Spirits of Palo Kimbisa

Or, Tonight on Lucero TV: Wheel of Lucero!

by Sophia Kelly Shultz, co-author of Seeking the Spirits of Palo Kimbisa: Exploring the Mysterious World of the Afro-Cuban Religion with Tata Rodriguez.

I have a deadline for this blog entry:  February 19th.

It is February 18th.  So far I have a great idea, and about 20 handwritten pages with which I am enormously dissatisfied. 

“This is such a great idea,” I mutter.  “I even have a terrific title:  A Marketplace Religion in a Capitalist Economy.”  In my head are bullet points and a strong outline; on paper, all I have are unsuccessful stabs at the bullet points…

Then the stage lights come up, temporarily blinding me.

“I’ve been telling you to just drop the subject,” a voice says.  It sounds rich and deep, and I am filled with dread.

Oh God, I think. I’m on Lucero TV.

Lucero, Nkisi of the crossroads

Lucero, the Nkisi, or elemental spirit, of the crossroads, trickster and messenger of the other Nkisi, appears in the spotlight.  He is a handsome young black man, dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit, black shirt and tastefully slim black and white tie.  His eyes twinkle mischievously as he smiles at me.

“Welcome to Wheel of Lucero!” he exclaims, waving to the wildly applauding studio audience.

I start looking around for someplace to hide.  The wheel—a gigantic carnival wheel—hangs directly behind us.  That would work.

I try to move.  I can’t.  Lucero smiles at me again.

So much for that.

My godfather in Palo, Tata Rodriguez, introduced me to the concept of what he calls “Lucero TV.”  You usually end up on Lucero TV when you’re doing something incredibly silly, stupid, and/or ill-advised.  Going for tax evasion?  There’s a Lucero TV channel for that.  Cheating on your spouse?  There’s a Lucero TV channel for that.

Some people — often politicians, entertainers, or sports figures — have entire channels dedicated to their daily antics.  Tata has two: one is for his personal “stuff” and the other covers the misadventures of his godchildren.

You don’t have to practice Palo to be on LTV.  Here are some examples of times when you might stop what you’re doing and consider that somewhere up there, someone is really enjoying watching you as do the sort of thing that would have your mother shouting, “You should know better!”

1.  Unrequited Romance

You have romantic feelings — wait, that’s not adequate: you are madly in love with someone, you can’t stop thinking about them — but they’re not returning your sentiment.  You try everything:  ever more extravagant gifts, poetry, flowers, love letters.  You don’t get so much as a thank you; in fact, your crush becomes increasingly distant.  So you back up, and like a yak driving away a stranger, you charge headlong back at the problem.  Each impact leaves you standing stunned, but unlike the yak, who will either succeed or be driven away by the interloper, you find that nothing has changed.  So you back up and prepare for another assault on the problem.

After observing enough of this alarming behavior, your friends start hedging around the notion that you might be taking this crush a little too seriously.  You dismiss them angrily.  Love conquers all!

By this point Lucero is excited.  “Yes!  Yes!” he shouts, “This is great for the ratings!  Thank you!” Then, he starts charging more for commercial spots.

From here, there are several possible outcomes, but for the sake of this blog, we’ll stick to two.  The first is that you wake up one morning, realize your folly, apologize to this person and your friends, and move on with your life.  Your LTV ratings will plummet, but you will be better off for it.

The second option is that your attention starts to frighten the other person and you end up in jail for trespassing with 27 stitches in your butt courtesy of their newly acquired Doberman Pinscher. 

Lucero loves this.  It’s the ones who never learn who drive the ratings.

2.  Stupid Teenager Tricks

You’re in high school.  One of your friends has been left at home while his parents go on vacation. Against their instructions, he decides to throw a party because “no one will ever know.”

At first, you balk.  You know that this is wrong and if anyone finds out you could be in trouble, get arrested, maybe even lose any chance of getting a scholarship to the college of your choice.  But your friends convince you that everything is under control, and because you want to be “cool,” you agree to go.

This is all before the first commercial break.

Returning after an ad for Botanica Emporium, we find you at the party.  Everyone is getting drunk, but you don’t want to drink alcohol because you know it’s illegal.  Every time you make for the door, someone intercepts you: finally, somebody spikes your soda and by the second commercial break you are three sheets to the wind.

Over at his desk, Lucero is watching his ratings skyrocket because your story is like a train wreck: viewers won’t be able to look away.

