Like many Latinas, I grew up with a very Christian/Catholic upbringing. My mom’s side of the family has always been predominantly Christian, while the majority of my dad’s family identifies as Catholic, whether they practice it or not. Anything outside of those Jesus-focused faiths was considered “evil” or even “demonic” and this was especially the case for anything that fell under the realm of brujería or Santería.
The stigma associated with brujas or Santería (also known as the worship of saints), is one that has existed since the Spanish colonizers settled in Latin America. Being Catholic, the Spanish were quick to demonize the spiritual practices of our Indigenous and African ancestors, especially women. But young Latinas are breaking the taboo that surrounds these ancestral spiritual beliefs and reclaiming bruja feminism like we’ve never seen before.
“At an early age, I realized that I did not feel any connection with Catholicism, and I was quite vocal about it,” says Connie Chavez, a Peruvian-American director, photographer, and activist based in NYC. “I was looked at as a sinner, a malcriada, a heathen, una loca, and I’ve probably been told that I’m going to hell more times than any teenager should in their life. Christianity teaches you that there is only one god and that you should not look elsewhere, or you will be punished. This commandment is what keeps people from embracing other beliefs or simply coexisting with them out of fear.” But now, Latinx youth are finally pushing past those boundaries.
The Oshun faith (or Ochun) is a spiritual practice that’s popular in both Cuba (through Santería) and Brazil (through the religion of Candomble) that stems from the Yoruba tradition, which originated in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. And while these practices have been around since before the Spanish colonization, they have in recent years become increasingly popular with young millennial Latinas, who’ve been able to find community in social media and see more representation in popular culture and mainstream media. We’ve seen elements of the Oshun faith in French-Cuban musical duo Ibeyi’s music and even in Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade. Puerto Rican rapper Princess Nokia proudly proclaimed her bruja connection in her aptly titled, “Brujas.”
“Vogue magazine did an article back in April about the Bronx-based skate crew called Brujas and told their story. Latina magazine currently sells Bad & Bruja [merch],” says Annie Vazquez, a Cuban-American fashion blogger and spiritualist based in Miami, Florida.
“Stepping out of the dark gives us power and power is in numbers,” Vazquez adds. “We [Latinas] took the word bruja and now it symbolizes something powerful and cool again. There is a magic movement going on that taps into our ancient culture. A slow-paced but powerful one that connects to a higher power and the elements of the earth.”
Why the sudden change? For many Latinas, bruja feminism goes hand in hand with today’s political climate. “I think we’re seeing a rise in young Latinas who are reclaiming their inner bruja because of the state of our country. We are currently going through political and social turmoil and social media brings these issues to life,” says Nathalie Farfan, one of the founders and creators of Morado Lens, a feminist podcast hosted by herself and her childhood friend, Cindy Rodriguez, that discusses embracing your inner bruja, sex, and culture.
“I think the surge of bruja feminism has come to fruition because of the political climate and the ease to share these grievances with like minded-women on social media,” adds Rodriguez. “Different marginalized groups, like bruja feminists, women of color, and transwomen, have galvanized into a larger movement, like the Women’s March in Washington D.C. We didn’t launch this podcast as a solution but we did realize that there was a need to gather women, specifically minorities, to own who we are and where we came from, focus on the positive and expand together.”
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.
“We’re in an age where we’re discovering our independence in mind, body, and spirit and are willing to explore our personal power and what that means. A lot of this is tied up in our ancestry, history, and culture, because there is a resurgence of witchcraft and spirituality as a booming brand and trend,” says Tatianna Morales, a Puerto Rican and black American intuitive tarot specialist, medium, and ritual practitioner based in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Latinas are using ancestral remedies and practices (in all shapes and forms) that derive from their heritage or other cultures they resonate with. [This works] to explore their potential as a spiritual being, to make meaningful connections in their lives, induce healing, and personal transformations.”
The rise in young Latinas reclaiming something that for centuries has been perceived as a cultural taboo and transforming it into something healing and empowering, is definitely inspiring. It speaks volumes about the strength and power in both Latinidad identity and intersectional feminism. In fact, for some Latinas the embracing and reclamation of bruja feminism is not necessarily about Santería or being a “spiritualist”– it’s everything that bruja feminism embodies.
“In my honest opinion, the term “inner bruja” is basically saying, ‘I am a Latina in touch with my culture and spirituality.’ I love that Latinx are proud of their culture now more than ever,” says Araceli Cruz Belz, a Mexican-American journalist and freelance writer based in Hillsborough, North Carolina who doesn’t identify as a witch or a bruja per se. “What I am is a person that believes in a higher power. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe in the power of my ancestors. And I believe in the power that I have as a person.”
Demystifying the practices and following in the spiritual footsteps of their African and indigenous ancestors, allows Latinas to feel safe enough to be and embrace who they are and are meant to be. It helps us to discover a deeper and more spiritual aspect to our inner beings that we haven’t always been able to tap into before, while also forming strong sisterhoods and womanly bonds.
“Bruja feminism is a clear energy. [It’s] an energy of love, it’s all accepting, and it’s curiosity,” says Stephanie Flor, a Costa Rican-Ecuadorian American celebrity makeup artist and founder of Around The World Beauty, a platform where she discovers inner beauty through a global and ancestral lens. “It is important for us to claim this power to create a greater connection to ourselves, and the world around us. Our ancestors have looked to the stars, and the land for answers, and we get to open up those conversations and stand proud of the work our roots have shared to define the world we live in today.”
Bruja feminism is a powerful ode to the strong and dynamic beings our ancestors molded us to be. It encompasses everything that we are, the beautiful, the empowering, the feminist, the spiritual, and the diversity of our Latin heritage. It might have taken us centuries to convince ourselves and the world that evil and demonic play no role in any of this, but here we are and what a time it is to reclaim this part of us that has been oppressed for far too long.