Witchcraft might not solve your problem, but it may just shift your mindset
I’ve always been a little bit goth. But despite my spooky affect, I never seriously dabbled in the occult — until the day, six years ago, that I cast a spell. I can’t say it worked, exactly, but it did change something in my life for the better.
It happened after I posted on a local Listserv about the problems I was having with my next-door neighbors, who since moving in had kept up a barrage of complaints about what they saw as infractions and I saw as living my life. (Once, they’d called building management after visiting friends of mine left their child’s stroller outside my door.) Any attempts I made to talk things out were met with pure nastiness, I wrote.
I got back some messages full of commiseration, and a few containing contact information for lawyers who specialized in tenant rights. But one, from a fellow Latina, stood out for its unusual but simple advice. She told me not to bother with a lawyer. “Take a broom,” she wrote. “Put it upside down (behind from door), hat on top, and say ‘Go home now.’ It will make them move.”
While this may have flummoxed other members of our online community, I recognized it for what it was: some good old-fashioned Puerto Rican voodoo. I was delighted! My father’s sweet, loving aunts in Puerto Rico had been witches, meaning they brewed up potions and cast spells just like this one. I responded to my helpful neighbor right away, telling her about these great-aunts, and she confirmed that we were on the same page: “My mom was a friendly witch, in Puerto Rico,” she wrote back.
I know from my father that his aunts (“my dear little witches,” he called them) used brujería to deal with a variety of personal problems and medical ills. They also turned to it in more serious situations that felt unjust, such as when one of my dad’s uncles was convicted of a terrible crime. My great-aunts put some spells into motion, including sprinkling medicinal herbs on a photo of the uncle.
“Seemed to work,” my dad had mused to me in an email, years ago. “He got only a few years and early release.”
Women have long turned to witchcraft in situations in which they would otherwise feel they have no power at all.
Brujería, the Spanish-language word for “witchcraft,” is a practice dating back centuries, the specifics of which vary according to region and family traditions. Using rituals and creating spells and herbal concoctions, brujería has long been a way for people to empower themselves. That hasn’t gone away in modern times: For example, in 2011, the New York Times reported that Mexicans in the small, crime-ravaged town of Catemaco were using witchery to ward off the violence brought upon them by drug trafficking.
But there’s no question that bruja feminism specifically is having a prolonged moment, with women reclaiming brujería as a personal and creative force. Consider Afro-Puerto Rican rapper Princess Nokia, who raps about her Arawak heritage and abilities to “vanquish all evil” in her song “Brujas,” referencing the power of spells, sage (a must-have herb for brujas), and family tradition.
That moment dovetails with the renewed popularity of witchcraft more broadly. “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,” Tatianna Morales, a bruja — and New Orleans-based Tarot reader, healer, teacher, and writer — told HipLatina in 2018. “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.” That may be as tied to our political climate as anything else: Women have long turned to witchcraft in situations in which they would otherwise feel they have no power at all.
When I got my Listserv advice, I hadn’t really thought about the brujería in my family’s background in years, but I loved the idea of going off the beaten path in dealing with something that had been really upsetting me. At any rate, it seemed like the most appealing path: Trying to talk things out hadn’t worked, and I didn’t want to get a lawyer involved. As I duct-taped a broom to the inside of our door, placed a baseball cap upon it, and whispered, “Go home now,” I felt something I hadn’t felt in months of dealing with my neighbors: a sense of control.
Six years later, those neighbors remain firmly entrenched (it’s a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, after all — an asset considered more valuable than a cauldron of love potion). Does that mean the spell didn’t work? I’m not so sure. Despite a truly awful start to our neighbor-ship, things are just fine now — we’ve gotten to a place where we can exchange pleasantries and even make small talk sometimes.
Maybe modern brujeria isn’t about casting a spell on someone else so much as it is about casting a spell on oneself. Once I started thinking of this problem as solvable, once I believed that I in fact might have a unique ability to fix it, my mindset towards my neighbors changed. And they’ve been much easier to deal with ever since.