Brujería in Latinx culture is more than just a spiritual ritual. It’s reclaiming ancestral traditions and empowering women in the face of cultural erasure. For Tonya Gonzalez, creator of the “Brown Girls Who Bruja” Instagram account, it’s also about sisterhood and grounding yourself in your inner feminine power.
“For women of color to gather and connect with other women (sisters), we grow, flow and glow,” Gonzalez tells HipLatina. “‘Brown Girls Who Bruja’ began as a way for me to reach and connect with other Afro-Latinas, Latinas, and women of color around the world who use candles, crystals, and cards without being afraid.”
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With nearly 50k followers, her popular Instagram account is a social media favorite for brujas and there she practices what she preaches, often connecting with followers a.k.a “beloveds” on IGTV. During her latest episode, she discussed the healing aspects of mercury retrograde, as well as the importance of letting go of what does not bless you. Gonzalez has also done episodes on self-love v. self-care and healing.
But her reach extends beyond social media, as she’s incorporated Black Girl Magic into her everyday life, both personally and professionally. Gonzalez initially launched her site in 2009 and by 2012 she’d been voted as one of the top psychics in the world in the 2012 International Psychic Battle in Kyiv, Ukraine, coming in third. But since then she says she’s focused more on “sacred sisterhood, entrepreneurship and community building,” offering bruja retreats and boot camps, as well as tarot card readings.
“Brujería used to be considered ‘dark and evil magic’ yet now it’s trending,” she says. “It is my dream to support women in such a dynamic and healing way. Social media used as a tool is so useful and helpful at bringing the world closer. ‘Brown Girls Who Bruja’ is the community I always wished I had growing up.”
The trending power is all in the numbers: #bruja yields nearly 700K post on Instagram, #brujeria yields more than 200k and #brujas nearly 500k. But it’s not solely evident on social media, the number of brands associated with brujería has also grown in the last few years with companies including Brujita Skincare, The Hoodwitch, Brooklyn Brujeria, and The Flowerchild Bruja gaining popularity.
But for Gonzalez, it goes back to spiritual and sisterly connection and cultivating that inner magic. She hosts retreats in Puerto Vallarta, where she lives, helping women develop their brujería skills with teachings on African spirituality, tarot, and chakras. She’s also coming out with a book in 2020 tentatively titled Heal, Sister, Heal: The Sensuous Bruja, a healing guidebook for women of color that includes a self-love plan and a directory of WOC-owned businesses and brands to aid in the process.
“Everyday brujería is self-love. I grew up afraid of the woman within and around me and full of self-hate. Society, family, and men convinced me that I was wrong. It wasn’t until I embraced the womanly arts that had been hidden away, did my life begin to shift and transform,” she explains.
She breaks down some of the ways to incorporate brujería into everyday life including attention and intention as integral to “use your magic,” meditation or prayer, and devotional practice as well as Kemetics (ancient African spirituality) and some form of movement like yoga.
“Our ancestors used dance and movement as an offering and as a part of sacred rituals,” she says. “By adding our unique energy to everything we do is what our magic is. Applying makeup can become a ritual and conversation with the goddess within.”
Gonzalez, who is African American, Native American, and Mexican, says her mixed background has been influential in her spiritual journey. “Primarily it affords me the chance to learn as much as I can. I believe to know thyself is to heal thyself. I gave myself permission to discover and play as a practice,” she says. “The problem comes when others try to take ownership of another’s cultures for personal gain. I’ve grown to be conscious, not critical of the unknown.”
Like her own background, brujería’s roots can be found in Africa, the Caribbean, and indigenous communities throughout Latin America. Santería (worship of saints) is an Afro-Cuban religion that formed right as the Spanish began colonizing and introducing Catholicism in Latin America beginning in the 15th century. Historically, the marginalization of communities has only contributed to the growth of mysticism.
In “Sex and Sin, Witchcraft and the Devil in Late-Colonial Mexico,” Cuban-American anthropologist Ruth Behar explains how brujería became a form of protection for women in Latin America against machismo. “Since women were left with few domains in which to assert themselves, they developed, in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, a rich symbolic language of beliefs and acts for resisting, punishing, and even controlling the men who dominated them,” she says.
Consequently, the same can be said for millennial women now in the face of attacks on women’s rights in the U.S. The ever-increasing popularity and resurgence of brujería as a form of healing and feminist empowerment is a result of millennial Latinx reclaiming their heritage.
“Not only does bruja feminism create a space for Latinas to participate in a larger discussion regarding women’s rights and social and racial injustices, but it also in many ways allows them to be seen. It gives, for instance, Afro-Latinas or Latinas of indigenous descent, an opportunity to honor their brown ancestry that has been hidden and erased by so much of our Eurocentric influence. It’s a way to decolonize and find healing,” HipLatina’s deputy editor Johanna Ferreira wrote in an article “Latina Feminists Are Reclaiming Their Inner Bruja Like We’ve Never Seen Before.”
For Gonzalez, one of her choice phrases, “use your magic,” sums up her advice for women to own their inherent power.
“I came up with ‘use your magic’ to remind women of their inner majesty and it is the only love spell ever needed,” she says. “When we allow ourselves the opportunity to shine, we do. This is why it is so important for WOC to learn about themselves, their ancestry and their inner bruja. I believe all women are brujas, we just need healing to remember and reclaim her.”