Ofrenda Magazine (OM): Lorraine! Thank you so much for sharing an excerpt of your new book, Brujas: The Magic and Power of Witches of Color, and congratulations on its upcoming release. (Readers: You can pre-order your copy now from Chicago Review Press.) You’re both an independent scholar and a practitioner of brujería, qualifications that give you fascinating and valuable lenses through which to explore this topic in a book. What should readers expect to find in Brujas?
Lorraine Monteagut (LM): Thank you so much! Now that I’ve had a little distance from the writing, I’ve been looking at Brujas as a sort of pandemic yearbook of witches of color and brujx who are not only reclaiming their ancestral traditions, but creating new ways to engage in ritual and connection. It’s the kind of book that you can flip through or dive into, depending on what you’re looking for. Each chapter profiles a practitioner that I’ve interviewed or whose workshop I’ve attended, and I also include my own stories—some are really fresh journal entries that reflect my reaching for magic while processing loss and grief over the last couple years. I wanted to show how messy and ongoing the process of both healing and writing is. You can start even if you don’t have the answers to everything. You can keep going even if you don’t know where you’re going yet. That’s why I also include resources at the end of each chapter to prompt your own ritual practice, and above all, I hope readers will use the book as a reference to find other books and practitioners, to go deeper into any of the topics I skim.
OM: In your excerpt, you suggest that brujería is misunderstood. When you describe brujería, what’s your basic definition for those who have never heard the word before? And how do you reframe brujería for those who have pre-formulated conceptions of what it might be?
LM: Bruja and brujería are loaded terms, and they’ve historically been used in derogatory ways, usually by mainstream religions to demonize indigenous ways of knowing. I use the term to describe what organically developed throughout the indigenous Americas and particularly along the African diaspora to keep practices safe from forces of colonization. These were usually decentralized healing practices that supported community and evolved as cultures mixed. They were often syncretized with mainstream religion to stay hidden in plain sight. This occulting, or secrecy, is probably why brujería has been associated with evil in the past (and still today, tbh).
OM: Many of our readers are familiar with curanderismo. How is brujería—specifically in the way that you explore it in your book—similar to or different from curanderismo?
LM: There are books that go into the specifics of a local brujería practice, like J. Allen Cross’s new book on Mexican folk magic, American Brujeria, which is a little different than a book on, say, Puerto Rican magic would be, since the practices are highly local. My book takes a more general look at brujería, which encompasses stories and rituals from many different spiritual technologies and regions, including curanderismo. In chapter 3, I present curanderismo under the umbrella of brujería and challenge the way some of us have been conditioned to think that one is “white magic” and the other “black magic.” Curanderismo focuses on healing through traditional plant medicine, which I see as one part of the patchwork that is brujería. Ultimately, they’re all rituals that enact the myths of making home in a strange world. The new bruja/brujx is one who sees these patterns in all our ways of magic and brings what was once secret out into the open, and in the process creates a new ritual artform.
OM: One of the elements I love about the chapter that you shared with us is that you sprinkle in elements of your own learning journey of practicing brujería “responsibly” (for lack of a better word). For example, you hint that, as a teen, you weren’t aware of the importance of sourcing crystals ethically. Can you elaborate on this idea—perhaps the relationship between brujería and care for the earth and/or social justice? Would you say that earth care is an inherent part of brujería?
LM: Yes, yes, yes. Part two of the book centers on spiritual activism, because I think spirit and politics are inherently linked. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and protest. Taking care of yourself and exploring the rituals that make you feel grounded and connected are just as important as raising money for a cause. One thing we can all do is make sure that our routines and the things we buy don’t cause more harm. Crystals and sage have become so popular and they are often unethically harvested at the expense of indigenous communities that were very recently persecuted for their rituals. To reclaim a phrase from the right, “Do your own research.” But really. It takes a bit more work to find ethical products and practitioners, but your practice will be more powerful for it.