Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Botanicas of New York: San Miguel & Anaisa

"I Am With You Always" says a poster of Jesus as twin figures of Santa Muerte, "Saint Death," loom above Him. San Judas — St. Jude — patron Saint of lost causes towers above them all, while a mere three-leafed not-so-lucky clover promises...something. Chinese prosperity gods, Haitian goddesses and Indian spirit guides line the shelves behind: It's multicultural cosmic order at the Botanica San Miguel & Anaisa in Brooklyn. It's all about skulls and scythes and scepters; crowns and halos.

Is that the Holy Infant — El Divino Niño — or Elegba, African God of the crossroads? Is that Our Lady of Guadelupe, patron Saint of Mexico, or the Earth Mother Tonantzin?

San Miguel & Anaisa are syncretic Saints revered in the Dominican "21 Divisiones" tradition, though my exceeding ignorance on such matters presents me from explaining what blessings they might offer. Though their storefront would look at home on any tropical street, it's the heart of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, once home to Scandinavian immigrants and now a melting pot of Latin American and Asian newcomers as well as more established communities of folks with roots in the Spanish Caribbean.

(These windows are a reflection of something I love about New York. From time to time I'll be posting pictures from the various botanicas I stumble across. This is the second in a series. These photos were taken by me in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Click on the images to see them larger.)


  1. I had to look up 'Botanicas' - I was only thinking in flowery terms and don't believe I have every stumbled upon a Botanica such as pictured here. It's quite interesting - something for everyone I would guess.

    Have you gone inside? I wonder with so many diverse religions icons gathered together in one small space if there is a special aura about the place.

    It's really much more than what you would see in say a San Francisco herbal and healing shop.

  2. Botanicas started out as shops that sold herbs to herbalists, but became something quite different. Some still sell herbs but most don't. I didn't go inside this one but I've shopped at many. There are different kinds with different levels of seriousness, but they're like problem-solving shops: you go looking for help with something, and various possibilities are presented to you. They can be sort of like a spiritual pharmacy, with the prescriptions sometimes involving candles and statues and incense and perfumes and prayers. Very interesting stuff. Of course a bad one can be breeding ground for the gullible, superstitious and exploitative too, but hey, what do you think putting candy next to the register at the supermarket is?

  3. Thank you for that explanation, it was interesting. And one must always keep a wary eye, right? ;)

  4. i enjoy such things as well, ish. i like places like this, although i am not very religious, or even spiritual outside of my music intake. to know that people believe in things, even nothing, is a warm feeling to have. conviction is good.

  5. Well said freebones. I am always amazed and awed in the presence of those of faith. It truly is miraculous... and I guess that is how it should be.

  6. Hello. I grew up in Sunset Park and there were a few botánicas at the time that I remember. I was actually writing about this memory in a dissertation I am writing when I decided to include and image and came across our photos and descpritions. Would you give me permission to use those photos?

    1. Hi Isabel. Feel free to use my photos; please credit them with my url.