Going to get your palms read in Buenos Aires? Don’t miss Sergio Daniel Arro. He heads his own institute, Centro Parapsicológico Arro. There he offers courses and consultations, sponsors visitors’ lectures, and takes students for ongoing study.
Sergio is Basque and Northern Italian by origin. He brings to Buenos Aires a rich European brujo tradition which he often shares on talk and call-in shows on both radio and television. Sergio maintains an office in the capital as well as at his center, which is about an hour out of downtown Buenos Aires by bus or train.
The Basques in Argentina have a long tradition of adding much to the culture, I discovered. They led strikes as milkmen over a police order in1863, feeding into the long-standing Argentinean need to stand up to the state. I caught a great picture of some of those early radical immigrants and their descendants in 200: Cuatrocientas imágines (four hundred images), published in 2010 by editor, La Marca. This book collected photographs from every year of Argentina’s existence. I was flipping through the oversized hardback volume, which I found in a small shop next to the editorial offices on my last day walking the streets of the city I had truly come to love, in part for its littering of small bookstores on almost every street.
There, on a large page in this book, stood a group of men, arm in arm, staring back at me from the page across time with their beards, short jackets, leather belts, and hands in pockets. Their earthy, direct energy reminded me of Sergio. They wore the same sort of round, thick wool beret hats as the gentleman selling queso de campo y salame on another palmist’s and my drive back from Uruguay. It was in that hat that he sold us his delicious, homemade, farm-fresh wares in a shop that looked very old country.
As Vice President of the APAPRA—The Association of Professional Paranormal Activities in the Republic of Buenos Aires—Sergio facilitates monthly presentations and the end-of-the-year activity in which all teachers present awards to their students. The association numbers around 300. Sergio assured me that everyone, including yours truly, is welcome there. The association meets every first Thursday of the month at 8 p.m. The address is Avenida Corrientes 1200, in case you go to Buenos Aires.
Sergio started his own center, he says, because anyone else’s will ask for certificates. He is self-taught. The majority of his students are not professionally practicing what he teaches them; they are just people who want to benefit from the knowledge.
At the center, Sergio’s wife also does massage and Reiki. She also teaches Reiki, since she has been a practitioner for five or six years.
Sergio learned his brujeria (Spanish for “witchcraft”) from his aunt and his grandfather, who both practiced many methods of traditional Basque folkway healing. He also vociferously read everything he could get his hands on about how to make mixes from indigenous plant forms in the area to help people with their aches, problems, and pains. He sports four visible upper-body tattoos.
But palmistry is not Sergio’s major trade. He explained that he turns to palm readings only when an issue emerges that needs an additional perspective. With me, for example, he worked only the cards using the Major Arcana from a French tarot deck. Because Basque Country is an autonomous community in Spain that borders on France and includes a small part of France in its greater region, it is only natural that this deck emerged.
Sergio’s preference for cards over palms seems to be that cards can be more exact in time. Palms, he says, show one half of the life in hand and the rest of the life in another, so where, he wonders, does that leave you if the client is already 50? His clients come for consultations and ask questions such as, Is my husband cheating on me and going with that young woman? Because they don’t come and ask for a particular service, he does what he feels is needed with the cards to answer their questions. He also uses the pendulum.
Why resort to palmistry at all? Sergio says that although he doesn’t use the method often, he learned it when he was eight years old. One day he went with his aunt, father and mother and another señora to the house of a woman where she lived with her husband. He doesn’t know what tribe or group she was from, only that they had heard of an elderly Indian woman who used to sit in the plaza reading palms, but few people came.
A plaza, incidentally, is an ancient antecedent of Twitter and Facebook, still prevalent throughout Latin America today. In an actual physical place in the center of a municipality, people gather casually to see their friends, share news, and to take part in public community. Benches function as homepages, and vendors often sell their wares using cash—effectivo—rather than credit cards and PayPal.
Sergio remembers that the woman his family took him to when he was about eight had long white braids. At first she did not want to teach him, but the family talked her into it, saying “¿como no?” He studied with her for years, first learning palms. By the time he was 12, she was teaching him much more. By the age of 15, Sergio was already making baths and curing people with what she taught him.
About two thirds of the way through our interview, I popped the usual question. Why so much interest in palmistry in Argentina? Was it the influence of the indigenous people? I wanted to know. (I had let go of the theory about the gypsies fleeing the inquisition and stopping in Argentina because it was the farthest they could go.)
Sergio’s answer was a new one to me—one I had not considered previously. The Brazilian population, which generally holds strong beliefs of such processes, intermixes greatly with that of Argentina. Brazilians, many of whom hold African roots, explained Sergio, bring with them knowledge of African traditions. Influence from the indigenous population on ways of healing has more to do with the use of herbs, garlic, vinegar, honey, and other items to make baths for women, fitting well with what the curandera in the plaza had taught him.
This was more the Indian influence than bruja (roughly, “witchcraft”). The bruja divination tradition with which Sergio identifies, was indeed brought both from Spain and from Afro Brazilian brujeria.
I asked Sergio how he came to identify himself as a brujo (the masculine version of bruja, or “witch”). He explained that a brujo is someone who can channel a solution. He knew he had the capacity to do so since childhood. “I am able to make people better,” Sergio said. He works with cats’ eyes, dragons’ blood, and seeds ground up in mixes for cleaning. He makes a potion for people to put in baths to remove negative energy and pain.
I imagine cats’ eyes and dragons’ blood are colloquial names for herbs, but I will have to find out when I return. People pay a monthly retainer and come to him over time for treatment, which he said works.
Sergio is 51 years old, but he assured me jokingly that he looks younger. We sat in his small, unmarked office. It looks like an apartment, is equipped with a kitchen, and perches on an upper flow of an old colonial building in the capital downtown. I got to Sergio’s floor in a gated, narrow elevator in the back of the cavernous building that looked like something out of the movie Charade.
Sergio visits he office at least once a week. He reports that every week he has anywhere from two to 40 clients, depending on the time of year. People ask different questions according to the season. He usually calls upon Tarot cards to answer them.
When at last we got down to work, Sergio began by asking for my complete birthday. Using a practice of numerology, he added up all the figures. Like a magician performing a rapid hocus-pocus before my very eyes, he rapidly got down to one digit. Mine was three. This indicates the number of the Arcana card representing me.
My card is the Empress, because she occupies the third position of the cycle the seeker goes through in any deck of Tarot, beginning with number one, the Fool. The Empress is my protectress.
After what I learned from Sergio in the rest of the reading, which I shall not divulge here, I am glad to have her on my side.