When Hurricane Dorian was approaching Florida as a Category 4 storm reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Miamians and South Floridians included some kind of spiritual practices in their hurricane prep plans.
In a place like Miami with rich cultural roots that came along with Caribbean immigration, this includes Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería.
It’s not difficult to drive through South Florida and read “BOTÁNICA” on a storefront. Botánicas are the religious stores where a range of spiritual needs and services are carried out, and Miami is full of them. They’re typically centered on one or more religious traditions of African origin, which depends on the nationality of the owners.
“Usually religious people, including in Ochá, Ifá, and in Palo, when natural disasters are about to occur, we try our best to feed all our saints and do whatever we gotta do spiritually to make sure our homes stay safe and our families,” said Luis Romero, an employee at Botánica Nena, a prolific botánica in Flagami focused on the Cuban religious traditions of Ochá, Ifá, Palo, and Lucumí, which are colloquially known as Santería. “It’s obvious that they’re prepping up before the hurricane comes.”
Romero said he’s noticed this by the type of products people are buying, like candles and certain animals, especially chickens and snails.
“We probably won’t be as busy as on Sunday, because asere, we’ve been so busy from Friday until today,” he said. “Everybody’s trying to stock up so they can stay home and not have to come here.
His customers, he said, as well as himself, were turning to the African deities, or orishás, who are involved with nature for spiritual mediation and protection.
“Oyá would definitely be one that they would need help from when it comes to winds, hurricanes, and storms, and also Changó,” Romero said.
Oyá is a goddess of winds and storms, and Changó is a virile god of lightning.
Not all who follow Caribbean religious traditions were counting on intervention.
“Vodou is not something like that, hurricane is hurricane,” said Laider Andre, a priest in Haitian Vodou who has lived in Little Haiti for over two decades.
Vodou is “not concerned with that,” he said, adding that something like a hurricane is something left up to God and cannot be mediated through spirits and saints.
Botánica owner Alex Escalante has owned Botánica 21 División in Allapattah for seven years, which specializes in the 21 Divisions, an Afro-Dominican religion similar to Haitian Vodou.
“Saint Barbara, Saint Isidore, and Saint Nicholas of the Sun, they’re spirits of the earth,” Escalante said of who he was seeking for protection from Dorian. “That’s why we’re asking them specifically for our protection here on earth.”
The corresponding traits of these saints within the religion signify their usefulness in times of hurricanes. St. Isidore is a saint of the earth and St. Nicholas belongs to the sun.
“We’re asking much for her to do something about the storms, the rains, and the tempests to blessed Saint Barbara,” Escalante said.
The Catholic Saint Barbara also represents the African lightning deity of Changó in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions across the Americas.
His customers, many of them Dominican immigrants like him, have been purchasing candles for both light and protection.
Escalante said he’s taking safety measures in his home like everyone, but that getting together in his botánica with other followers of the 21 Divisions for a rosary-style “holy hour” of invocation, candlelighting, and prayer was also a crucial part of preparing for Hurricane Dorian.