Yvette Montoya, 35, has been making “concoctions” since she was a little girl, grinding up berries and making “soups” with leaves, petals, and water. There were no recipes or spellbooks; it was something that she’d been drawn to, as though something otherworldly was guiding her towards her destiny as a practicing bruja, or witch.

“I’ve always seen and felt things I couldn’t explain. Brujería is a calling,” says Montoya. “Personally, I don’t believe that it’s something you should get into because of curiosity. If your ancestors and guides call you to it, then it’s for you and you’ll feel it.”

Brujería is used as an umbrella term for witchcraft based in indigenous Latin American and Afro Caribbean cultures, and describes anything from open practices like tarot and limpias (spiritual cleansings) to closed practices with faith-based traditions like Vodun, Santería, and Palo. The latter, which are often rooted in indigenous faiths, are not open to people outside of that particular culture to practice; you must have been born into or formally initiated into a closed practice in order to participate. (White sage smudging and the use of palo santo are two practices that are often appropriated.) Many brujxs typically use their magic as a form of healing and connection to their ancestors, often relying on spirit guides to assist in their practice.

Now a journalist who practices Palo and Santería, Montoya has traded in her playful childhood potions for direct, intentional mixtures. She works primarily with palos (sticks), herbs, and flowers — the same mediums her spirit guide used during her lifetime. Montoya says she wasn’t initially interested in the esoteric modalities of brujería. But, during a difficult time in her life, she visited her aunt’s madrina (godmother), who practices Santería. She says this life-changing encounter sent her down this spiritual path. She received a few initiatives, but is not crowned — the process of becoming a priest or priestess in Santería — and has been involved ever since. “It allowed me to tap into myself and learn more about connecting with a higher power. But Santeria and Palo are my religion and a big part of my life.”

“I was really shut off from my own gifts and abilities because I’d been gaslit my entire life being told I didn’t really see or feel the things that I saw and felt. It has been a long and painful journey back to myself with a lot of unlearning,” she explains. “The most important part about getting in tune with our inner knowledge is unlearning all of the harmful lies we’ve been indoctrinated with by the church and by colonization.”

The Stigmatization of Brujería

Much like other types of witchcraft, brujería has been stigmatized for centuries. “Our ancestors were demonized by the colonizers when it came to spirituality and religion,” Abbey Santiago, a 32-year-old Taíno bruja, healer, and astrologer tells Allure. “They used [the term] brujería to demonize traditional folk and indigenous practices. Religious indoctrination was brutal from the start. Throughout time, my ancestors found that it was easier to hide their practices behind the [Catholic] saints. This is why a lot of practices survived through colonization.”

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