“In Pilgrimage (Peregrinaje) (2013), each geometric shape represents the human being in his upward movement towards the Light, which is nothing other than becoming aware of one’s own Spirit; each one of us is unique in our pilgrimage and movement.” — Lizza I. Román
The present study was born from an academic as well as personal interest. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico in a family that, although used to belong to the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, San Sebastián, was very familiar with Spiritism1 in its communal and social function. My paternal grandmother was a Spiritist leader who directed a center in the Guajataca vicinity, where she performed the valuable work of spiritual and moral healing for over forty years. My mother’s family was also very familiar with Spiritism. At the home of my maternal grandfather, we would pray with the Bible, recite the Catholic prayers of Ave María and Good Friday and study The Gospel According to Spiritism by Allan Kardec. I was the youngest of five siblings, so I knew very little about Spiritism, but as a child I observed many events that intrigued me and eventually sparked my interest in the topic. In the maturity of my academic career, as I prepared for a sabbatical year, I decided to explore it. Initially, what I found, thanks to a distinguished and generous colleague, the Puerto Rican historian Gerardo Alberto Hernández Aponte, were dispersed imperiled cultural materials (i. e. photocopies of primary works, periodicals, magazines, book reviews, microfilms, historical accounts of assemblies, etc.). I knew that Puerto Rican women had played a fundamental role in the promotion of Spiritism during the end of the nineteenth century, but there had been nothing written about their primary works. I wanted to return to the theme of spirituality and women which I had addressed in my book Sacred Iconographies in Chicana Cultural Productions2. Furthermore, I was very familiar with the political and social agendas of transnational feminists who I had researched for the volume Transnational Borderlands in Women’s Global Networks: The Making of Cultural Resistance.3 I wondered to what extent the pioneer Puerto Rican women spiritists associated with the progressive political and social agendas that circulated on the Island during the last years of the nineteenth century. This brought me to undertake a research project that documents and creates digital representations of imperiled cultural materials produced by female Puerto Rican writers. At the end of my research, I discovered that these pioneers engaged with Spiritism in extraordinary ways in order to transform Puerto Rican society during a turbulent colonial transition from Spain to the United States.
The most relevant research about Puerto Rican Spiritism uses an historical methodology (Arroyo, 2013; Enríquez Seiders 2011, 2018; Hernández Aponte 2014, 2015; Herzig Shannon 2001; Matos Rodríguez 2004; Ramos 1992; Romeu Toro 2015, Rodríguez Escudero 1991; Valle Ferrer, 1990, among others).4 The present study stems from this research, but it mainly focuses on the textual analysis of primary works. As a specialist in literary and cultural studies from Latin America, I focus on how texts are constructed as well as how they relate to other narratives that circulate in society5…
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1 We call to mind the definition of Spiritism offered by Allan Kardec: “Spiritism is both a science of observation and a philosophical doctrine. As a practical science, it consists of the relationships that can be established with the Spirits; as a philosophical doctrine, it understands all of the moral consequences that follow from such relationships. We can define it thus: Spiritism is the science that addresses the nature, origin, and destiny of Spirits, and their relationships with the human world.” Allan Kardec, ¿Qué es el Espiritismo? Edición ampliada y revisada, Málaga: Federación Espiritista Española, 2014. p. 9.
2 Clara Román-Odio, Sacred Iconographies in Chicana Cultural Productions, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. See also my article “Flags, the Sacred, and a Different America in Consuelo Jiménez Underwood’s Fiber Art,” in Consuelo Jiménez-Underwood: Art, Weaving and Vision Laura Pérez and Ann Marie Leimer, eds. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021 (in press).
3 Clara Román-Odio and Marta Sierra, eds. Transnational Borderlands in Women’s Global Networks: The Making of Cultural Resistance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. See also my project Crossing Borders for Cultural Resistance, from my course Transnational Feminisms (WGS 242) on http://cbfr.kenyoncip.org/.
4 José Arroyo, El espiritismo libre de sincretismo religioso. Una guía para saber lo qué es y no es el Espiritismo; así como saber lo que son y no son los espiritistas, 2da ed. San Juan, P.R: 2013; Sandra A. Enríquez Seiders, El espiritismo en Utuado: La historia de las hermanas Baldoni, San Juan, P.R.: Biblio Services, 2011; Enríquez Seiders, Brígida Álvarez Rodríguez: Una mujer, una historia, San Juan: Biblioservices, 2da. edición, 2018; Gerardo Alberto Hernández Aponte, El espiritismo en Puerto Rico 1860-1907, San Juan, P.R.: Academia Puertorriqueña de la Historia, 2015; Gerardo Alberto Hernández Aponte, comp., La Cieguecita de la Cantera: Obras completas de Josefa Martínez Torres. Primera mujer novelista de Puerto Rico. San Juan, P.R.: Academia Puertorriqueña de la Historia y Asociación Puertorriqueña de Investigación de Historias de Mujeres, 2014; Nancy Herzig Shannon, El Iris de Paz: El espiritismo y la mujer en Puerto Rico, 1900-1905, Río Piedras, P.R.: Ediciones Huracán, 2001; Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, comp., A Nation of Women: An Early Feminist Speaks Out: Mi opinión sobre las libertades, derechos y deberes de la mujer, Luisa Capetillo, Alan West-Durán, trad. Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, Houston Texas: Arte Público, 2004; Julio Ramos, comp., Amor y anarquía: Los escritos de Luisa Capetillo, Río Piedras, P.R.: Ediciones Huracán, 1992; Carmen A. Romeu Toro, Espiritismo, transformación y compromiso social. Historia de la Escuela Magnético Espiritual de la Comuna Universal en Puerto Rico (1930- 1980), San Juan, P.R.: Publicaciones Gaviota, 2015; Néstor Rodríguez Escudero, Historia del Espiritismo en Puerto Rico. 2da ed. Quebradillas, P.R.: Imprenta San Rafael, 1991; Norma Valle Ferrer, Luisa Capetillo: Historia de una mujer proscrita, Río Piedras, P.R.: Ediciones Cultural, 1990.
5 See as an example my book Octavio Paz en los debates críticos y estéticos del siglo XX. Santa Comba (A Coruña), España: TresCTres Editores, 2006.