My interview for March was with Rosie Islas and with the help of a few good friends, Andrea and Jackie (also the interpreters). Rosie is originally from Panama and now lives with her daughter and grandson in Western North Carolina. She is a genius healer whose gifts are to guide people through their spiritual journey. Although she does not identify with Daoism, there are still many parallels I see in her healing traditions that are totally interesting and admirable. For example, she is very comfortable in between spirit worlds and is also bilingual in English and Spanish serving her community. The name of her shop is called Divine Essence located in Fletcher North Carolina at Smiley’s Flea market. If you have a chance please visit her!

* Parts of this interview were spoken in Rosies’ first language which is Spanish and translated into English. At other times the interview was conducted in English.  Click here to read the full interview in Spanish.

Interview with Rosie
At Divine Essence
March 20th, 2017

Interview conducted by Mary Burke-Pitts
Interview support provided by Jackie Fitzgerald
Interpreted by Andrea Golden
Translated by Loida Ginocchio-Silva

MBP: What do you call your practice?

Rosie: I call myself simply, a spiritual person.  

MBP: How do you see your practices fitting into the world we live in today?

Rosie: The way I see it, I think the idea is that before everything, respect each person’s belief. I’m a spirit person, a santera. Ever since I was born, I have the gift to see and feel. But there are other types of gifts that people have, like the power of helping other people with energy, or simply with their feelings. My goal is to be able to serve a little bit of each line, each spiritual belief.  

MBP: Who are your teachers?

Rose: I think that they are spirits because ever since I was little I have allowed myself to be guided by them. That’s how I arrived here to the mountains of Asheville.

MBP: And how else have you learned about your tradition?

Rosie: Respect, patience, love. Suddenly we believe we are alone in this world. But I believe that the spirits are here to guide us on the spiritual path. To do something better each day.

MBP: Would you call yourself a healer?

Rosie: I believe that we are all healers. I consider myself a spirit worker and practitioner of santeria, (espiritista santera). Spirit worker because I was born with the gift of working with spirits. Santera because that’s the religion that I chose to continue on this path and to be able to give a little bit of myself to each person that needs a consultation or advice.  

MBP: How do you help and guide people through difficult things like dying or other tragedies?

Rosie: Well every time someone dies, first we have to see if it was the person’s time to die or if they died before their time that they were due. If the person dies before their time they need to help that spirit to advance towards the light. If the person has died and it was their time, sometimes they leave messages that they weren’t able to leave during their lifetime and that’s part of my work.

MBP: So would you consider yourself a medium?

Rosie: I consider myself a medium, because there’s a spirit, he is an Indian who has accompanied my since I was three years old, it has been an incredible experience and the good thing about the spirit is he’s always there to help.  

MBP: Does that work ever scare or intimidate you?

Rosie: Of course, yes. I have a very powerful, strong experiences because when you decide to bring light into people’s lives, there are always dark spirits that don’t want to allow you to bring peace to people’s lives, or love, or direction. So I’ve never considered myself a religious person, never, but spiritual. And there’s a big difference.  

MBP: So if something does intimidate or scare you how do you face that fear in the work you do?

Rosie: Well, for example, when I have to cleanse houses, I try to see if I can do the spiritual cleansing or simply if it’s not my work because there’s something a lot bigger than myself, a lot of darkness [that I can’t work with]. Because there’s always something bigger than yourself, light and darkness.  

Andrea: Well, I’ll ask something that you spoke about last time, about what you said about healing with your hands?

Rosie: The grandfather of my mother healed with his hands and surprisingly I inherited that gift. When I was little my mom said that I used to cure dogs. I wanted to avoid it because I was afraid and I started going to every church possible looking for a truth but the truth was already within me. It’s an inheritance, it’s a beautiful gift and with the years I have learned to know how to use it. Many people believe that having this gift makes you better than others, but it’s completely the opposite. It’s when you must be more humble in your heart so that you don’t lose that gift. It was told to me that I can never do anything with darkness so as not to lose the gift. And thus, it’s been a very interesting path.

MBP: So is your practice a lineage that gets passed down from family member or person to person?

Rosie: In my case yes. I inherited it from my mother’s grandfather. My grandson also has the gift and my daughter as well. But if you don’t have discipline in your life with the gift you can lose your mind.  

Jackie: I’m curious about the way that you’ve noticed when you were younger and growing up that the spirits guided you and how did you know that’s what you wanted to do, what are ways that the spirits showed up for you?

