Friday, April 13, 2012

Clearing up the Facts on La Madama

American figurines of black servant
women are being used by modern
spiritists to represent their Madamas.
**(Updates and clarifications to this article are marked with an asterisk as there have been many critics out there who seemed to take everything I wrote as black or white. In an effort to further clarify and address those concerns, I've made these noted changes)**

A peculiar figure has recently become very popular in Rootwork. That individual is La Madama. As you go around various websites, or peruse online publications about rootwork or hoodoo you find more and more people are speaking about La Madama. But the conversation has become one that is rife with misunderstanding and it is becoming clearer and clearer that people are just repeating the misinformation they are getting from websites and self-published booklets. I've decided to write a blog article to set the record straight and hopefully educate people who may be interested in La Madama or want to learn about how to work with this type of spirit.

Who is La Madama? (Rather, Who ARE Las Madamas?)
A more traditional spirit doll for a Madama
type spirit. These dolls are made using
porcelain or plastic dolls which are then dressed
in custom-sewn dresses in their spirit's colors
There is a popular misconception that La Madama is a specific spirit. This is totally incorrect. A Madama is a category of spirit - to which many individual spirits and guides belong. Thus the more proper question is "who are las madamas?"

Madamas are spirits of the dead that were slave women (*or the descendants of slaves), round in stature, who looked like the sterotypical image of a house servant from the 1800's. Madamas are NOT conjure women (*as in American rootworkers). This is wholly incorrect and misinformed. They are typically either women who practiced Santería or Palo Monte  (*or Espiritismo) when they were alive (meaning they are most typically Cuban or *Puerto Rican black women). Typically Las Madamas are depicted wearing gingham skirts or aprons in the colors of the spirit which they worked with (red gingham for Chango or Siete Rayos, Blue gingham for Yemaya or Madre de Agua, etc.) They usually have their hair wrapped in cloth of similar color. There are countless "Madama" spirits out there... she is not singular in nature. For example, I have a "Madama" spirit who worked with Changó when she was alive and she has a particular name. My godfather has a "Madama" spirit who worked with Yemayá when she was alive and she has a different name. Simply put, La Madama is NOT one spirit. (*I understand that the thought of a priestess in Lucumí or Palo being a spirit is not in accordance with Lucumí or Palo cosmology, nevertheless these spirits do appear and give verifiable information - so this is one of those things that we just can't explain)

"La Madama" by Angel Cruz
Where did Madama Spirits come from?
The category of Madama type spirits is NOT native to Rootwork and has actually never ever been a part of Hoodoo at all until the last 15 to 20 years when people who practiced Espiritismo Cruzado (Blended Spiritism) from Latino countries started encountering traditional Southern Rootworkers and exchanging ideas. *The categorization of these spirits into a legion called "Las Madamas" was likely a function that arose out of convenience because they certainly don't refer to themselves in this manner.

In fact, the presence of Madamas, Indian Spirits (like Black Hawk) or other spirits like these were only found in Spiritualist Churches in the south, and not traditionally within Hoodoo. Most Hoodoo practitioners stuck to Protestant Christianity, praying psalms and working their roots. This introduction of Espiritismo elements (like working with saints, Madama Spirits, Indian Spirits, etc. is a rather new introduction to Hoodoo).

Espiritismo Cruzado and "Madama" Spirits
Espiritismo Cruzado comes from the latino countries of the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic) and has spread to many other countries including Venezuela, part of Mexico and even the southern parts of The United States with the displacement of people from these countries northward. It is a type of Spiritualism based in the Spiritist practices of Allan Kardec blended with some spiritual concepts of the African Diasporic Religions. This type of spiritualism works differently than the more formal "white table" version of Kardecian spiritism found in Europe in the late 1800's, (*and found in many Puerto Rican spiritist houses). Practitioners of Espiritismo pray Catholic prayers, channel messages from their guides and spirits of the dead, work a lot with herbs, perfumes, washes and flowers, and focus on developing their skills as mediums and energy healers. Within Espiritismo the mediums work with lots of colorful spirits. There are many categories of spirits including (but not limited to): Madamas, Indians, Gypsies, Nuns, Arabs, and even Pirates. There is not ONE spirit of La Madama, just like there is not ONE spirit of The Indian, nor is there ONE spirit of the Gypsy. People may refer to "my Madama" (*or more commonly "mi negra" - my black woman) - meaning their Madama-type spirit, but there are many other Madama-type spirits as well.

