BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Lotions to drive away evil spirits, candles whose flames protect their owners, powders to prevent destructive behavior. Products like these are sold in "botanicas" -- shops that cater to all kinds of physical, spiritual, and religious needs.
Saul Gonzalez reports from Los Angeles.
SAUL GONZALEZ: Strolling musicians singing songs of love, sidewalk food vendors, and murals in a rainbow of colors. They're all common sights in Los Angeles's immigrant Latino neighborhoods. So is an unusual kind of store called a botanica. On some streets, there seems to be one on every block.
Although a typical botanica can appear humble on the outside, come within and one finds a rich array of spiritual and religious merchandise: candles and incense, potions and powders, icons and statues. Taken together, the products represent a kaleidoscope of faiths and folkloric practices.
YSAMUR FLORES (Folklorist): You can call them supermarkets of the divine. Anything that has to do with the spiritual world you will find in a botanica.
GONZALEZ: Ysamur Flores is an expert on Caribbean and Latino folklore who lectures about botanicas at UCLA, among other universities. He admires the stores' freewheeling spiritual eclecticism.
Mr. FLORES: You can find icons from any religious tradition in the world. You have Catholicism. You have Judaism. You have Buddhism. You have any "ism" that you can think of, because the idea is that the botanica is really a polyglot. It speaks all religious languages. So any religious or spiritual language can be found in a botanica.
GONZALEZ: The stores first emerged in the Caribbean, where they originally sold traditional herbal remedies and items used in the practice of Santeria, a faith that mixes together indigenous West African religious beliefs and Christian customs.
In this country, says Flores, botanicas still reflect a uniquely Caribbean approach to faith, one that blurs the borders between different religions while encouraging spiritual self-expression.
Mr. FLORES: In the Caribbean, there is no conflict of being many things at once. If you ask anyone in the Caribbean what is your religion, most likely they will tell you, "I am Catholic," but add after a short pause -- "in my own way."
GONZALEZ: In Los Angeles, botanicas have shown their adaptability by expanding their selection of merchandise to appeal to the city's large Mexican and Central American immigrant communities.
One of the largest botanicas in Southern California is Indio Products. With its vast selection of merchandise, it has the feel of a spiritual and supernatural Wal-Mart.