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On Being a Mujerista


      "I have a surprise for you," my paternal Abuela Petra said with a broad smile.  She pulled a set of cards out of her purse and placed it in my hands.

   I immediately took the cards out of the box and began shuffling them. At 12 years old, I still loved playing games.

   "We are not going to play cards," Abuela announced.

   Surprised, I stopped shuffling.

  "You are going to learn fortune-telling with La Baraja Española," Abuela explained. "I was younger than you when I learned it from my grandmother."

 Abuela began the lesson: "La baraja española, or Spanish deck, is a divination tool that predates the Tarot.  The Spanish deck has 48 cards but we only use 40 cards for fortune-telling. The cards are divided in four palos or suits."  Abuela picked four cards and continued: "They are Copas (Cups), Oro (Gold coins), Espadas (Swords), and Bastos (Clubs). Cups represent love and relationships.  Gold represents finances and possessions," she said with a smile. 

    Abuela put the cards down and said: "Remember, most people who want their fortunes told are worried about love, money, or both."  Abuela stopped smiling. "Another common query is health. Pay attention to the Swords because they can predict illness and accidents. Finally, Clubs represent energy, action, and change." Abuela continued discussing the meaning of the individual cards.

   "How do I interpret the cards in a spread?" I asked.

    "By using your intuition."

   "How do I do that?"

   "By remembering who you really are," Abuela responded.

   "I don't get it, " I said.

   "You will ... in due time." Abuela said.

   After my initial fortune-telling lesson, Abuela opened her suitcase and pulled out a picture. "I want you to have this picture after I die," she said.


     I stared at the picture of a young nun holding a book in her hands.  Why did my grandmother want me to keep this picture?

   "You still have many more years," I said with a chuckle. "You'll live far into your hundreds."

   "Don't joke about this," Abuela urged. "Promise me you will keep the picture." When she saw the quizzical look on my face, Abuela added: "This nun is one of my spirit guides.  She helps my work."

   "What kind of Catholic nun helps you with fortune-telling?"

  "She reminds me of who I really am," Abuela replied.

   I had always admired my grandmother's wisdom and courage.  She left Puerto Rico as a young woman and moved to New York City, where she earned her living as a psychic.  During her visits back to Puerto Rico, she instructed me on her don (gift)--that's what she called her occupation.  

   "Do you promise to keep the picture?" Abuela asked again.

   "Yes, I promise."

     Abuela was a member of a female spiritual clan. The women in my family followed their hearts instead of the religious dogma. They practiced love and compassion combined with strength and determination. My female relatives seemed to have their own brand of spirituality---a kind of woman-centered cult. They infused their Christian spirituality with indigenous beliefs, African traditions, espiritismo (spiritism), and gypsy beliefs. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts interacted with the divine on a regular basis. These women had blessed me at greetings (May the Virgin bless you), and during farewells (May the Virgin protect you). My female ancestors invoked women saints through prayers, vows, and popular dichos (proverbs). They decorated their home altars with flowers, candles, and images of the Virgin.  Moreover, my female ancestors communicated with spirits through dreams, visions, and celajes (partial visions).  Even more, they took their woman-centered spirituality into the streets: They devoted themselves to teaching, healing, feeding the hungry, and fighting injustice.

      Years after my first fortune-telling lesson, I left Puerto Rico as a young woman, just as Abuela had done so many years before.  I settled in Connecticut and frequently visited my grandmother in New York. During one of these visits I witnessed the power of Abuela's psychic abilities. I arrived at my grandmother's apartment on a hot July afternoon.  It was late in the day, and I asked her if I could spend the night.

    "Go back to Connecticut now," Abuela said in a monotone voice. "I see darkness and chaos descending over the city."

   Abuela's words took me by surprise, because she loved having me stay overnight.  In spite of my shock, I left.

     "May the Black Madonna of Monserrat protect you," Abuela shouted as she waved goodbye. 

     As soon as I drove out of Manhattan, all city lights went out.  Instantly, I thought of Abuela's prediction.  I learned later that the July 13, 1977 blackout resulted in a citywide looting and chaos.

    Life continued its course.  I became a psychologist and explored science as opposed to faith. I forgot about the woman-centered spirituality.  I got married and settled into my existence.  Several years later, Abuela informed me that she had decided to retire in Puerto Rico. "I'm too old for the cold weather," she said.  "I am moving in with your parents."

    I was relieved to learn that my parents were going to care for Abuela during her old age.

    On a beautiful spring afternoon, I was enjoying a walk with my husband Fred, when unexpectedly, I felt sick. "I need to lay down," I told Fred.  As soon as we got home, I threw myself on the bed.  When I woke up from my forced siesta, Fred told me that we had received a phone message from Puerto Rico.  "You need to call your parents now, " he urged me.

    My mother answered the phone: "I'm sorry, your Abuela Petra died." After a long silence, Mami added: "She died today at 2:00 pm."

   A shock ran through my body when I realized that I had become sick at exactly the same time that my grandmother died.  My intuition had alerted me of Abuela's departure.

  "She left a picture for you," Mami interrupted my thoughts.  "Do you remember?"

   My mind went blank.  Then, out of the blue, the image of a young nun with a book in her hands appeared in my mind's eye. 

   "Yes, I remember.  I promised Abuela to keep her nun's picture. "

    I flew to the island to mourn with my family. Before leaving my parents house, Papi handed me Abuela's nun picture.  As I took the picture in my hands I felt Abuela's presence.

     Back home, I placed the picture in a closet.  And then, I totally forgot about it.

    Proud of my mixed race identity, I embraced womanism and became a card-carrying feminist.  Through my woman-centered journey, I discovered Ada Isasi-Díaz's work.  A former nun, she coined the term mujerismo (from the Spanish word mujer), as a resistance self affirmation against the oppressive patriarchy of the Catholic Church. Known as the mother of mujerista theology, Ada Isasi-Díaz defined mujerismo as a feminist movement aimed at promoting Latinas' consciousness, development, and liberation. Notwithstanding its emergence from theology, mujerismo is not a religion--rather, it is a spiritual feminism that nurtures women's don (gift) and other gendered spiritual gifts.

    The more I studied mujerismo, the more I realized that my female ancestors practiced mujerista spirituality----many decades before Ada Isasi-Díaz coined the term. With this awareness in mind, I engaged in a project with other women of color to translate womanism and mujerismo into psychological terms.  Our labor of love, Womanist and Mujerista Psychologies: Voices of Fire, Acts of Courage, became the first volume on the topic.  Working on this project gave me the opportunity to acknowledge my woman-centered spiritual legacy.  In this spirit, I took Abuela's nun picture out of the closet.  I placed the image of a young nun holding a book in her hands on my bedroom wall.  

   Every time I see the picture, I remember who I really am.  I AM a Mujerista.


Photos by Frederick M. Jacobsen





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As a psychologist, healer, and writer Lillian Comas is interested in spirituality, feminism, and multiculturalism.


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