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Insight: I found spirituality through my grandma’s witchcraft

My family history of brujeria showed me witches exist beyond stereotypes


"I wasn’t the only one with family traditions that were against the norm, and I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued with other walks of faith." Illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.

On the first of October there was a full moon. On Oct. 16, there will be a new moon. And on the spookiest of all nights — Halloween — a blue moon will light up the sky. 

But who cares that much about the moon? It turns out, a lot of new age pagans, wiccans and witches, including myself.

When I was younger, I remember asking my dad why everyone stays away from the creepy house across the street. It was shabby, had Halloween decorations all over the front yard and odd plants in every window and outside the door.

“The lady who lives there says she’s a witch,” he said. “She said she celebrates Halloween every day.”

Most of the other kids in the neighborhood stayed as far away from that house as much as they could, and the ones who could speak Spanish told me to stay away from brujas.

I remember feeling intrigued. I remember wanting to ask questions — why did she have so many plants by her doors and windows? As someone who grew up Christian, I had plenty more questions and no answers. All I could do was stay away.

That was before I found out my grandma practiced brujeria, and its traditions ran in our family.

Brujeria is a Spanish word that translates directly to “witchcraft” in English. Brujeria has a long history in Mexican and otherwise Latinx cultures, and to my family, it’s much more than flying brooms and pointy hats. 

And as it turns out, we aren’t entirely alone.

According to the Pew Research Center, my family may not be so different in our beliefs from millions of others. The center conducted a survey in 2017 in which six in ten Christians in the U.S. said they believe in one or more of four “New Age beliefs,” such as psychics, reincarnation, astrology and that spiritual energy can be located in physical things.

In 2019, the Pew Research Center found about 0.3% of U.S. adults say they consider themselves Pagan or Wiccan, and in total about 0.4% consider themselves “New Age.” This is over 1 million American adults in total. Another 0.3% consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” and less than 0.3% surveyed as “eclectic, a bit of everything, ‘I have my own beliefs.’”

In 2020, New Age practices have exploded on TikTok, which reported 100 million monthly users and 50 million daily users in the U.S. in August alone. Millennials and Gen Z are bringing a wave of witchcraft, wicca, paganism and more new age movements to the forefront of social media. Views of hashtags related to new age movements have reached ten figures.

These statistics were really comforting to me because it showed I wasn’t the only one struggling with spirituality, I wasn’t the only one with family traditions that were against the norm. I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued with other walks of faith.

There are different types of witchcraft, brujeria, wiccan and pagan practices. They’re not all the same, in fact, if you ask my grandma, she doesn’t like to call herself “a witch,” or “really a bruja.” If you ask someone else, they might be more inclined to identify as a witch or explain why they may be practicing some form of witchcraft, wicca or paganism (and those things are not interchangeable).

It’s all about spirituality. People around the world find spirituality in their religions, their faith and some of us — like my grandma — find spirituality in nature. Over time, those practices were eventually called a name, and in Mexican culture, it was all categorized under brujeria.

And no, my family does not practice with any form of spells, hexes or anything that might bring harm to another person. We don’t “celebrate Halloween every day,” and we don’t decorate our houses to scare off the neighborhood kids.

In my grandma’s words, “No soy una bruja. Es más para enviar vibraciones positivas y brindar protección de espíritus malignos.”

I struggled a lot with finding a purpose in my own walk of life. I found that the religion I grew up in never resonated or connected with me. When I looked at others who had found fulfillment, I felt I was getting left behind on something amazing.

Every tradition we have and everything my grandma taught me has helped me discover my own spirituality. Everyone is different and not everyone who has brujeria-style traditions considers them to be. For me, I found a deeper connection to myself, my family, my sense of spirit.

We place mint and basil in our front windows or doors to ward off negative energies and keep the energies inside the house positive and pure. When we cook with those leaves from the plants, those positive energies go into the food to feed family. We keep flowers and plants all around our living spaces to remind us of the living planet we’re on. We use sage, herbs and other kitchen ingredients to cleanse and protect our house and our family. We use crystals to center ourselves or to protect us when we leave home.

We use tarot cards to guide ourselves and others on how to make the best decisions in our lives going forward. We address each other’s needs and wants, along with what we’re missing, so that we can help each other move forward.

When my grandma read my tarot cards, she saw jealousy in my path, and she said it needed to be addressed and confronted. So, when jealousy appeared in my life, I knew to confront it right away in order to move forward.

We read each other’s dreams and nightmares so we understand what our subconscious is trying to warn us of, or so we understand what needs to be communicated with each other.

One time I had a nightmare of something trying to break into my bedroom, pounding on the door. After having this dream over and over, I talked to my grandma, who said it was pressure and stress. I needed to work through whatever I was so stressed about and ease the pressure off my own subconscious. It’s safe to say I stopped having that dream.

These practices and conversations have helped me reach a level of spirituality I never thought I could. Above anything else, I find comfort in life, nature and family. Before learning from my grandma and understanding why we do the things we do, I never thought I would find any sense of purpose or feel spiritual in any sense. Now, I feel connected with everything that is alive, and the relationship I have with my family is stronger than ever.

While I don’t celebrate Halloween every day, this October is definitely special. The moon, the sun and the stars are sources of light, endurance and hope for me. And while I certainly hope I don’t spook any neighborhood kids, I’m sure they’ll notice all the plants in my windows and doors.

If I had a chance to go back and say anything to my younger self, the self that was trying to find faith in something, the self that was trying to understand spirituality and wondering about the creepy house across the street; it would be something along the lines of, “You’ll find something that helps your spirit feel whole. You’ll find something that makes you happy, makes you fulfilled and keeps you moving. Just give grandma a call.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the origin and influence of brujeria. The article updated to reflect the change. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @joyce_cabreraAZ on Twitter.

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