“Maldita Bruja” No More — These Afro-Dominican Twins Are Rebranding Spirituality

Sabrina Santiago
·9 mins read

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Surrounded by piles of overripe fruit in their Brooklyn backyard, Afro-Dominican twins Dr. Miguelina Rodriguez and Dr. Griselda Rodriguez-Solomon clasp their hands and close their eyes. As they sit on opposite sides of their sacred altar, the rich red roses and paisley tablecloth juxtapose the brown fruit behind them. It’s an art scene they curated to honor their spirituality and to challenge Adam and Eve folklore.

As the Genesis story goes, the first man and woman lived mercifully in the Garden of Eden — a nonviolent, vegetarian space for God’s creation. Adam and Eve were to follow one order: Never eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Woman (Eve) falls to temptation and, as a result, woman is cursed with the pain of childbirth and subordination to her husband.

“The idea that humans fell from grace because women were tempted by the devil, by the snake, to feed the Apple to Adam had a profound impact on a woman’s psyche and on the human psyche, so much so that we are still plagued by this idea that women damned humanity,” Griselda tells me a few days after her photoshoot over Zoom. Chuckling, she expresses her excitement to turn the traditional imagery on its head.

The sisters, also known as the Brujas of Brooklyn, launched their platform after surviving their Saturn Return — the astrological occurrence between your 27th and 30th birthday when Saturn completes its orbit around the sun and returns to the exact position it was when you were born. It’s also known as the sporadic entrance to adulthood and maturity. The sisters endured many similarities and parallels through their return, like respective breakups and health issues. Their sisterhood, Afro-Indigenous spirituality, and bond were essential to their survival, making the twins empathize with women experiencing hardship alone. They decided to create their first retreat focused on healing, which marked the beginning of their platform. Soon, a community of 12 women grew to more than 20,000 followers on Instagram.

At first glance, the twins embody edgy Dominican-Americans raised in New York City in the ‘80s — what people on the island labeled the “Dominican York.” Talking to them more, I discover that they can spit out the lyrical storytelling in a Nas song, bar per bar, and reference a bachata or classic merengue for any moment — a result of being bicultural and a far reality from the “scary” and “mysterious” stigma that brujas have.

Most often referred to as “demonic” and “devils work,” the Ph.D., Social Science Brujas are focused on disbanding the fear and mystery tied to ancestral Afro-Indigenous rituals. “Unfortunately, that mystery is not because the practice itself is mysterious and dark; it’s because main society and religion has made it so that we have this fear of brujas, brujería, and santería,” Miguelina tells me.

Growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and raised in the Dominican Republic for a few years, the twins’ Afro-Indigenous spirituality started at a young age. “It was an interesting experience growing up because we grew up very Catholic with Catholic saints and going to church,” says Griselda. “On the flip side, in a parallel universe almost, we had the altars. My mother would go to the 21 Divisions, where people would get mounted.” The 21 Divisions, also known as Dominican Vudu, is a syncretic religion— a fusion of various beliefs — rooted in African and Indigenous practices and rituals.

Though often presented as a Catholic-based collective, religion and spirituality in Latin America is far more complex and layered than people assume. After it was demonized for centuries and hidden behind closed doors, now more African and Indigenous descendants are openly embracing hybrid, personalized practices such as santería (way of the saints) and brujería (witchcraft). For many, it’s a way of unpacking anti-Blackness within their communities and suppressing the many myths implemented by organized religion and society. It’s essential to decolonize belief; after all, how can one accept ancestry without ancestral spirituality?

Social media has undeniably played a significant role in the rebranding of the “bruja” in 2020. Through dietary work, holistic wellness, and readings, today’s brujas are not only clarifying folk myths but they are also highlighting the miseducation our communities were subjected to throughout history.

For Miguelina and Griselda, this means creating a mix of primary healing modalities that include extensive academic training, Kundalini yoga, and nutrition-based preventative care. It also means tackling conversations on race, religion, gender, and identity on their Instagram pages and beyond.

After it was stigmatized by Catholic colonizers, the twins are reclaiming the word bruja/x and rewriting its false depiction as a “demonic seductress.” Though identical, there’s one distinction between the two women, and it’s what Miguelina playfully refers to as the “stereotypical witches’ mole” that sits on the side of Griselda’s nose. The women live loud and unapologetically challenge mainstream European standards by non-assimilation — embracing their Blackness through identity statements like wearing their hair naturally, which is still considered rebellious in their culture. Griselda says that hearing phrases like “maldita bruja” —which translates to “a damned witch” — is a common phrase that’s often shouted toward women with curly hair.

“The word bruja for me, it’s very political… it has been demonized for so many years. And a lot of it, we’re starting to understand, is because women are inherently powerful people,” said Miguelina. “I think that when a woman taps into that power, she becomes so powerful, and the patriarchy is scared of that. So, they start demonizing things like our menstrual cycle, when we choose to be with women, or when we choose to be with multiple men. When you look at the women during witch trials in Europe, and here in New England in the United States, they were medicine women, they were doulas, they were midwives. They were single, they left their spouses, and here we are reclaiming that word proudly.”

It’s all intersectional: Feminist empowerment and the current decolonization of the mind and spirit are a means of regaining power. “There’s a very profound power in a woman’s womb… when you look at the creation, the development of capitalism, witch hunts were very intentional at repressing that power and women, and that’s where you get the demonization of the womb,” adds Griselda.

Their craft is dedicated to womb-healing. They practice Yoni — an ancient Sanskrit word that means sacred space, womb, or vagina — in their retreats and workshops and tap into the women’s womb-power in an act they call “woke womb work.” According to the 7th generation principle believed by Indigenous nations across the Western Hemisphere, seven generations heal before us and seven after us. Understanding that our genes carry trauma, these workshops are meant to heal inherited generational trauma, particularly for Black women: trauma from enslaved ancestors to the emotional toll of living in oppressive states to day-to-day micro-aggressions and racism.

As light workers, the twins are reclaiming ancestral practices and rituals with the intent to heal and bring solace and to dissolve the negative connotations rooted in anti-Blackness.

Griselda recalls her confusion in witnessing her mother practice these rituals privately and then disown the act because of societal pressure. Throughout Latin America, syncretic traditions have direct lineages to Yoruba, Vodou, and Macumba — and has served as resistance throughout historical genocide and cultural erasure.

The transatlantic slave trade led enforcement of European language and Christianity on African and Indigenous people, which led to cultural respectability politics. These beliefs dictated that a Black person who was “better presented” and “closer to white mainstream” would be more respected. Ideas like the “good Christian woman” spawn from these respectability politics. The phrase was coined in the African American community, but this experience is not unique to the rest of the diaspora in Latin America. The Dominican Republic is the only nation in the world to have the Holy Bible on its flag, which claims Christianity as the land’s official religion -— despite there being many devout healers and descendants that practice Afro-Indigenous spirituality there.

As professors, scholars, and spiritual healers, the Brujas of Brooklyn vowed to create spaces for women to share and recover the historical legacy robbed from them due to anti-Blackness and the negative connotations that labeled these practices.

With their workshops that serve up to 100 people, these traditions are no longer practiced in private but embraced openly, which simultaneously informs elders while passing down ways of healing to the next generation. “As brujas, as one of the millions that have risen through our time, we come to turn those narratives on their head,” says Griselda. For women, Black women specifically, it’s not just about reclaiming their spirituality and ancestry. It’s survival, healing, and tapping into the power many never knew they had due to these narratives. This ownership and power is igniting a new time — one that couldn’t come without the rise of women empowerment and the fight against anti-Blackness within these communities.

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