As with the previous example, there are numerous possible outcomes.  One involves you passing out briefly.  When you awaken, most of the partygoers are even more incoherent than you.  Survival instinct kicks in: you get out, stagger home, sneak inside (in a perfect world not getting caught), and sleep it off.  The next morning you learn that the neighbors called the police because of the loud music your friends were playing. There were multiple arrests for underage drinking and possession of illegal substances.

Well, you dodged that bullet.  Disappointed, Lucero cancels your spot on the channel for at least a month.

Of course, it would be much better for the ratings if you had remained at the party until the police arrived.  The permutations of this scenario are legion, and none of them good.

3.  Ask the Experts — And Listen to Them

You have a serious problem and need advice.  You ask someone who really knows what they’re talking about, and they tell you definitively what to do.  For example, if your accountant says, “Yes, you have to pay your taxes!” or the dentist says “You want to keep your teeth?  Brush them!” you listen to them.  Right?

Tata deals in both the spiritual and, to an extent, the mundane.  He’s happy to leave discussions regarding filing taxes and teeth to the experts.  But if you ask his advice on anything, you’d better avoid asking rhetorical questions — questions to which you already know the answer, like “Should I pay my taxes?” or  “Should I brush my teeth?”.  Rhetorical questions will put you on the fast track to Tata’s “Stupid Godchildren Who Didn’t Listen Wall of Shame.”

Lucero, on the other hand, loves rhetorical questions, which put you on the fast track to #1 in the LTV ratings.

So back to taxes.  Tata would probably tell you to pay your taxes and call you an idiot for even entertaining the notion of evasion, and Lucero would too…until you asked him again, this time rewording your question slightly to something like, “Is it a good idea to pay my taxes?”

He might look thoughtful and say, “Maaaybe.”

If you persist, if you ask Lucero enough times, in enough different ways, he will finally give in to his inner trickster and tell you, “You don’t need to pay your taxes!  After all, who’s going to notice?”

And when the IRS shows up at your door, well, welcome to Lucero TV!

More important to Tata is your spiritual health, and of course not listening to his advice in these matters is prime time material for Lucero TV.  If you don’t follow Tata’s directions, which are usually relatively straightforward and with few exceptions require ingredients that are readily available in your local supermarket, you are, to coin a phrase, “asking for it.” 

So. if your work often takes you on the road, Tata might give you a list of things to do to prevent automotive disaster, and it’s on you to do it.  Usually, it’s not hard. Sometimes this simply involves…

“You’ve done a nice job of describing Lucero TV,” Lucero says, and I start so violently that I nearly leap into the studio audience.  He is now standing right next to me, holding one of those skinny wireless microphones, and he is grinning.  “How about we give the Wheel a spin?”

We turn to the Wheel.  Its surface has been divided up into narrow slices, each with a word or phrase painted on it.  Some are pretty typical:  “Yes,” “No,” and “Spin Again.”  There are also some less typical phrases like “Ask again,” or, “Are You Kidding?”.

Lucero indicates the Wheel.  “Well, Sophia, what would you like to ask me?  Will you be rich and famous?  Will your husband ever finish remodeling the kitchen?”

I consider.  “No,” I finally say.  “I just want to know if I finally got this blog entry right, because it’s the 18th, and my publisher will be looking for it.”

Lucero yawns cavernously.  “Very well, give it a spin.  You’re so conservative:  I can’t believe your friends’ parents called you a bad influence.  Where’s your sense of adventure?”

I left it in my living room, I think as I grasp one of the Wheel’s prongs and set it to spinning.  The audience cheers and chants.  The Wheel goes round and round, and I watch the words on the panels as it begins to slow.  They still seem blurry—are they changing? 

Finally, the Wheel comes to a halt.  “Congratulations!”  Lucero exclaims, and the audience goes wild.

I can’t do anything but stare up at the Wheel, which proclaims:

THIS WOULD BE BETTER AS AN INTERVIEW WITH LUCERO.

 Author’s note:  As I thought, “I wonder what the Wheel would say?” this answer popped into my head.  I suppose I could have taken Lucero’s advice and rewritten the entry, but I can already see what he’s up to: by trying to get me to revise the draft over and over, he gets the satisfaction of watching me chase my tail on Lucero TV. 

About the Author:

Itinerant author and artist Sophia Kelly Shultz has been working as a professional artist since the 1980s.  She is best known for paintings like Holie’s Green Man, featured in The Stone Circle Oracle.  She is also an award-winning quilter, needleworker, and costumer.  She lives in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, with her extremely patient husband of 31 years, David.