Rosie: Well, ever since I was really little, I could see things. I was always looking for my mother and father because no one could see what I saw. My mom tells me that I used to cure the animals. Then, I noticed as I got older that I could see a spirit that others could not see. I grow up in Panama in a Catholic family but when a lot of things start happening to me I look for different religions or churches to explain to me why I could see all these things. And eventually I understand, through dreams, and visions, that this was for me, to help. Never to harm.  In my first trip, when I arrived in Asheville, I had the luck to speak to a woman who was an Indian, and she was the director of a hospital. She finally confirms what I already know. That I had to work with my gift to help others. This was here in Cherokee.  I used to work in human resources and eventually leave all of my work and dedicate myself to what I had really come for: a little bit of a spirit worker, a little bit of a counselor, healer, medium and it has been a very interesting spiritual path.  

Jackie: Do you ever get tired?

Rosie: Of course.

Jackie: And what do you do to regenerate or recuperate because you see so many of us all the time?

Rosie: Yes, ever since I was little dance is what helps me and takes away all of the stress, I don’t know why.  I try to be the grandmother, the mother, or the friend. And if I’m your friend, the spiritual work is in the store. If I go to drink tea with you it’s to talk about personal things and not about the spiritual work. If you maintain a balance, it works.  Many times I’ve had to go. Disconnect from everything because it’s very important for the spirit and for the physical body. On the weekend I was a grandmother, I went to see Beauty and the Beast. You ignore all the spirits as much as you can. You eat popcorn and you enjoy your time with your grandson. Sometimes I drink a glass of wine to talk to my daughter about her life because I think that my greatest fortune in life has been to be a mother, to see her grow and now to be a grandmother. In spirit work or within what I do, your mind needs rest and I do that on  Mondays and Tuesdays. I disconnect. If I travel to Panama, I have to sit in front of the ocean dressed in white and if I have to cry, I cry.  And I cleanse myself of everything that I have gone through. Sometimes you have to go to the mountain to be able to gain strength. But sometimes, I have to be a woman and not a counselor and look for my friend and express all that I feel with my husband being far away. And I’m so lucky to have this great friend who understands that even if we’re out dancing and I see spirits sometimes I tell her, “let’s go, I can’t dance here,” and she understands it.

MBP: Is there anything else that you want to mention?

Rosie: What I do can be dangerous. There are a lot of teenagers, adolescents, that want to play, trying to invoke or playing ouija. Very dangerous. It’s very important that they know that you can’t play with this. You must have a discipline and first learn about respect before trying to play because light exists, but demons exist. And larger than everything is love. But we’re in a society in which it seems easy to people to sell a ouija in a toy store. And what they don’t know is that if you invoke, they come. So my advice is respect towards spirituality and the spirits.  

Andrea: I’m thinking a lot about the moment that we are living in now. The political moment are the realities that we’re facing and I know that it’s nothing new, I know that it has been centuries with this same pattern. But how do you recommend to those of us who are doing movement work to involve our ancestors and their wisdom more, to work with the spirits to have more strength as a movement to protect our communities and make the changes that we want to make?

Rosie: Well I think that each of us has forgotten to look towards the universe and to remember that we have spirits, our ancestors who can help us. Sadly, only when have problems, do we ask and know, each person should have an alter according to their personality. There are people who their alter is the bible.  There are people who their alter is a crystal. There are people who have the seven African powers. There are people who have Quan yin, it doesn’t matter. It’s your personality, but you must call your ancestors. We have forgotten spirituality to seek our internal self. We all have come to learn something on earth and I think if we invoke the energy of love things would be better. I don’t consider myself a perfect person but always, everyday I must call my ancestors so that they can use my body, to work through my body to help people.  

Rosie: The most difficult question to answer is what do I consider myself. I’m santera, an espiritista. I work with the earth, I’m a medium, I do astral projection, like you go from your body to another place, you see things, you hear, you feel, so I don’t have any (titles) I just let them work through me, so I guess that’s my most difficult question because I don’t’ have a specific name. I can tell you santera but it’s not just that.  Because I started walking this journey before I even became santera. But it’s been amazing, good experiences, but some bad experiences. The very most beautiful experience has been the spirit that has walked with me, the Indian that always leaves me a feather, even when no one has been in my house, there you find a feather waiting for me. They are things that are difficult to explain. One day an old man came to the store and I was very sad because it was Christmas and I kept giving so much to people. But as you know my husband is far away and I was sad because it would be another Christmas without him. And this old man from Puerto Rico told me, “Rosie I can’t leave you here because you have an old man that won’t let me leave. He tells me that he has a message for you.” I’m the only one that knows his name so I will know if it’s true.  Then the spirit took control of his body and spoke to me, he told me his name and I started to cry. His message was, “you know you’re here to help people, to give them the message that is coming from me and others, but today I came to visit you because you’re sad. And I want to make you strong and your moment will come, don’t be sad anymore.” I cried  and that was my biggest gift that I have had. This man is a espiritista and he told me, he showed me his ring which was just like my ring with the face of an Indian and he told me, “we have this in common.” He left and like a year later he died and I know that my Indian cannot take control of just any person. He has to choose which body to speak through. This was a beautiful gift. It was beautiful because I could speak to him and I could see that it was him. His greeting and then his name, no one else knows that and so I cried, I cried.

