My name is Valeria Ruelas, and I was born a bruja. Bruja is the Spanish word for “witch,” and in my culture, brujas are healers and intuitive advisors who are connected to the supernatural world.
I was born in the small town of Delicias, Chihuahua in Mexico. I inherited my bruja powers from my great-grandmother María Luisa. She was a curandera, a single mother, and a restaurant owner. In the 1950s, single businesswomen were rather uncommon, but her magick and belief in the spirit world attracted money and success. She believed in angels and saints, and kept altars all over the home to bless and protect her family. People sought her out for healing and advice.
I was lucky to spend my early days growing up in this environment, but my great-grandmother passed away when I was only two, so she didn’t get a chance to teach me. Although I was born into a mystical family, I moved to the United States at the age of four. I grew up with American and Mexican culture and learned English and Spanish at the same time, but my mother decided to devote herself to the Catholic Church instead of continuing ancestral traditions, and I had no way to access our family’s brujería. Like many others, I had to find my bruja power myself.
But still, my supernatural abilities showed up early in my life. My most vivid spiritual apparition happened when, as a child, I saw La Virgen de Guadalupe appear in a hospital above my friend’s bed when he was in a coma. At the time, I had no idea this was my mediumship powers showing themselves to me—I thought everyone could see spirits, too.
But it wasn’t until I was in college that I fully stepped into my power. My college years were very hard for me. I was severely depressed, I had been the victim of sexual assault, and I was addicted to alcohol. I was affected by the pressure of elite university culture. I’d decided to leave Catholicism when I was a freshman; I decided to learn more about brujería, and it became a source of healing.
I dove deep into research about Chicano history. My favorite feminist writers, like Gloria Anzaldúa and Erika Buenaflor, all identified as brujas. The moment I discovered the concept of being a “bruja,” my entire life made sense. Anzaldúa was the first to introduce me to the spirit world: In her book borderlands, she reveals how she can see into another worlds, describing psychic powers and animal shape-shifting. While to a non-bruja all this may seem like fantasy, to me, it made as much sense as math. She was also the first to introduce me to Nahuatl and to the deities of ancient Mexico.
I finally knew why I had so many visions, why I could speak to spirits, and why I had attracted so many good things into my life—like a scholarship and getting a job immediately after graduation—via my natural magic. I knew why I was so different, and why I felt slightly deviant because of my sexuality and sexual power. I'd identified as bisexual and queer since I was 13, and I became a burlesque dancer in college; a lot of people find it awkward to talk about sex, but I always felt comfortable expressing my sexuality. When I learned about queer brujas like Gloria Anzaldua, I saw myself in them. I felt comforted and accepted for who I was.
My soul is that of a bruja because I am rebellious, feminist, highly intuitive, and connected to the supernatural world. At first, I eased into my brujería practice by learning about the gods and mythology. My first altar was dedicated to the serpent, a symbol of transformation and sacred sexuality in ancient Mexico. When I felt lost, I would communicate with the spiritual world through cooking ancestral meals while praying to my ancestors, or by saying affirmations in Spanish and meditating to receive messages.
Brujería also helped me deal with my depression in a useful way: I would make time to do something GOOD for my body, like a spell or a ritual. It also helped with my self-worth. Brujería was a reminder that I was special and connected to the divine world.
As I gained more knowledge, it seemed that spirits were drawn to me. For a while, I had a ghost who would visit me every night at my bedside, and there was a mischievous poltergeist that appeared in the house that I lived in. I was frightened at first, but after I realized the spirits were not harming me, I lived with them in harmony.
When I decided to begin teaching brujería to others, I started with glamour magic. I hosted beauty nights in the dorms, where fellow women and I would create rich chocolate face masks and sugar scrubs, relax, and meditate.
Next came tarot. One of the most memorable moments in my brujería journey was buying my first tarot deck—I “knew” how to read the cards without ever having practiced. Tarot helped me reflect on my past and my healing journey, and as my knowledge grew, I started offering readings to others. When I felt called to quit my job and start to read full time, I moved to New Orleans, one of the witchiest cities in the world, and began a career as a reader. It took time: Reading tarot full-time can be an unstable profession, and it can be hard to make enough money to get by. I spent about two years building a client list before getting to a comfortable income. Now, I’m a professional tarot reader, the author of Cosmopolitan Love Potions, and I even read tarot for celebrities on Spotify.
I want my story as a bruja to inspire others. This journey has taken me to new heights and brought me incredible opportunities. I now feel whole, and I am able to heal my trauma instead of suffering in it. I have a profession that makes me happy—and even better, I’ve changed the lives of thousands of people by guiding them into this world of magic.
I encourage people to respectfully explore traditions they are interested in. Healing is for everybody, and I open up my rituals and share my knowledge about the spiritual world with people of all cultures. If non-Latinx people choose to study these rituals, it's important that they do so respectfully. They shouldn't claim to be brujas, or sell and commodify brujería. I encourage all of my brujería students to read books written by authors of the Latinx diaspora, and to be aware of their race and class privileges. Everyone needs to be conscious of the trauma and culture-stealing that colonization caused brujx in the past, so we don’t repeat the same errors. Today, most brujería circles are inclusive of anybody who comes with respect and love.
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