certain rites which might help in the relationship with the saints, and I am one of those who know. If you are opening your mind and your heart to the help of the saints, you will receive it. Do you want to know what obstacles stay between you and your purpose in life? Today is a day these can be revealed.”

They were in front of Babalu Aye; what better place to do her job of an italera, a reader of cowrie shells, to the glory of the orishas? Depending on what Chago would learn that he had to do, some healing process might have to be started even today, at the next procession...

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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Joined: 9:50 PM - Jul 31, 2010

12:30 PM - Jun 23, 2014 #23

Chago nodded. He had a vague idea about what she was implying, as he had met santeros before. He didn;t know the details, but he knew they were called santeros exactly because they had a special way to honour the saints. And given that he needed the saints’ help, he was ready to follow everything his brother had told him... and everything she was telling him that made sense to his logic.

Probably Josema, who knew more about God’s ways than him, would have been outraged of his thinking; or maybe not – who could be sure, given that he had also his mother’s Native blood? Anyway, Chago couldn;t fathom that Josema or any other priest might have had anything to say against some of the practices, labelling them as mere superstitions.

”Yes, I know there are some. I want to learn about my destiny and how to get the help I need,” he answered.

He watched her find a leather pouch in her bag and something else which seemed to him to be another sort of embroidered leather put on an embroidery frame, wondering what she was going to do with it.
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12:47 PM - Jun 23, 2014 #24

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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

Concha started a prayer chant from which Chago could hear only ”Ago Obi, ago Obi, ago Obi" – not that he would ever know what it meant. To many people, it would sound like one of the many litany prayers in honour of San Lazaro. Then the old woman opened the leather pouch, handing Chago a handful of shells.

”Choose four of them!” she asked.

He did it, showing them to her. The healer further mixed the four shells, invoking first the spirits in an unitelligible whisper, with their proper names – Oggun, Babalu Aye, Obi, and the others - then saying loudly the final part:

”God’s servant Juan Santiago is praying for the healing of his soul, for illumination what is his next path in life, honouring the saints, how he can gain peace, prosperity and a new love. May San Lazaro and San Santiago help him.”

She blowed on the cowrie shells before throwing them on the leather table which was, actually, the embroidery frame Chago had noticed. One of them fell on top of another, with the opening facing upward. Looking how each of them fell, she smiled and started, as italeras used to, with reciting one of the legends:

"They killed a big tiger
They cover it and kept it under the plantain trees
They gave its head to the king of Ido
The one that thrives on sacrifice
The fire that hurts
The rain that sprinkles.
Whoever attempts to attack the king of Ido
They will have their heads aching
Whoever attempts to attack King Eleyo Geji
Their hearts will pound with fear.”


Only afterwards she remembered that Chago, not having been raised with the same stories, might not know what to discern from it, so she explained him in simple words:

”You are unbalanced now, as you have in your past a loss and lots of struggle. You need persistence and leaving the past behind. The present and immediate future are full of radical changes, including a few obstacles to overcome, but the blessed state can be achieved soon, with your efforts. There will be some good news you’ll hear in the immediate future too. I also see abundant blessings for you in a more distant future, and a long life. Whoever attacks you, their hearts will pound with fear."

In her vision, the dead tiger inspiring courage to the living ones was the one Chago was mourning. Again, for him she made an exception, saying explicitely the conclusions:

"Your dead lover’s soul will be with you during your whole life, to help you, to oversee and guide your progress in life. The souls of the dead loved ones like to see tradition upheld, so don’t forget to honour her memory during holidays and think about her as a source of inspiration for everything you have to do”.

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
Last edited by NPC on 12:48 PM - Jun 23, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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10:46 AM - Jun 30, 2014 #25

Chago chose four shells from her hand, showing them to her. He felt a shiver when hearing the old woman’s prayer and her more or less unitelligible whispers. The way she was reciting the tiger story was compelling, mesmerizing... but he was a simple man who had no idea what this could mean until she told him plainly what the shells had shown her.

”I know I need to leave the past behind. I am asking for help how to do it,” he answered on a low tone, respectful to the saints and to the wise woman.

He wished for good news, and he feared the radical changes might involve, as Josema had told him, giving up his present profession. For now, he had accepted the Songbird’s request for help, because he considered the lad his apprentice too, not only Juan’s, and his friend. But he felt that, depending on how that mission would go, he might find there the sign to give up. And the fact that he was doing it for friendship, not for money, was something better in his opinion.

But yes, in any way he might interpret it, the woman knew what she was seeing. And it was hope too in her words.