MBP: And what tools do you use, herbs or tarot, what else?

Rosie: I use pendulums, tarot, sometime water. One can see [things] in water. Or if I’m working with a candle to see if things are still bad, I read what the candle says. I don’t know why or how, if I really concentrate I can see detailed things for a person. I can arrive to that point.

MBP: Like the future in images and visions?

Rosie: Yes, it’s absurd that people think that the spirits will talk to you and you will hear their voice, but what you are going to hear is your voice, and you know over time if it only your thoughts or if it is the spirit. You come to learn that.

Jackie: Can you tell us more about the name of your shop?

Rosie: Essence Divine is the name. One time I was driving and the spirits were saying that I need to start to help people, I’ll never forget it. I went to talk with a woman, after the other woman told me to, to see a vision with crystals. This was a woman who is no longer there. She looked at me and I was “What?” She said, “I can’t read your cards, it’s better than I don’t.” Because she could see things. She told me, “how about you read my cards and I pay you?” This was the first time that I professionally read cards. I spoke about her books and her illness and she told me that nobody knew that she was very very sick. Then I started to figure out how to open a store. I opened the store with two candles. I thought how am I going to open a store with two candles, I have no money. I almost didn’t have enough money for the deposit. I started to clean out a spider web and I told myself,” Well, here I am. This is the store, there are no products.” It’s said that you should do your thing. And yes, I did mine and I closed my eyes and I started to do something that I do know how to do, open the heart and let the energy out. I don’t know, it’s strange, but I do it. People started to arrive to the store asking themselves, “What’s here? It feels good.” I started to use eucalyptus and did my first cleansing.

MBP: This is a cleansing you said? How do you describe a cleansing?

Rosie: You have to let the spirit help you. For example, I try to do four cleansing, but many times the spirit has told me, “No, touch the foot, you have to work on their foot because they have to walk a distinct path, they need to be healed here or they have something there.” For example, when she [points to Jackie] wants to have a baby, I let the spirit talk to me. I knew that I had to do something, and I don’t know how to explain it but that’s how it was done. So with me you will realize that sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s not. Even when I talk, when I teach a class it maybe me or it may be that the spirit takes control. And the woman more or less realize it. When the Indian is close I cannot walk with one leg, it’s as if they had hurt one of his legs. In one of the classes I started smelling an orchid like a flower and I thought I don’t see anything, where? People will think that I’m crazy. But then you smell roses and then incense and everyone starts to cry. The spirits came and took control of me and told them that that day was going to be a celebration, the many spirits were around because many things would happen and they remember because that was a big day in their lives and they cannot explain, there are no words to explain the feeling and the smell changed from roses to incense and nobody was there and everybody start crying. I noticed that with my grandson the same thing started happening. He tells you one thing, then he tells you another thing and it’s the spirit that speaks through him. Then he continues like nothing but the same thing happens to him that happens to me. For example, last Sunday I told him that a man was going to come and he answered me with the name of another person that I haven’t seen in a long time. He looks at me and says, “oh you mean this person? Because they’re going to be knock on the door looking for you.” I say to him, “Ay Jaden.” He doesn’t know but the spirits talk through him. I had a friend who now has passed she used to say that with the spirits, you could realize if it was the spirit or if it was me and she would take advantage of that opportunity to ask more questions (laughter). This was beautiful. She always had her pen ready, “Seriously, tell me.” Everything has been interesting. In one of my trips to Panama I went on a journey to see where my mother’s grandpa was from. There was a house built with adobe and that’s where he was born. And he was very famous, people came from other towns so that he could heal them. And they say that he always tried to keep it like  . . . well don’t do bad things but do good thing. So when Jessica was very small I took her to a healer because she was so skinny and she didn’t want to eat and it’s funny because the man that healed her looked at me and said, “why don’t you heal her?” I said no. And then he said to me, “you know that the person that guides me was your mother’s grandfather and I was fourteen when he taught me and I see that you have this gift, just like your daughter.”  And he says to me, “this is the last time that I’ll heal her. You have to do it from now on.” That was great to know that this man that was also great had respect for Gregorio Vargas, that’s his name. So now, I always I have a table for my Indian and just now when I went to Cuba the first thing that they said to me was, “there’s a healer here, he is your family, he looks like a short Indian, a Panamanian.” Of course he was Panamanian. And they said to me, “he was the grandfather of your mother and he says he’s not happy because you don’t have a separate place for him.” So now in the back I have his table because he told me in Cuba through the spirits that he heals with the Indian.

