Spiritual artwork on the wall at Botanica Yoruba. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

There’s no doubt that the Mission is changing. While we can talk to urbanists or economists to get a sense of how this neighborhood might look in ten years, we decided to get a slightly unorthodox perspective on the changing neighborhood: a Santeria priestess.

Throughout the Mission, tarot card readers and mediums have offered spiritual advice and council on the future. Some do it out of storefronts on 24th Street and some have shops selling candles and herbal remedies. One of the oldest is Botanica Yoruba, in the Mission since 1978 and run by Yolanda Rivera.

For Rivera, the questions that people seek guidance on don’t really change with the demographics. Nowadays, she still sees Latinos, but she also sees Hindus and Arab women as well as doctors, judges and lawyers.

“Everybody comes inside,” she said referring to the door at 3423 19th Street, her second address in her 35 years in the Mission.

“They come if they’re traveling, if the want to go into a new business, if they have an issue with love,” said Rivera, a woman with big black eyeliner eyes who finishes her sentences with a kind smile.

Though Rivera says business is good, Botanica Yoruba has had to grapple with the rising costs of doing business in the Mission. Up until 2009, she ruled the corner at Valencia and 21st Street for more than 20 years, but when the landlord raised the rent to $10,000 a month, she left. Viracocha moved in next, but its owners aren’t sure for how much longer.

“Twenty-first and Valencia, that corner is very powerful,” said Rivera. Of Viracocha’s recent troubles keeping its doors open Rivera added, “When you do a lot of changes in an old building, you need to take care of what was there before.”

Rivera believes the spirits have an especially powerful sway in the Mission given its long history of Spanish Missionaries on Ohlone land and the scores of disinterred bodies from Dolores Park.

“The Mission District has a big energy. It’s a good, but complicated energy,” Rivera said. “It’s so powerful, people don’t understand how powerful it is…and how important it is to maintain those energies.”

How will those energies develop in the future? “It depends,” Rivera says. “Energy changes according to people. It would be a problem if a lot of people are moving here that don’t understand the spirits.”

Altar in Botanica Yoruba. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.
Altar in Botanica Yoruba. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

After talking to Rivera we decided we wanted to go a little bit deeper and consult the spirits themselves by having a formal consultation. Rivera said she could only tell us what the spirit had to say about the individual in the room, but from some of her suggestions and interpretations and given that we’re both Mission residents, brought up a lot of themes relevant to the neighborhood and the changing nature of Mission Local, which will soon be independent from UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

We both had a consultation—a first for both of us—and chatted about it afterward. Here’s an edited version of our conversation following our separate encounters with Rivera and her spiritual energy.

Daniel Hirsch: So Andrea, what was your experience like for you? What happened?

Andrea Valencia: Yolanda sits at her desk, across from me. There are two black heads of a woman and a man at each corner of the desk, facing me. I keep looking at the female head because her eyes seem very real, almost looking at you but they are not, and that sort of freaks me out. Yolanda’s eyes look straight into my eyes. She gets minimum details—name and birth date—and scolds me for oversharing before it’s time to do so.

DH: Yolanda made it very clear that she doesn’t want too many details about you so the spirit can tell her about you. She had a collection of shells which she threw on her desk and read as a way to interpret the spiritual energy passing through her, a spirit she called Elegua. For me, she didn’t get too specific, but I do think she got some general things right about my personality. Without giving away Yolanda’s methods (or too many of your secrets) what was the main thing you talked about in your session?

Candles for various occasions at Botanica Yoruba. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.
Candles for various occasions at Botanica Yoruba. Photo by Daniel Hirsch.

AV: Yolanda said that Elegua said I should be more focused in the changes to come. Places fulfill their purpose and then we move on to be able to embrace change. Change is a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the Mission and lately in Mission Local. In fact, trying new things has been an element of the site. Trying new things allows us to be an experimental platform and not be stagnated.

DH: It was interesting, a lot of what she talked about with me was about money and how I should figure out how to invest better. According to the spirit, I’m going to be incredibly successful and have lots of money and I should worry less. Sounds good to me.

AV: Do you think this prediction for you has any meaning for the neighborhood at large?

DH: There’s so much talk right now of the tech boom. Yolanda’s interpretation of my future indicates there is a lot of money to be made. But she also said that I need to be careful not to spend too much money that “you give out money like pumpkin seeds, the pumpkin has lots of seeds, but it will run out of seeds eventually.” Did she mention anything to you about money? What do you think her advice to you says about the neighborhood?

AV: I feel like we keep thinking that to be incredibly successful means to have lots of money and these are not necessarily linked. Yolanda talked to me about money as if it were an addiction—suggesting that I am careless with it. I disagree with her on this, but she also mentioned how stubborn I was. Although, there are so many things to waste your money on in this neighborhood: alcohol, cigarettes, restaurants, bars… But to know how to invest it is something altogether different.

DH: To get a sense of how the neighborhood might change, I asked Yolanda if I should stay in the Mission or move back to the East Coast, where I’m from. Yolanda was adamant that I stay here. According to her, If I stay in the Mission, I’ll make money and get married. What did she say to you about your relationship to the Mission?

AV: Well, I’m already getting married so we got that one down! As far as my relationship to the Mission, Yolanda mentioned there’s a lot at stake for me here and sure, I think she is right. Anyone who has invested five years of their life into a place develops a strong connection to the place and its people, but Yolanda also mentioned it’s not good to be that much of a sentimentalist.

She also mentioned that I’m very stubborn and I like to think so, that gives me some sort of strength. There is also stubbornness in the community for sure. And in that sense, the Mission has gone through many cycles, Yolanda mentioned it’s important that we not get stuck in negative cycles. It’s interesting how people attribute the duration of these cycles to magic.

Instead of focusing on the magic behind it, we should focus on who formulates this language of magic and what the purpose is. For a fortune teller, there’s an underlying context on the human condition. But, for an investor, the underlying context is an economic model, where ‘magic’ creates a cycle full of short-term opportunities.

We should be conscious of the cycles, but also conscious of who takes us through them. In the end, I think we live the result of them—it’s how we handle them that makes the experience worth it. Did she tell you anything surprising or weird?

DH: Yeah, she said I should be really careful when I go out drinking, because anyone can put something in my drink. That was surprising. I hope I don’t get roofied!

AV: Yeah… roofies are to humans what the deadly meatballs are for dogs. And, sniffing doesn’t work.

DH: Would you ever go back for another consultation?

AV: I enjoyed it. And, I like the idea of being in touch with another dimension. Yolanda said I’m very much of a believer in my own way. And, I think that sums it up.

DH: I’m still a skeptic, but it’s less expensive than seeing a therapist.

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Daniel Hirsch is a freelance writer who has been living in the Mission since 2009. When he's not contributing to Mission Local, he's writing plays, working as an extra for HBO, and/or walking to the top of Bernal Hill.

Andrea hails from Mexico City and lives in the Mission where she works as a community interpreter. She has been involved with Mission Local since 2009 working as a translator and reporter.

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