”Obstacles don’t scare me,” he answered. ”With God’s help, and all the saints’, they can be overcome. And I guess I need some good news,” he added.

Her words made sense. Hermione was his love, and she had sort of told him during the vigil of Dia de los Muertos that she’d be around to help him. He felt more reassured hearing it again from her, and hearing that Hermione was the tiger from the legend she chanted.

”I will honour her memory during holidays. I want to write a song for her too when the time will be right for it.”
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11:56 AM - Jun 30, 2014 #26

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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

The man was sincere, even if totally ignorant about the way of the orishas... and not only of them. He was obviously a man of war, not knowing much except it. He was sent by Oggun... and he needed some more advice. She started singing again, softly, the song of healing, specially for him:

He took his problems to ifa
He was told to perform sacrifice,
And he performed it.
After he performed the sacrifice
He became a happy man.
He started to sing the song of ifa priests...


This was what Chago had done, even if she wasn’t exactly ifa, but only a humble italera.

”I can’t tell you exactly what your future holds, neither what you should do with your life. The future is in your hands, and with the guidance of the saints, you can create the life you want and deserve. My shell reading is bringing up some deep issues that you'll have to sort out, and you will have to change something, to do something to please the saints. This might be not too easy, but the pilgrimage in itself was not easy, and if we arrived into each other’s path at the right moment, it means the saints had it in store for illuminating both of us in a way or another. Not only the pilgrimage, but your further endeavours, if you do as told, will set you on the right path and help you grow. When you show the right devotion to the saints, they protect and bless you,” she tried to explain him in words that he might understand.

She looked for a certain amulet at her neck, she took it out and she gave it to him:

”This is something you have to wear from now on, together with your patron saint’s cross, for your protection and healing. You can dip it in the blessed water of San Lazaro’s spring when you get up from here, being sure this way that San Lazaro has blessed it as well, and that it is the most important relic from your pilgrimage. And there are more things for you to do,” she continued, searching for the right words. "The song for her is a good idea, too. You have seen, both here and now and elsewhere before, that one can honour the saints and the memory of the loved ones as well through songs and dances."

She had seen exactly which orishas he had to gain the favour of, but he wasn’t one of the called or initiated – or, well, the adventure with the dog proved he had another kind of calling than the usual one she was familiar with. Therefore, she had to tell it more simply to him, in a way which shouldn’t conflict with his Catholic faith.

”You will have to go fishing, not right now but when you’ll have time – preferably on a Tuesday of your choice. And don’t stop until you catch a catfish... or if several, the better. Give them to charity, to the ones who need them most, while keeping a small piece for yourself to eat, then pray for blessings in your life. You should also do, as I had told you already, a novena for Santa Maria Candelaria. I would have recommended you a bath with sage too, but I think the moonlight bath we had was more purifying than any other. If you follow these recommendations, things will happen exactly how I told you, she smiled encouragingly at him.

Indeed, there the plants were directly in the water... and the moonlight helped too. As a proof, she wasn't in shock anymore from the dog attack.

”You may ask me questions which can be answered with yes or no too, if you want,” she added.

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
Last edited by NPC on 12:37 PM - Jun 30, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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12:59 PM - Jun 30, 2014 #27

He didn’t need anymore her translation of the song to understand that he was the one to do what was requested from him in order to heal. He knew that if he went to Port de Paix, Madame Celestine wouldn’t have behaved much differently. And the priests gave canons after confession as well. This was nothing to wonder about. Concha’s words were wise. He was ready to show devotion to the saints, as taught.

He received the amulet with a bow of the head, in thanks. Both the chain and the pendant at its end were made of green and black beads, and the pendant had a shell like the ones she had read him the future in. It was beautiful, and small, delicate, going well with his cross.

”Yes, I’ll do it. And I have an idea – you have spoken about charity. Among the charity I will do, would you like me to help you go to La Virgen del Cobre, La Cachita he asked her directly.

When receiving the permission to ask her more questions about his future, the first he asked was his main premonition:

”Tell me, please, among the changes you have seen for me, will I have to change my profession?”

What else could he do, if he wasn't meant to be a mercenary anymore?
Last edited by Santiago Moreno on 4:00 PM - Jul 01, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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10:10 AM - Jul 02, 2014 #28

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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

Concha looked at him with surprise, after having studied his way of receiving the amulet. His reverence pleased her, but what followed made her eyes go bigger. She hadn’t expected such an opportunity to go to pay her respect to Ochun, that others knew as La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. There had never been enough money, neither the opportunity to start such a long voyage across the country.

