Ema Rodriguez is a proud Corpus native who grew up in a spiritual family that honored traditions like venerating the saints and praying the rosary. Classic “7 Day Candles” were lit with petitions for guidance and aid in tough times. It wasn’t until she was an adult that she could fully comprehend (and appreciate) how much magic she was surrounded by. We chatted with Rodriguez, who is an apprentice in curanderismo (Mexican folk healing) and other traditional Mexican spiritual practices, about her cultural spiritual traditions and the importance of communicating with and honoring your ancestors.
In your own words, what does it mean to honor your ancestors?
I am a strong believer that death is just a transition. These people we loved and cared about so much in life still surround us and relay messages in their own special ways. When we tell stories about them, light white candles for them, and leave them coffee and sweets, we’re able to uplift them on the other side.
Outside of the elevation aspect, it’s a part of many traditions to honor those who have passed away. Even a simple lighting of a white candle for a loved one can be seen across many cultures, centuries back. It helps us continue the traditions of our lineage to pass on to younger generations. This can also help us through the grieving process.
How can people honor their ancestors year-round?
The easiest way to get started honoring your ancestors? You can share stories about them with others, cook their signature dishes and explore where they grew up.
If you desire a deeper connection, you can dedicate a small area of your home to them. A glass of water, a white candle on a white cloth is a great start! Over time you can add other items, like individual photos and things they loved in life as well as coffee or treats.
There’s no rush to create something grand. Keeping it simple is perfectly fine!
This assigned space for them can be used to speak out to them. You can let them know you miss them, ask for some guidance, or even share exciting news.
How does spirituality relate to Mexican identity?
For those of Mexican descent, so many of us grew up in homes with statues of San Judas (St. Jude), rosaries on our bed frame, and an egg cracked in a glass under our beds when we’re sick.
Visit any Mexican restaurant and you’re likely to find San Martin De Caballero in a portrait or statue. Visit a Catholic Church and you may find Virgen De Guadalupe, The Mother Of Mexico, surrounded by candles and petitions. Ask any Mexican American if they have a lechuza story or heard one from a family member. I bet they have one!
It’s deeply ingrained in so many of us. Spiritual practices rooted in curanderismo and folk catholicism are almost organic to some. It’s an important part of our culture. It’s helped us through tough times, given us hope and helped us find peace of mind.
What role do curio shops play in the wider scope of Mexican Culture?
Curio shops have always been a staple in Mexican American communities. Here you can find spiritual oils and religious candles, and even get a card reading for divine insight. Some even offer spiritual cleanses!
I operate Skeleton Key Curios where I’m a full-time card reader. I use Bicycle playing cards to “divine” or receive messages from the other side. I pride myself in helping people on their journeys to fulfill their life’s purpose or find peace of mind. My spiritual practices (ex: Spiritism) allow me to help my clients build relationships with people who have passed away or “transitioned”.
These are spaces for people to connect closer to practices that go back centuries in a contemporary way. These spaces keep traditions alive. I encourage anyone of Mexican descent to visit and explore. Most shop owners enjoy sharing stories and answering questions. You never know what you might learn!
Why is it important for younger generations to value spirituality?
I believe it’s important for all people to educate themselves on the spiritual practices of their lineage. It allows us to get closer to our culture and understand the traditions of the past.
I have to say, so many young people are embracing the practices of their grandparents and great-grandparents which is incredible. So many are finding fulfillment by embracing these traditions and connecting to the culture.
What do you want the public to know about Mexican Spirituality that they might not know?
I would love for the public to know that honoring transitioned loved ones, seeing a spiritual worker, and visiting curio shops is a part of our culture. What may seem foreign or strange to some, is not necessarily evil. It is not to be feared.
These traditions are becoming much more mainstream which is exciting but also brings a lot of misinformation to the surface. I’ve mentioned already that educating yourself is so important. Read books written by people who were born and raised in the practices. I encourage you to learn the “why” and “how.” I recommend Magia Magia written by Alexis and Eric of City Alchemist to start!
I would also like to mention, these practices may not be on everyone’s path and that’s ok. It’s still worth the effort to learn more about our lineage, our culture and what brought peace to those who came before us. The spiritual culture of Mexico and South Texas is so rich, beautiful and worthy of exploration.