Venezuela is a strongly Catholic country. Although some Venezuelans are not practitioners, they are often still believers. It is common to hear phrases like “I don’t go to church, but I believe in God.” This has not changed in recent years, and I doubt that it can change, although I have seen more tolerance and interest towards other beliefs recently. This does not mean, however, that figures of Catholicism do not appear in other religions, as in the case of the courts of Maria Lionza, or in today’s case of Ánima Sola.
In her book The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, Judika Illes explains:
Ánima Sola translates as the “lone soul” or “lonely spirit” and refers to a very specific votive image. Based on Roman Catholic votive statues (but now a standardized chromolithograph), this image is particularly popular in Latin American magical traditions. It depicts a woman standing amidst flames, eternally burning yet never consumed. She gazes upwards, holding her chained hands towards heaven. Is her soul burning in the fire of Hell or does her heart burn with the fire of love? Allegedly unrequited love is what drew this poor soul into her predicament: the Ánima Sola traded eternal salvation for the joys of temporal love. She is invoked in only the most desperate love spells, in which in return for obtaining the sought-after love the appellant agrees to replace Ánima Sola in purgatory when they die.
I heard a different story when I was a kid. When I was a teenager, I heard about Ánima Sola many times and was told that she was a condemned soul, a woman punished for all eternity. I’ve heard several names for her, but it seems the most common is “Celestina Abdenago.” According to legend, this woman was present at the crucifixion of Jesus, and gave drink to Dimas and Gestas, the good and bad thief respectively, but not to Jesus, who condemned her to suffer for all eternity alone for her actions.
Many times I was told that this soul is used to make a person just as lonely as she is, so that their health deteriorates, their plans are not fulfilled, and they suffer in many ways. Although what Illes tells in her book makes sense and I do not rule out the possibility that it is possible to work with Ánima Sola in a positive way, I have always heard that she is an entity with which one must be very careful. Both versions are valid, both are very real possibilities, but the way I grew up has had an impact on me and my way of seeing this legend.
I had been a victim of bullying since elementary school. Being the only Arab in the classroom, the palest of all, the one who read, the most quiet, shy and reserved one, was not a good personality growing up. All my classmates were good at sports and math; they loved to meet at their houses and stay up late talking. During high school, the differences between them and me became huge.
Many times they beat me and laughed at me “for sport,” as we say in Venezuela. It was the favorite hobby of many of my classmates; some treated it like a subject they wanted to pass with honors. While they got together to talk about sports, women, drinking until dawn, and dancing reggaeton, I preferred to read on the computer or play video games with my cousins. Even in my family I was the black sheep, or the Gothic one.
During one particular year, I learned what it was like to be in a classroom and never be spoken to by anyone. One day I told the school coordinator about one classmate who would not stop bothering me and making fun of me, and the coordinator switched them into a different section. The next morning, when I greeted some classmates, they all fell silent and stared straight ahead, completely ignoring me. During that year, no one else spoke to me again, and although I was able to be at peace, I only had one friend, a year older than me.
Years later, I learned that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that causes those of us who have it to be withdrawn, have focused interests, to not understand sarcasm easily, and to be clumsy with social interactions, among other characteristics. The damage had already been done, though. I had depression, anxiety, stress, among many other things. Loneliness was both a blessing and a condemnation. Those years were quite strong and changed me in more ways than I first thought.
Loneliness made me want to heal and heal others. It made me want to help others in any way I could. For a long time I wrote about men’s mental health, autism, depression, anxiety, and how to stay in control during an emotional or sensory crisis. I learned various branches of reiki; the tarot became a way to guide me; I began to meditate and kept reading, much more with each passing year. Even my master’s thesis was on how to educate people about the Gothic subculture, which has always been viewed in a bad light, misinterpreted, and even seen as a threat.
Even though I became dependent for a while for not feeling worthy of my own love, even though I wanted someone to appreciate me because I didn’t, loneliness taught me that there is a difference between being comfortable being alone and getting used to being alone. When I hear the story of Ánima Sola, I see a teacher, a woman who knows better than anyone what it is to be on your own, what it is to have no one and to fend for herself. If anyone knows what loneliness is, it would be her.
A friend told me that she once saw a Santero tell a girl that she had been sent the Ánima Sola and that she needed a strong energetic cleansing. The girl in question improved with the days and she seemed to be calmer as time went by. I don’t know the details, but from my point of view, it was a lesson for her to take her place, value herself, and be more independent. Being on your own is a double-edged sword.
Ánima Sola is not a spirit to be taken lightly, but she’s a powerful teacher too, teaching what no one else knows.