The old healer Ultima lives and teaches the moral system that the novel espouses. Antonio’s relationship with Ultima is the most important bond in the novel. Ultima acts as Antonio’s mentor and helps him cope with his anxieties and uncertainties. Ultima claims a spiritual connection to Antonio that manifests its power in Chapter 1, when Antonio dreams of Ultima burying his afterbirth to keep his destiny secret from the arguing families of his parents. By presenting herself as the keeper of his destiny, Ultima immediately establishes a central role in Antonio’s psyche. Ultima uses her unique position of influence with benevolence, preferring to teach Antonio to think for himself rather than indoctrinating him with her own sense of morality.
Like Antonio, Ultima is grounded in both the indigenous and Catholic traditions. She understands that life and spirituality can be viewed in many different and equally valid ways. Although the Catholic church does not recognize her mystical powers, Ultima respects the wisdom of the Catholic faith and attends mass regularly. Her appreciation for multiple faiths and perspectives bolsters her conviction that each person must make independent moral decisions, rather than blindly trust any single authority. Ultima tries to instill in Antonio the same tolerance, independence, and open-mindedness that define her faith and outlook. This view compels Ultima to treat Antonio with understanding and respect, even when he is a small and obedient child. Rather than force Antonio to help her with Lucas’s exorcism, for instance, Ultima clearly explains what is at stake and allows Antonio to make his own decision. At the end of the novel, on her deathbed, Ultima treats Antonio as her spiritual heir, asking him to bury the owl that has symbolized her life force throughout the book. Though Ultima dies, her spirit and her influence will guide Antonio throughout his life.