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  • Maestra Grace

Kindred Spirits, Different Traditions

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

I recently visited the historic The Atlantis Bookshop in London, where I had a lovely plática with its warm and engaging cultural practitioner, Geraldine Beskin. We spoke briefly about the challenges to our respective practices and how important it is to help educate people about the differences and origins of holy days -- in particular, clearing up confusion between the holy days known as Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead in Mexico), Halloween, and Samhain -- as increasingly these special days are being embraced by persons outside the holidays' respective tradition and culture.

We also chatted about the use of white sage (salvia apiana) and palo Santo since both were available at her shop. She asked me what I thought about their use by New Age practitioners and others. I told her frankly and respectfully that the sale and purchase of both is of great concern to practitioners of Curanderismo and other Indigenous traditions as it encourages the over-harvesting of both sacred plants in their native growing areas.

Geraldine was not aware that palo santo had been placed on the endangered list nor that salvia apiana, while not on the endangered list, is definitely on the to-watch-list and its continued medicinal/spiritual power and growth of grave concern to Native elders. Salvia apiana, commonly known as white sage, is native only to certain parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.

(As an aside, in Europe, artemisia vulgaris commonly known as mugwort, not salvia apiana, would have been used, and is still used today, for rituals and ceremony in British spirituality. Chamomile was and is used to remove hexes — mal trabajos as we say in curanderismo.)

Geraldine kindly gifted me some beautiful salvia apiana along with her assurance that out of respect, once it is all gone, she will no longer order nor sell either salvia apiana or palo santo, for which I am grateful. It was quite a wonderful experience to be in her beautiful temple and shop.

Nearly 100 years old, early in its founding it was a safe haven for practitioners of Pagan religious traditions. It was illegal to practice witchcraft (later re-named Wicca) in the United Kingdom until 1951. The bookshop has had many famous customers including, J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), WB Yeats, Dion Fortune, and many others. It has been written about extensively and described as, “the oldest occult bookshop in the world, one of London’s unchanging landmarks and the pre-eminent supplier of esoteric literature to the great and the good, the sinister and the silly, since 1922.”

Cultural and Contextual differences

I have been interested in aspects of Western Esoteric traditions because many people in Mexico and the United States have confused and conflated some Curanderismo practices such as candle lighting and protection rituals with Wicca and other Pagan traditions. This is not to say that some contemporary practitioners of Curanderismo do not blend the two; however, although I do not follow Wicca/British spirituality, I personally wish to learn more about some of the practices that Spaniards brought with them when they invaded Mexico in order to have a clearer understanding of our own.

Also thinking that British spirituality could be a path that Anglo- or European-Americans would wish to learn about, before seeking other Indigenous traditions in the Americas, as it may be more in alignment with their European ancestral lineage. This could make for a good and thoughtful conversation.

Witch. Wicca, British Spirituality.

Doreen Valiente, practitioner, researcher, and author, along with Gerald Gardner became known for their work in reviving interest in British spirituality that eventually became known as Wicca.

'"Craft of the Wise" By adopting it for modern usage, Wiccans were both symbolically cementing their connection to the ancient, pre-Christian past,[26] and adopting a self-designation that would be less controversial than "Witchcraft".[27] The scholar of religion and Wiccan priestess Joanne Pearson noted that while "the words 'witch' and 'wicca' are therefore linked etymologically, […] they are used to emphasize different things today."[28] '— Wikipedia

Bruja. Curanderismo.

The Spanish word, bruja (witch in English) as used in curanderismo. There is a big difference in how the word bruja is generally used in Mexican culture. In our culture, bruja is not a word for a cultural practitioner of Wicca or other Western Esoteric tradition; a bruja (brujo if male) is known and feared as someone who uses their training, knowledge, and skill to harm another (to cause illness, accidents, or even death), coerce someone to do something against their will (interfering with romantic relationships, marriage, or professional success), or to further their own ego and ambition. In indigenous circles it may be referred to as "bad medicine."

Some Mexican / Chicanx younger people nowadays use the word bruja or brujita in what seems to me to be a somewhat hipster way. Some have told me that they are re-claiming the word bruja, which doesn’t make sense to me (as they are not Wiccan nor do they think they are brujas in the way I describe). If one wishes to reclaim a term from one’s culture then perhaps we should first learn Nahuatl, Yaqui, Kumiai, or the Indigenous language of one’s elders. Perhaps for a few it may be a way to make themselves appear that they have personal power -- makes me wonder whether they wish to instill a little bit of fear as a way of protecting themselves. Let me tell you, that if I were to say to a Mexican client that I am a bruja they would run in the opposite direction. A curandera can also have strong powers, which are used to help heal, protect, and bless. “With great power comes great responsibility.”

“Witchcraft is a very benign religion, where you work around the seasons of the year.” explained Geraldine patiently, in a pleasant measured tone, “You start off in darkness, and, in Mid-Summer, the Holly King and the Corn* King have a fight and the Holly King wins and then the light begins to decline. At Yule, they fight again and the Corn King wins and the light begins to come back to the world. In agrarian societies, people got up at dawn and worked until dusk, and they adjusted how they lived by the seasons. It was the Christians who gave us the devil and we don’t know what to do with him. We have a horned god who is the god of positive male energy – not a devil at all, but the poor soul has been demonized over the years.” Source.

* The word corn as used in Britain refers to any grain or cereal and not to maiz (corn) in the Americas, which originated in Mexico between 8,000-10,000 years ago.

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” – Cesar Chavez

Grace Sesma and Geraldine Beskin

Geraldine Beskin, cultural practitioner of British spirituality and owner of The Atlantis Bookshop in London, England.

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