LEARNING TO CONNECT WITH YOUR SAINTED ALLIES
The intention of this guide is to provide a basis for a beginning practice of working with the saints. It is but a brief introduction to allow the average person a starting point on the path to a greater understanding of the additional spiritual resources and allies available to us (of which there are multitudes). I hope it serves you well.
Working with the saints is not a necessity in the practice of hoodoo. However, practitioners who do saint work often experience more frequent successes in their workings and that those successes seem to come easier and quicker than those previously experienced do. In addition, the relationships that develop when working with saints can, in and of themselves, be spiritually rewarding. Saint work is much more than just another tool in the hoodoo arsenal; it can broaden the scope of what is possible while at the same time deepen the practitioner’s connection with the spiritual world.
The main thing to remember when working with the saints is that they are typically the spirits of departed people. That is to say, they were once living human beings and like us, they know of the struggles that are a part of this worldly existence. In this way, they are seen as being more inclined to help when asked. However, just as one would not ask some random person on the street for a kidney, getting to the point of petitioning a saint should come only after a goodly amount of time and attention has been spent developing the relationship.
But how does one begin?
Well, no matter how you start, eventually you will need to do some research about the saint with which you want to work. You could begin by reading a bunch of bios about various saints and then determine one from there, or you could take one of the more targeted following approaches.
I have found that the saints that I have been personally drawn to are usually the ones that are also drawn to me. Whether it be their iconography, their background, or other associations, there has always seemed to be a natural affinity there that was a good starting point on which to build a working relationship.
Saints will typically have an area of influence of which they are said to be the “patron” or “patroness.” For example, Saint Christopher is the patron of travelers and Saint Joseph is the patron of carpenters and workers of all kinds. Choosing a saint by their particular patronage is also a good way to determine a saint with which to start working.
Some families, due to their ethnic or other cultural ties, will have a patron or patroness. For example, the patroness of the Americas is la Virgen de Guadalupe (the Virgin of Guadalupe or Our Lady of Guadalupe). She is seen as not only a religious icon put also as a patriotic symbol, so obviously many Mexican and Latino families have a deep affinity for and devotion to her. Similarly, the patroness of the Romani people is Sarah la Kali (Saint Sarah). Perhaps your family has one of which you are not aware? Asking around with the older folks in your clan may offer a clue.
Failing those methods, and assuming you have never been confirmed in the Catholic Church or have a saint with which you share a name, I would suggest praying on it or just beginning with a saint that is known to be easy to work with and flexible in the things in which they are typically petitioned. Saint Anthony comes to mind, as do Saint Martin de Porres, Saint Peter, Saint Joseph, and the Virgin Mary; they are all known to be kind, helpful, and not particularly demanding. (Yes, certain saints can be demanding, which is why it really serves to know those with which you wish to work.)
Some saints are officially recognized by the Catholic Church whereas some are not. Those that are not officially recognized, or canonized, are referred to as “popular” or “folk” saints. Despite their unofficial status, it should be noted that folk saints are worked with and beloved by practitioners often as much or more than many canonized saints. Saint Christopher, Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, Marie Laveau, and Poncho Villa are all examples of folk saints.
In addition, you should be aware of the fact that folk saints frequently tend to be more legend than actual people, and sometimes are not even human beings, despite their iconography depicting them as such. These folk saints are spiritually powerful entities, visions, or concepts that are venerated in the same manner as canonized saints. Examples of such folk saints would include Saint Expedite, Sarah la Kali (Saint Sarah), the various Archangels, la Anima Sola (the Lonely Soul), Santa Muerte (Holy Death), la Mano Poderosa (the Powerful Hand), and las Siete Potencias (the Seven African Powers), to name just a few.
Once you have picked a saint with whom you want to begin a working relationship, as previously mentioned, you will need to do some research. Find out about the saint’s history, how they came to be patron of their given area, when their feast day is, what they like for offerings, what their temperament is, how they like to work, and for what situations they are helpful.
Next, setup a simple altar for your choice of saint. It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate, maybe just a place on a shelf with a cloth in the saint’s favorite color, a picture or small statue of the saint, a glass of water, and a place for a couple of candles.
If the saint you have chosen likes a particular day of the week, then begin on that day, otherwise, start on a Sunday.
Offer your saint a cool glass of water and a lit candle and then just start talking to him or her. Let your saint know that you would like to honor them with the water and the candle and then just leave them there. Do this once a week for a while. You should start to get a feeling one way or another, sometimes signs, that they are enjoying the offerings and that they are acknowledging your attention in some way. Speak to them at longer lengths or more frequently, as you are inclined to do so. Eventually, in addition to the candle and the water, let them know that if they are willing, you would like to work with them at some point in the future. Carry on like this, assuming things continue on a positive note, until something comes up with which the saint might be helpful.