She could imagine herself, dressed in yellow, the saint’s favourite colour, bringing sunflowers, honey and pumpkins as offerings, lighting candles for Ochun and dancing in the rhythm of the drumming ceremony. All these, at Chago’s initiative. This was the best reward for her work as an italera!

”I would like to go to La Cachita, thank you. I never thought it would be possible, though. Santiago de Cuba is far away. I have never travelled so far away from home,” she confessed. ”I’d be glad to travel again with you, and I know you’d take care of me to return safely home, no matter how long the trip.”

When asked what he wanted to know the most, Concha looked again at the four shells he had chosen, she prayed to the orishas, especially to Babalu Aye and Oggun, in an unintelligible whisper then she tossed gently the shells on the leather table. All of them fell open, which meant with the opening facing upward. Concha showed a toothy grin:

”Definitely yes, and your choice will be blessed by God and all saints.”

She looked at him, awaiting more questions. She knew one he had on his mind; would he ask it?

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
Last edited by NPC on 10:31 AM - Jul 02, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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10:48 AM - Jul 02, 2014 #29

Chago smiled back, telling her exactly what he had on his soul:

”Concha, my mother isn’t alive anymore. You could be my mother, so I am glad to be able to do for you such an important Christian thing. Surely I’ll take care of you, and we’ll return together, both now, to know where to seek for you at the end of January, and then, from the other pilgrimage. And maybe if we pray together for the rest of the soul of God’s servant Hermione, dead without a candle and I don’t know if with the last rites or not, our prayer would be heard better.”

He was aware that most people didn’t travel, all their lives, farther than up to the closest bigger town... or not even.

The fortune-telling answer made him forget breathing for a few seconds. Not exactly a surprise... still it was. So yes, it was certain he’d have to do something new. And the wise woman said it would happen with the blessing of the heaven.

”How would I know when to give up my present profession... and what to do instead?” he whispered.

Then, as she was waiting from him new questions, he asked them one by one:

”Will I succeed in my endeavour I am leaving for soon?”

He couldn’t ask more specifically. Micah the Songbird was pulling him into something challenging, especially that the young man had failed once.

After he got the answer, he further inquired:

”Will I be able to leave the past behind, and to get my soul healed?”

The actual question might have sounded equally ”Will these pilgrimages help?” but he asked it as it weighed heavily on his heart.

[align=center] -Chago’s story continues here-[/align]
Last edited by Santiago Moreno on 11:39 AM - Jul 02, 2014, edited 1 time in total.
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11:19 AM - Jul 02, 2014 #30

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CONCHA ITALERA, healer[/align]

His words made sense in a way. Babalu Aye had sent Chago in her way… first to save her life, secondly to protect her during the pilgrimage on unsafe routes, and third… to give her the possibility to meet her dream of adoring Ochun at her place. But she didn’t expect the kind words naming her mother. Her heartbeats changed rhythm, as nobody had done it for many decades. And yes, he was of the right age to be able to be her son… in theory, of course. But he was a chino and she was black. Still, he behaved with her respectfully.

”I wished my son to be like you,” she answered him with tears in her voice. ”And yes, I will pray for you and for her.”

She’d pray her style, not his.

She heard his confused whisper, answering it in turn:

”You’ll know. The saints will tell you everything at the right moment. Accept their guidance.”

As he asked again the obi, she prayed with the same words and gestures, throwing the shells on the specific, embroidered table. They fell two open, and two closed.

She took them again in her hands, without telling him anything, and she mixed them in her hands, with prayers, asking him to choose one hand. Only afterwards she told him what she had seen there:

”You might succeed, if God wants to and if you are taking all the precautions. The outcome is generally positive, but not completely. There will be unexpected twists and obstacles, so there is no better answer than maybe

Killing Rear-Admiral Duval in the middle of a ball? This could get unexpected twists and obstacles. And the “generally positive outcome” wasn’t satisfying him now. So it won’t actually be a success, he shrugged.

At his next question, the answer was again a positive yes, with all four shells falling open. Concha was glad for her adoptive son. Yes, they had eaten together bread and they had drunk together Chago’s wine. They had prayed together, danced together in the procession… what else could bond them more than the devotion for a saint, each of them in his own way?

It was meant to be a healing pilgrimage for both of them. Now the bells were sounding for a new mass, then the procession on the streets would start again, with them two in the crowd. And there was also the promise of the upcoming pilgrimage, the third one, to La Cachita, at the beginning of February.

[align=center] -Concha’s story continues here-

-THE END-[/align]

[align=center] This post has been written by ELENA[/align]
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