Can I Work With "La Madama"?
This is an interesting question that I get from many people. The answer isn't so simple. It isn't whether you CAN work with La Madama - the question actually should be "Do I have a Madama with which to work?" This is a misunderstanding of the nature of Espiritismo from a Hoodoo practitioner's perspective. In Espiritismo (Spiritism), you don't go out seeking spirits to work with. Instead, you work with the Spiritual Court that already surrounds you. The Spiritual Court is a group of the most intimate guiding spirits you have around you that protect and teach you. They are your "inner court" and they defend you when you cannot defend yourself. They guide you, teach you and inspire you. Each person's Spiritual Court is different than the next's.

Before you can work with "Madama" type spirits you need to find out IF THERE IS ONE IN YOUR SPIRITUAL COURT! This is the most crucial element that people don't take into account. You must first do investigative spiritualist masses (or personal spiritual investigation) to find out if you have such a spirit in your court with which to work. Typically such a mass is conducted by other mediums who will look into your spiritual court with the assistance of their guides and identify who is there for you. You can then work on strengthening your relationship with those guides through prayer, introspection, meditation and contact with these spirits at your Spiritual Altar (in Espiritismo Cruzado this is called a bóveda and is typically a table or shelf covered in white cloth with goblets of water placed out to refresh one's spirits and to help with the transmission of spiritual messages). It is up to each person to learn as much as they can about their Spiritual Court, including names, behaviors, traits and to follow their guidance as much as possible. These spirits will act as the conduit for divine inspiration and guidance for that person. If you have a Madama type spirit you would need to find out where she's from, her name, what she practiced in her life and how to work with her.

Working with La Madama
I often see photos of people putting offerings to La Madama and petitioning her as if she was a saint. This is absolutely improper and incorrect. This is not the manner in which Spiritists would ever work with a Madama-type spirit. They understand very clearly that God is who we worship. A Madama-type spirit is not a saint to be petitioned. She is a spirit guide. She is there to give you guidance, inspire your spell work, guard you from harm, cleanse you when you pick up something nasty, and to be a teacher and mentor. You do not worship your teacher, similarly you do not worship La Madama. If you do leave her offerings, they are offerings of gratitude like bouquets of flowers or a cup of coffee and a cigar. These are given because she came through and helped you with an issue or to keep your connection with her strong. Ultimately she will help you with reading, perceiving and psychic abilities as well as giving you inspiration when you do spell work. After all, she was a priestess in her time and knows how to work spells, but she will tell you how to do it HER way, not the Hoodoo way (because she was not a conjure woman, she was an Afro-Caribbean *spiritual worker). Many people like to have a doll or statue to represent their Madama-type spirit on their altar or their bóveda. This doll acts as a physical container in which her spirit can manifest when you are asking her for guidance and spell crafting with her support.

If you don't have a Madama-type spirit in your Spiritual Court, that's fine and normal. You may have countless other spirits who are very powerful and close to you. But the more important thing to remember is that this internet fad of La Madama really needs to be handled with respect and a clearer understanding so that people don't waste their energy and money trying to petition a spirit that's not even accessible to them. Focus on the spirits that do surround you and keep those bonds strong, and you'll be much better off in the long run.

(*Many critics of this article argue that it is impossible for a priestess of Palo or Lucumí to incarnate as a spirit, as the cosmology of those religions believe that the spirits of deceased priests and priestesses take a different spiritual journey than other spirits of the deceased. I agree with that in the strictest academic sense and I myself believe that priests of our religions go to their spiritually rewarded places after death. Yet, I have seen many spirits that are categorized as "Madamas" who claim to have been priestesses - either Paleras or Santera - who make appearances in misas espirituales and give examples of knowledge in those religions that no uninitated person would know. I have no way of explaining this, but it is a testament to the fact that the spirit world is vast and we have much left to learn about how things work in the universe. I think the main thing to keep in mind here is that the category of "Madama" is something originating from Latino countries, not the USA, and that the spirits that could be categorized as them are broader than many of us are willing to admit.)


Melissa Alexander said...

