Tomás Monsalve (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1958) has just published his second novel, ‘When the spirits filled the mirrors’. It is a historical work on spiritualism and sanctiguadoras that takes place between the islands of Gran Canaria, Cuba and England.
What is your novel based on?
The title, When the spirits filled the mirrors, has to do with a movement at the end of the 19th century throughout Europe that believed in the manifestations of spirits and the popular and wealthier classes saw it as normal because they appeared by all sites. It was almost like a social gathering. These people went to cafes, the theater or private meetings. There was a society that admitted it, among them the writer Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the most famous spiritualists and people of great intellectual worth who saw the phenomenon and could not deny it because it was so evident. The tables moved and responded. It is also true that there were many impostors and phenomena that could not be explained.
How did the spiritist question evolve?
As a result, around 1850 the spiritist movement led by Allan Kardec took place. Write the message of the spirits to different mediums from different countries. That is the historical context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is what is happening in Europe.
And in the Canary Islands, was there something similar?
The phenomenon of spirits was taking place throughout Europe and in the Canary Islands, that of the santiguadoras, who often had the capacities of a medium because they contacted the spirits. They were also in charge of the healing of the population. They came from the time when the conquerors came to the Islands due to the contributions of different social and population groups, such as Jews, Berbers, Muslims or Gypsies. Everything came here and everyone brought their own magic. The Inquisition persecuted a lot of this type of people, especially women, who had more capacity to come into contact with spirits. It occurred to them that if they concealed these capacities through the prayers of the Church, as sanctigators, they could hide it because, obviously, they also healed. They had a lot of knowledge, which many members of the Church knew and so that the population was not left behind, many times, to escape the control of the Inquisition, they used their abilities against the background of praying to a saint and saying a prayer. .
What else do we know about the santiguadoras?
The story of these women has always been a poorly told story because it has been approached ethnographically, from a historical and folkloric point of view, but it has not reached the essence of who they were, why they had that social imprint, that recognition. At the end of the 19th century there were 40 doctors for all of Gran Canaria who, in addition, had the cost of private medicine, so most of the people went to popular medicine that, many times, the santiguadoras carried. If these people had this mark, it is because they really had a social function. But, in addition, they come from the need of the Inquisition to give a title to what they did not understand. They saw phenomena and then they had to punish them, but for that, they first had to be judged and said that it was a crime. Then they divided the population into witches, fortune-tellers, sanctifiers, or healers. Each one, according to their label, could be judged and said to have committed crimes. The santiguadora, as she was under the umbrella of the prayers of the Catholic Church, was exempt from the courts. On the other hand, all those who were dedicated to the same thing, but without that umbrella were witches, sorceresses and a thousand other titles that the inquisitors had.
The protagonist of the narration is a saint, right?
The main character of the novel is, in part, a saint. It takes place between Gran Canaria, London and Cuba. With the work I make a vision of how the same phenomenon is seen in these three worlds and how it is treated. I mix reality with fiction at times because everything I tell about the facts is verified. There are people with the ability to receive messages from spirits and others who have had near-death experiences. All of that is real. What happens is that things do not happen to the character that I was inspired by as I tell in the novel, but in a different order
What does the title seek to express?
That it was a time when spirits manifested themselves throughout the world, in all social classes and in all settings.
It is a drama of personal growth, evolution and redemption, with a compassionate look, says the synopsis.
It is a drama of personal growth because the sanctifying protagonist of the novel is a young woman who has had the capacity of a medium since she was a child and adopted by a man who comes from Cuba, with all the culture of Afro-Cuban religions. She grows by his side, but there comes a time when her own natural instinct and her own personal growth make her see that in order to relate to the spirits and the consciousness of God and what it really is, it is necessary to consider another approach. That is why it is a novel of personal evolution, because it grows spiritually from an African syncretic religion to a much more personal spirituality.
What do you intend to convey to the reader with the novel?
That today they resort to therapies such as reiki or energy and also to a medicine more based on herbs, which is the same as these women did. This is my second story. The first was called Medical Records. Now I write because I dedicate myself to studying History and it seemed to me that these characters of the santiguadoras had not been treated fairly.
You just published the book, as I understand it …
Yes, because I participated in the Las Palmas City Council contest on Helps for self-publishing. Out of more than 20 projects, three were chosen. One of them was mine and they gave me the award to edit the novel.
What other projects do you have in mind?
I have been working on a new one for two months and I want to continue with what I like, which is to investigate the History of Gran Canaria. I am investigating Luján Pérez and I want to write about him to give him a correct treatment.