I suggest, at least for your first saint, that you concentrate on only that one, at least in the beginning. If there are other saints that you think you might like to work with in the future, an easy way to get your spiritual foot in the door would be to recognize them on their personal feast days. Set them a temporary altar; offer a candle, some water, some flowers, or some other offering that they favor. Prayers for their spiritual progress and thanks for all of the good they do will assist in establishing the lines of communication and set the stage for possible future work.
Note that I said ‘possible’ future work. Just because we may attempt to establish a relationship with a particular saint, that doesn’t mean they are automatically inclined to work with us. Many saints have preferences, not only in the kind of work they will do, but with whom they are willing to work. Some will not work with men and others prefer not to work with women. Some will not work with cheaters or people involved in illegal activities. Others are petitioned so frequently for help in illegal activities that they become inextricably linked to that culture, i.e. Jesús Malverde, the narco-saint. Still, it might be entirely personal; a saint may just not appreciate the way that a particular person approaches them and will not work for them. Ultimately, some are judgmental and fussy and some are not, just like people.
Speaking of working, let me give you an example what that might look like. Say, for instance, that you have been tending Saint Anthony for a few months and the time comes that you need to find a new job. It just so happens that finding things is one of Saint Anthony’s specialties. What do you do?
Well, since this will be your first time actually working with Saint Anthony, I would suggest trying something basic, like a vigil candle and a petition. So, prepare a vigil candle as you would normally; inscribe it and dress and fix it. Make out a petition, something like, “Please, Saint Anthony, help me find a job as good or better than the one I have now. Make the pay higher and commensurate with the amount of work required and make the hours flexible and reasonable. Allow me to work with happy and helpful people doing work that is fulfilling. Please, Saint Anthony, intercede on my behalf. In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Handle the candle and petition as you normally would, and place them on Saint Anthony’s altar. At this point, you may want to speak the petition aloud to Saint Anthony. Alternately, you may feel compelled to recite a prayer or quote scripture. Any or all of the above will work. (Refer to the Internet for prayer and petition wording help as needed; there are tons of examples out there.)
Whatever you decide on, somewhere in there you need to be clear about and state aloud what you will do for Saint Anthony in the event that he comes through for you. Typically, it doesn’t have to be much; some flowers, a special offering of food, symbolic objects added to the saint’s altar, a donation to a charity, or a promise to publicly recognize the saint’s help and to magnify their name. Be sure to follow-through. Some saints will take away that which they have helped you gain, or will just refuse to help you in the future, if you should somehow fail to follow-through on what you have promised. So, make sure what you promise is what you can deliver.
From the first light of that vigil candle and going forward, you will want to recite your petition/prayers at the altar at least once a day and continue to speak with Saint Anthony and thank him for his assistance. Also, continue to tend the altar, as you normally would even in the midst of the work. Just as with other works, you may have to repeat the vigil candle and the petitions a number of times before you begin to see success.
However, if success or movement does not come within three weeks, then either Saint Anthony does not want to work for you, the time is not right for what you are asking, or you need a stronger work. To see no movement at all in a situation, first time out with Saint Anthony, with a basic vigil and petition, would lead me to believe that, for one reason or another, Saint Anthony is just not feeling it.
However, not all is lost should a saint prove to be less than cooperative. Some saints will insist that they get the payoff upfront before doing the work. While other saints are said to get lazy if they are rewarded too much or too often, so cutting back a little on the regular offerings might help. Some saints may not like sharing an altar or other space, and will refuse to work until moved to some place more to their liking. Some saints will work, but drag their feet about it; to combat this, many workers will coerce them into faster action by inverting their statue, removing a part of the statue, or by covering their eyes or mouth. Still, there is nothing wrong with just putting that saint aside, stopping the work, offerings, and attention, and then trying to start up the relationship again later.
In the past, when it seemed a saint was not working for me, I ended up switching saints; success then came rather quickly. Was it merely a matter of momentum or was the alternate saint just more amendable to the work or more amendable to working with me? I do not know, but going forward, I have continued to use the alternate saint for works of the same type with much success.
Whether a saint has actually lived or whether they are a spiritual entity or concept, treating them with the same respect and appreciation as you would a living person will always go a long way towards gaining their assistance. It takes time and devotion to establish a solid foundation from which to work. Saints aren’t fairy godmothers or magical leprechauns; they aren’t around to make your dreams come true. However, with the correct approach, they can be that helping hand and friend we all need from time to time.
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