‘Mami’s biggest lesson’: On Storytelling and the Weight of Words

SANTA FE, NM - JUNE 17, 2018: Cumulus clouds form in the sky above New Mexico. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

In a personal essay for BuzzFeed, author Ingrid Rojas Contreras considers what observing her mother’s work in divination taught her about metaphor, yielding to experimentation, and the power of the right words.

When Mami first started to do readings, she gave her clients only the straight answers they sought: Yes, your husband is cheating on youNo, you should not go on that trip. Yes, he likes you, but he is not meant for you. Her readings were brief and to the point, and none of her clients came back. Sensing something was wrong with the way her message was being received, Mami experimented by disguising what she saw in a story.

There was a young woman, for example, who been disinherited by her father. Mami didn’t tell her the simple truth — that she needed to extend forgiveness to him before he extended forgiveness back to her. “Some truths are so simple, people dismiss them,” Mami said. “Nobody wants to be told: be a good person, be nice to your family, be kind. But sometimes that is the answer.”

Instead, Mami told the woman that the day her father had disinherited her, he had pinched one of her plants in anger, and until this plant was cleansed and released into the wild, her father would be deaf to her entreaties. Apparently, it was true that the father had been toying with a plant when he told his daughter she was to receive no more family money and was on her own. Mami and the woman wore surgical gloves and drove the plant to a nearby river, where they cleaned it with river water, said prayers, and it was at this point that Mami instructed the woman to forgive her father. The plant was a metaphor, but the woman would never know. Mami had given her a tangible task in the face of a broken relationship.

Whether the ritual worked or not is beside the point, in my opinion. In the attic, Mami told me, “You have to speak in metaphors, in paradox, in symbolism. You have to tell a story that will allow the client to experience the truth without you ever having to name it.” Mami gave the woman a story, and the woman forgave her father, and eventually, he forgave her, too.

Read the essay