Jan 18, 2024 - World

More Latinos are embracing brujería and folk magic

Illustrated collage of a silhouetted woman, candle and nettle

Photo Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios. Photo: Biodiversity Heritage Library

Ancient brujería — or Latin American and Caribbean witchcraft — has seen a resurgence in recent years as some U.S. Latinos reclaim the once-taboo traditions to connect with their roots, exercise self-care and build community.

The big picture: The resurgence comes as younger generations of Latinos increasingly embrace other parts of their heritage, speaking Spanish, using accent marks, or, in some cases, praying to folk saints.

Background: Brujería encompasses many types of practices and beliefs, ranging from rituals like limpias (a spiritual cleansing ceremony) to folk religions like santería.

  • The practices arose from a mix of African and American Indigenous rites, later fused with some Catholic traditions. During colonial times, they were shunned as part of a clampdown on non-church-sanctioned activities. But many still practiced the traditions in secret.
  • Over the last few years, brujería gained traction in the U.S. Major publishers have released numerous books about it and an increasing number of social media accounts devoted to its practices have emerged.

What they're saying: Brujería "just opens up a lot of doorways to get back to our roots, feel more connected to them," says Eric J. Labrado, who owns a witch shop in Austin, Texas, and has co-written two books on Mexican and Mexican American brujería.

  • "In my case, that's helped me grow as a person and understand myself better," he says.
  • The rituals can "help better ourselves by removing blockages, tackling grief and pain that maybe we even carried from our ancestors so we have the courage to move forward."
  • It also helps build community by celebrating connections, making it "a blessing and a gift to assume the role of bruja," says Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, a New York-based herbalist who runs the site Moon Mother Apothecary.

Younger practitioners have helped popularize brujería, says Lorraine Monteagut, who does tarot workshops in Florida and wrote "Brujas: The Magic and Power of Witches of Color," released last year.

  • "We're in this mode of discovery of the many kinds of traditions and iterations of practices, and we are connecting and sharing with each other what used to be kept hush-hush or was maybe necessarily a secret," she says.
  • That's led some practitioners to put their own spin on these ancient traditions.
  • Labrado, for example, has adjusted some of the folk magic he practices to incorporate ingredients specifically available in U.S.-Mexico border states, such as the nettle plant.

Between the lines: The growing interest in these cultural sects and their rituals is likely driven by people facing social "structures they feel are not working for them" and are now more willing to explore alternatives, Monteagut says.

  • Members of Gen Z, for example, are more vocal about the need for work-life balance and for openly discussing mental health.
  • Social media has also played a role in drawing more people in, although Labredo cautions that not all those behind accounts promoting brujería have experience and an accurate understanding of the traditions.

What to watch: Monteagut says brujería can also help people feel more grounded in a way that can benefit future generations.

  • "By rooting us, maybe we can teach our descendants to feel a little more safe in their bodies, with a little more belonging than what we felt as immigrants or kids of immigrants."
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