Mami used to tell me brujeria was of the devil.
I grew up Catholic. In my church you prayed quietly. No saints got turned over. No sage was burned visibly. You knelt before the statue of La Virgencita. You prayed over your rosary beads. You wore your medals, scapular, little gold cross. You took the Eucharist. You told the priest all your sins. You loved and feared God.
I was 17 and became friends with Yesenia. Her Mami was a bruja. She had giant Santos in her hallway. She burned sage by the bundle. Their apartment smelled of secrets. I knew Mami wouldn’t approve of me visiting. Yesenia’s Mami was called a curandera. She blew cigar smoke over babies to save them from cholics. She offered me hierbas to cure of me of a broken heart. I never took them.
I was 20 when I paid a woman to read her tarot cards for me. I didn’t believe. We Catholics don’t believe those kind of things. But God had stopped talking to me through people. I began looking for him anywhere I could. The lady told me I had a life full of heartache ahead. I knew that already.
I was 23 and contemplated coming back to church. The man I was in love with had a new lover. I was lost in pain. I needed something. It wasn’t the same. The magic had worn itself out of my rosary. I pulled the crucifix off of my wall. I wrapped it in an old t-shirt and slid it under my bed.
Papi died the year I turned 26. A nun from my old church happened to work in the hospital. She remembered me from when I wanted to be a nun myself. I had spent a long quiet weekend in her convent. She brought a priest into the room while Papi was still on the respirator. I held her hand while he gave my father his final sacrament. Her sweet eyes apologized for his death.
Last spring, while sitting in Echo Park, my friend Shyla handed me a stone. A quartz. She explained that the sun can charge it. That all I have to do is carry it with me. It’ll give me its magic. I laughed a little but I knew that was something something special I didn’t understand. My best friend Angela sages her room any chance she gets. When I climb into her car she sprays me with a special water that also has sage. It is April and I am in a full depression. I don’t know how to bring myself back. Angela burns sage over me while I cry. I realize then that it’s the same smell from my childhood church. I close my eyes and let it return my heart to me.
Last month I traveled to Modesto for a poetry slam. I had lunch with a group of local women. We talked about my poetry and relationships. I told them I am happy but tired. After my show they brought gifts of sage and lavender. I asked them why, they answered that they knew I needed them. That they were mine. That they only share them with other brown women. It is indigenous, they said. I cried in a theatre lobby crowded with people.
Here in my room tonight, I am heartbroken. Another relationship has gone bad. I dig the lavender out from my suitcase. I hold it to my nose. I burn the sage. It feels familiar, safe. I used to say I am not a bruja. That has changed. I have learned that there are so many intersections with my faith. So much of my culture lies in rituals. That the colonization of my ancestors didn’t steal it all from me. Things just changed a little. The veladoras lit for intentions are a kind of spell casting. The amuletos. My mothers superstition. The hierbas she grows in her garden. The blessed altar we keep with my father’s picture.
Life has taught me that women are the ones with the magic. The voice of God. The continuous thread. The voice calling me into myself. Las mujeres. Las brujas. I know them all. I belong to them.