MBP: So then you dedicated an altar to him?

Rosie: Yes, it’s a small table just with just what loved, his tobacco. She [Andrea] brings me some special tobacco and I was like thank you Andrea I’m going to give it to him because he took over and talked and I was like oh my god, he’s here and then there was an uncle that appeared from the spirits in the store and I refused to believe that it was my uncle, because I thought that my uncle don’t do nothing but he gives me the specific place where he lives in Panama and I was like, “yup that’s him!” And this is like, you have the spirits, you have one guide spirit. Each of the spirits will do what’s good in life, like my grandpa, my mother’s grandpa is good as a healer, and the Indian is a protector but he’s also a healer. My uncle, he’s good to tell you things so he tells you sometimes too much. And when I went to Cuba they give me his name then they give me the specific name of where he lived and he mentioned that he wants to help because this was for everybody and he wanted to participate with the spirits. And I said ya of course but remember this is not just me, this is everybody. That’s why I create this [space] because if you don’t have an appointment and you need to relax or be strong or get an answer then by sitting there you can talk to the spirit and they can put in your mind whatever answers for you.

MBP: So for you, your spirits are some of your ancestors the grandfather of your mother and an uncle but for other people can their spirits be outside of their family?

Rosie: Oh ya, there is a lady called Elizabeth or Isabel, I don’t know which one of the two but she is here all of the time. There are many spirits here. And that table beside me is called Mesa Espiritual, spiritual table. That’s where you only bring spirit from your family, okay. And then one’s that are not from the family they are separate, you take care of them. If you are espiritista and you don’t take care of your spirit you are not going to be okay. Like Jaden my grandson, he was going through so much and I knew it was because of that, he needed to take care of the spirit, he’s too small. So when I went to Cuba someone that practice the same thing as me but even more powerful said to me . . .  actually it was Yemaya.  So the spirit took control of me and said to me you’ve been crying for your grandson but you know already the problem, you just need for me to confirm the problem. And she said there is no problem, but he is like you. He sees spirit and feels spirit and he’s very small but under a tree you’ve got to make sure that you give attention to his spirits because he has many. So imagine a child who has many spirits touching and talking and visiting them, he’s getting so much stronger. So now we need to return and take care of the spirit, how we did that is a tree, there is glasses and you do a special serving for each spirit. And the day of the ceremony, the group that you saw here they helped me and even though it looked like you saw just coffee, just this drink, you feel the spirits around they’re like children waiting for you you tremble and you don’t know why, it was very interesting. So we took care of that and Jaden was supposed to say something and he did and there is a picture where he’s on the top of the tree and before we did all of that there is two men beside him, one guy in overalls and one old man. They don’t belong to the family, they belong to the land. Like in here, there is one called Romeo, he always says that he is from the third line of angels but I know the words specifically but he always comes. Back there is Romeo, Isabel, there is another male, it’s a black male. There are many spirits that don’t have much to do with my family but for some reason they work here. There is a lady, she’s heavy, she’s black and I guess she had a problem but she’s always here to help, she’s very loving and I saw her and she said please I want to help. So spirits come and go. Something like they say they want to come and be volunteers every Tuesday, kind of like that. So you have to pay attention to and respect the spirits and that’s why I say when you come you can offer a flower to  Yemaya but you can also offer the other spirits, because there are many. That’s what I do.  I told Jessica we’ve got to go and get more flowers, but then I divide them. And that’s why I put a table for the seven Africans, the saints, because some people believe just in saints besides angels and there is Quan yin and the bottom is going to be Buddha. And in the back some tables are for the spirits and beside me this table is the spiritual table that is for the family and in the back one specific table for my grandpa and then there’s another corner for the other spirits and it’s a lot of work. Because in santeria you’ve got to give attention to each one of them and I do that at home. So it’s interesting and I have many experiences with spirits. The thing is that you cannot forget that you live in this land, many people just go there [to the spirit world] and don’t put their foot down [grounded in this land.] You’ve got to have to have a balance.

MBP: Thank you