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Botánicas - Sacred Spaces of Healing and Devotion in Urban America


Sacred Spaces of Healing and Devotion in Urban America

By Joseph M. Murphy
Hardcover : 9781628462074, 212 pages, 145 color illustrations, February 2015

A cultural exploration of botánicas flourishing and serving customers across the United States


Botánicas is an exploration in text and photographs of spiritual shops found in Latino neighborhoods throughout the United States. Readers discover these marvelous spaces and their alternative spiritualties that help patrons cope with the grind and challenges of city life. Botánicas provide access to an array of invisible powers and sell the ingredients to construct symbolic solutions to their patrons' problems. The stores are bright and baroque, and the powers they invoke come from religious traditions in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the native Americas. In Botánicas, Joseph M. Murphy offers a cultural history of the devotions on display and a reflection on the efficacy of their powers to heal. Readers will come to see that the goods and devotions of botánicas give their patrons--mostly Latino, often immigrants--pathways for empowerment and transformation.

The name botánicas comes from the "botanicals" for sale, herbs and plants with healing powers. The pharmacopeia of botánicas can be vast, and owners may know hundreds of remedies for treating problems of health, wealth, and love. Botánicas vend herbs for upset stomach, herbs for finding a job, and herbs for wooing back a wayward spouse. Supplementing these medicinal and magical plants, botánicas sell candles, holy statues, and tools for devotion to an array of spiritual powers--Catholic saints, African gods, indigenous spirits, and Asian divinities. Each spirit has its own ritual of petition, and botánica owners can discern the proper offerings and prayers to help the supplicant.

Murphy explains the religions of the botánica with subtlety and sensitivity. He gives readers a deep sense of the contexts of the stores and a sophisticated analysis of the religious traditions that suffuse them. Visually fascinating, culturally rich, and religiously profound, Botánicas is a window into a world of beauty and power.


This book is a celebration of the multiculturalism and dynamism of a unique American institution. . . . Accessible and eloquent, in Botánicas the diversity and the photos are truly extraordinary.

- C. Lynn Carr, Journal of Folklore Research

This book should appeal to anyone who wishes to take a vivid, poetic journey into the world of the botánicas.

- Lindsay Hale, Nova Religio

Anyone with an appreciation for Caribbean Creole cultures, Pan-African religions, or alternative spirituality would be familiar with the influential and pioneering work of Joseph M. Murphy. Murphy's very accessible yet scholarly texts are seminal reading. His recent study Botánicas: Sacred Spaces of Healing and Devotion in Urban America is yet another contribution that is also, like his earlier books, a very good read. Through Murphy's in-depth historical and critical research, interviews with a variety of adherents, and numerous photos--indispensable to an understanding of the topic--Botánicas helps the reader recognize the value embodied in these 'sacred spaces' and beckons us into that intriguing shop you have been wanting to explore but hesitated to enter. Botánicas is an invitation to step inside.

- Margarite Fernández Olmos, professor emerita of Latin American and Caribbean studies at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York

Meticulously well researched, marvelously illustrated, and beautifully written, Joseph Murphy's long-awaited book on botánicas is an instant classic, a model fusion of social science disciplines by one of the most insightful voices in the study of Afro-Caribbean religions. As thousands of churches in American cities have been closing in recent decades, botánicas, with their dizzying array of ritual paraphernalia and services, have been proliferating amidst them (and sometimes in place of them) at an impressive rate, and this will be the definitive study on this fascinating feature of the nation's shifting urban religious landscape for many years to come. I cannot wait to teach it!

- Terry Rey, professor and chair in the Department of Religion at Temple University

The reader feels that he or she has just enjoyed a highly satisfying visit to places of deep meaning to their patrons. In a sense, all of us who read Botánicas become patrons of the botánica. College students will certainly find this reading experience to be rewarding, as will scholars in diverse disciplines and readers who love to learn about spirituality.

- Elizabeth Tucker, Distinguished Service Professor of English, Binghamton University, and author of Children's Folklore: A Handbook