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— It was no accident, said San Diego clairvoyant Dr. James Capers, that movie mogul and occult aficionado Steven Spielberg attended his lecture in February, when Capers demonstrated his "spiritual gifts" at the Los Angeles Conscious Living Expo. Capers surmises that Spielberg came to his lecture (which he describes as "sitting-on-the-floor-room only") because Spielberg had been cursed by an African witch doctor: "Mr. Spielberg should be afraid -- these demonic powers are quite real."

According to April's Vanity Fair, Michael Jackson had Baba, a "voodoo priest" from Mali, brew up death curses for Spielberg, Hollywood powerbroker David Geffen, and 23 other Jackson "enemies." Baba, who is probably closer to a witch doctor than a voodoo priest, nonetheless received $150,000 for the conjuration that included a ritual sacrifice of 42 cows. A similar amount was paid to another sorcerer who gave Jackson a bath in sheep's blood. The "gloved one" is getting back at Spielberg, say news sources, because Spielberg failed to cast him as the lead in Hook, while Jackson believes Geffen, who managed him briefly in the 1990s, sabotaged his career.

"If Mr. Spielberg," Capers says, "has done something to Michael Jackson, like stab him in the back or persecute him, this is grounds to move on him." Such a hex can take its time killing someone, he says. "Mr. Spielberg could pass blood in his urine, go to the hospital, and come down with cancer. It's the amount of negative manifestation that occurs according to how it's projected." The hexer may not kill Spielberg, just "make him suffer."

Capers, who directs the Temple of Divine Prophecy (late of El Cajon, now "in search of a new building"), understands voodoo because he doesn't practice it -- he combats it. He hails from "five generations of clairvoyants" in Jamaica. As a young man, he came to San Diego to study with a great-aunt who "performed miracles right in front of my eyes."

Born with "supernatural, paranormal ability," Capers says he doesn't conjure. That's what voodoo practitioners and witch doctors do -- the practice -- "summoning and invoking multiple types of spirits. People who are clairvoyant don't have to do that." When Capers speaks, he says, his words can "bring the spiritual into the realm of reality. I've done it many times." He distinguishes between his Pentecostal religious background and his spiritual ability. He says the Bible tells him that "gifts and callings are without repentance. Meaning that people can do all kinds of miraculous things that have nothing to do with God, with religious belief or doctrine."

In his ken, Capers counts 46 spiritual gifts -- among them telepathy, or the ability to read minds, as well as speaking in tongues and interpreting others who speak in tongues. Prophesying is another gift. "I look inside the body and tell whether people have cancer or AIDS," he says. "It's frightening because I never know what I'm going to see. I walk through" an audience of people who "come to see me, and I'm never wrong. Never! I'll tell them, 'You had an operation on your back, and I see the scar.' 'Yes,' they say, 'last month.' "

Yet another of his spiritual gifts is "powerful works -- the same power to combat evil that evil has to combat good. When someone comes forth and conjures negative spirits for harm or whatever," Capers uses "the same power to summon angels to combat demonic forces. It's not what you know that can harm you, it's what you don't know that can harm you. Because voodoo and witchcraft and sorcery are not all spiritual. Some of it is alchemy."

Capers says he "casts out bad spirits or bad energy. It is not fake. It is very real."

An illustration: In early March, Capers was working at an office in Palm Desert. He was opening a letter from a New York woman, who had asked him for help because she was being tormented by a "high priestess witch," when suddenly Capers saw at his feet "mushrooms grow, five inches high, underneath my feet -- and I watched them grow. They were poisonous mushrooms, indigenous to France." He left that room for another room where he saw a "huge black-widow spider" on the wall. "It's not a coincidence, I'm sorry." These were the "negative manifestations of a spiritual attack.

"What did I do? I had a young minister put on rubber gloves, pull the mushrooms up, put them in plastic, and throw them out. Then I had the minister take some Raid and spray the spider." Capers says, he next "saw [the woman's] face, and I spoke my words. 'All that is good in the universe and the light of Jesus Christ and the power of God, let it flow, cover, and repel, that every curse be in reverse, according to his riches and glory.' "

Capers believes that "80 percent of true voodoo is based on mind projection that manipulates wave lengths sent to a person" so that he or she "sees a huge, ugly monster. The brain gives the eyes what they're supposed to see, then that object is in existence. It's very real. They go in the mind and find your most terrible fear, then induce it. That's real craft, from a master practitioner, a high voodoo priest." Thus, Spielberg's and Geffen's minds might see their worst fear, next to sudden death: Michael Jackson prevailing in court.

There are no voodoo priests or priestesses in San Diego, Capers insists. "Real practitioners, who practice real craft, have millions of dollars. That's how you can tell the real deal. These little storefront places are basically putting on a show. If they were true practitioners, they'd be able to manifest funds, prosperity." In rap-like rhythms, Capers scoffs at the voodoo showman: "How can you cast a spell on me when you can't cast a spell to get out of that poverty?"