Great post! Really fascinating subject. Are you able to do a reading to determine someone's Spiritual Court? I would love to know more about my personal Spiritual Court and how to work with those spirits.

Witch of Stitches said...

This was a very interesting post. I had never heard of La Madamas before. My pantheon is Greco-Roman, but I live in South Florida and have contact with Santeria and the people who practice it, as well as an interest in Santeria and Hoodoo. Where this interest came from, I have no idea - perhaps because we have such a large Cuban and Caribbean population. The Spiritual Court sounds like the Hidden Company. Most interesting. Like the previous commenter, I am curious about this - although I am aware of my "company" - I have to wonder if I may have been "adopted" by a La Madama since this interest seems to be growing. I will have to see about finding out.

Priestess Divine said...

Dr E. Thank you for clarifying all this for those of us who weren't well versed in the history. I've seen some of those same statues of a La Madama in Bontanicas and they have actually been there and worked with as saints (just as you've advised was not the purpose). I wondered about that when I saw the statues with massive amounts of money hung from their necks. Very very wonderful info!!

Excellent point you made about the Spiritual Court! I have many spirits with mebut haveno idea who they are or anything. I hope to develop and learn more about them. Thanks for the encouragement to do so!

SBunny said...

Thank you for the information - a few months back I had a dream about a black doll, wearing white. She didn't have a face, but I knew she was important. I thought about it for a while - but continued on. Then I saw a picture of a similer doll. I knew I had to make one,but of course didn't at the time. So yesterday I was online and saw an image of the same doll with La Madamas name. I knew it was right and it had been eating at me. So I made the doll and even though shes not perfect looking at her makes me happy and I knew I needed to look into it more.
The Madame I had in my minds eye was dressed all in white with a white scarf and yellow trim. So today I found your info here - thank you for clearing it up - I felt she was more helper/teacher.

Unknown said...

Very informative, Dr. E. Thank you.

Melinda said...

This is a wonderful post! My grandmother (a Puerto Rican Espiritismo practitioner) works with a Madama and she sent her with me on time when I was young. I work with the same spirit as well, and my understanding is she was a literal ancestor of my family. Anyway, as my grandmother is quite elderly I never got clarification on some things until this post. Thank you, thank you for writing it!!

Psychic Mariah said...

Very valuable and educational post. I learned quite a few things that I wasn't aware of before. Thank you for sharing.

GypsyBLove said...

My grandmother who is of French Spanish and Taino descent always had a madama on her altar. My aunt came one day and took her to her apt. My grandmother let her take it because she said she was ready to have her. When my grandmother died I was holding her hand. After taking her body to prepare for service i laid in her bed. I told my aunt that I wanted the very fancy Rosary on the statue of Jesus on grandmas altar. Shebsaid that was fine. I fell asleep and in my dream i climbed stairs to an attic where furniture was covered in white sheets. At the top of the stairs stood a statue. It looked like the Madama i always saw on grandmas altar but instead she wore white with a light blue apron. Her voice filled the room along with the streaming light through the window. She said take the blue one. I sat straight up and noticed a small unimpressive rosary with light blue beads. So i explained to my aunt what happened. She then produced an old small black doll made of yarn wearing my earrings from when i was a baby. The doll wore a white dress with a baby blue apron. I was never taught what to do. I was never told not to channel. But i knew instinctively. My grandmother said her madama would come to me when she died but i never knew she wore different colors. Hers and my aunts madamas are twins that are passed down from generation to generation. I had only ever seen the red and black version. My aunt new she had to give me the doll even though she wanted to keep her, because i described her colors and told her I wanted the blue rosary. Now she sits on my altar. Thank you for this article. I am a medium but am still learning how to find my footing.

Le' said...

Big Mama's and madamas are of mine prefers to be called big mama she was a slave in Mississippi or Missouri I couldn't make out specifically what she was trying to say to me where she was from I dreamt of her she was speaking to me and she was very comforting and direct. She even took her head scarf off she showed me what she looked like in human form. I had made a dolly for her and dressed it and prayed over her. she shared with me how she knew how it felt to be treated bad by others and that she would help me. I do have other madamas as well one is light skinned and may be African Latino. my big mama does rootwork she told me to do a sugar jar. She has also helped me with my work and has helped me be more powerful and confident with my work