One of those little storefronts, which may or may not be putting on a "show," is in Normal Heights on Adams Avenue -- Mama Roots Traditional and Urban Magic, run by Mama Roots, also called I-Star. Her shop is bedecked with jars of herbs and vials of oils, smells of incense, and a black cat, who arches at my touch. As a spiritual healer, I-Star focuses on Santería and voodoo -- African religious traditions that came to the Caribbean with the slaves -- as well as the Wicca tradition from Europe. Joining us one recent morning was Daisy, I-Star's godmother, who initiated her into Santería. Both, by the way, are also practicing Catholics, whose church knows nothing, directly, of their work in the magic arts.

I-Star tells me that voodoo and Santería came from the Yoruba and the Fon people in what is now Nigeria and Benin, West Africa. As these people were enslaved and transported across the Atlantic, they converted Christianity (thrust upon them by slavemasters) to their own uses, by hiding their traditions "in the disguise of Catholicism." In Cuba, Santería developed; in Haiti, where it is still practiced by 80 percent of the people, Vodoun. I-Star calls them "pagan religions, sister religions, in reverence to the earth and the forces of nature." At base they are similar, though their practices differ.

Like Capers, I-Star and Daisy say they were born with spiritual powers. Daisy was born in Cuba, in a house that practiced Santería. Her gifts developed once she was initiated into the religion. I-Star echoes her godmother: "I was reading cards, talking to and listening to spirits, all my life; of course, in high school, I had to put it under the covers because people think you're nuts if you talk about seeing things. I was on my own for a long time, working with spirits and helping people with prayer, when I realized I had a path in Santería. My spirits were guiding me there. We have a saying that says, 'You don't get anywhere unless your spirits take you there.' "

I-Star dismisses words like hex, curse, and spell. They're all negative in western culture -- the boogeymen, zombie flicks, and Salem Witch Trials. In the European tradition, "If you cast a spell, you're a witch." Vodoun has similar bad connotations, she says, and is only peripherally about pricking dolls and sending evil energy. Alongside Santería, I-Star practices Vodoun, whose "good side, the healings" are never portrayed. It's the practitioner, she says, not the religion, that determines its worth. "No matter what religion you belong to, you can work with the dark or the light side."

In Santería, Daisy uses the "higher energies" to do "good things." If something is very bad, she says, "You can go in front of one of the orishas," the nature-based gods and goddesses of Santería, "and tell him your fear, your pain, your sorrow. Talk to them; they will take care of you. You don't work with someone to do harm, no." To petition an orisha, the women do rituals where they make an offering, with herbs, oils, minerals, scents, and colors, which are sacred to the orishas, and which the orisha likes. Such rituals, I-Star says, are "really hands-on prayer." They also sacrifice animals, which they define as an "exchange of energies." Once properly summoned, they hope the orisha will "defend someone" or "put someone in check."

Who comes to I-Star and Daisy for help? "You'd be amazed," I-Star says. "I'm amazed myself." She gets people who want to find love or a particular someone to fall in love with; people undergoing custody battles or lawsuits; people who are sick, mentally troubled, or feel possessed; families who want help for a loved one in jail. In that case, they ask for the name of the judge, the district attorney, the lawyers, everyone involved, to "put them all together" so the participants in the case "work on one thing only," namely, that justice is done. To summon spirits, they begin with a reading, using either coconuts, shells, or cards. "Depending on what my spirits say," I-Star notes, "I can advise a client what prayer or offering to give, to bring about a positive result." It's always best to have the person present: "If the person's energy is negative," Daisy says, "you have to clean that aura so the good energy can come in."

I ask if they are able to banish the negativity that clings to people. Both announce heartily, "That's what we do best." They cite a recent client, a boy, who was complaining about seeing "bad spirits walking everywhere" in his house. They visited and found it was true -- that is, they both saw the bad spirits and communicated with them. Several rituals later the spirits had fled.

"It may sound very bizarre," I-Star says, "but we work with spirits all the time. It's a reality to us. The church does exorcisms only to cast out the devil. But there's ordinary spirits walking around that can jump on you, too. Say you've been in the hospital when someone dies. For a minute, that soul is lost and wandering. It might jump on you. You've done nothing wrong, but now you've got this troublesome spirit with you, and it's in your way. Maybe we can help to guide it to the light."

As to Michael Jackson's curse -- "There are humans, working with the forces of the dark, who can cause great harm for a price," says I-Star. "It happens all the time." In Vodoun, there are people who work closely with the spirits of the dead, which "are easier to bribe." This, I-Star says, is what sorcerers do best. They "commune with the lower energies to obtain more negative results. And they make money doing it. I wish Jackson would have come to me. I could have cleaned him up -- for a whole lot cheaper."

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