Witchcraft in Latin America

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Various types of witchcraft and occult religious practices exist in Latin American and Afro-Caribbean cultures, known in Spanish as brujería (pronounced [bɾuxeɾˈi.a]).[1][2] Influenced by indigenous religion, Catholicism,[1] and European witchcraft,[2] the purpose may range from benevolent white magic to evil black magic.[3]

A male practitioner is called a brujo, a female practitioner is a bruja.[3]


Across the Afro-Latin diaspora, many forms of spiritual practices have emerged: Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda. What sets the witches of Latin America apart from their European counterparts is the blend of religiosity and spirituality. The witches in Latin America's ‘magic’ are rooted in African magic, European spiritualism, ….. and Taino practices, making them practice an integrated version of spirituality. .[4]

Isabelo Zenón Cruz made the assessment that Puerto Rican vernacular religions (and really any Afro-Latino religions) have been only studied by folklorists but not comparative religionists due to “classist and racist assumptions”.[4]

Unlike many other Caribbean religions that derive from Africa, Brujería is not based on stable community, hierarchy, or membership. Instead, practices are more dependent on the ritual preferences of the actual participants. Because of the spontaneity of the spirits, it is impossible for institutionalized doctrines of worships to be enforced on followers and practicers of Brujería.[5]

Within sacred altars of brujos, lessons of practitioners, and brujería rituals lie ties to African ideologies, Catholicism, and Spiritism; explaining the erasure of hierarchical order.[4]

Before Spiritism was developed, Taíno Indians and enslaved African people in Latin America developed the convictions that there exist spirits and those spirits can be communicated with. This becomes mixed with the convictions of spiritual worship introduced by Catholic colonizers. Early leaders of Spiritism found interest in Brujería amongst liberal, emancipation minded groups in the late nineteenth century; begging the interest for further research of the correlation between politics and Brujería.[4]


The earliest witches date back to 931 BC, and from then on witchcraft has been spread throughout the world, and infiltrated many cultures. In Latin America, that influence did not come until the 1500s, when the archbishop of Santo Domingo and fifth bishop of Puerto Rico, Nicolás Ramos, recorded his recollections of ‘black brujos [male and female] who engaged with the devil in the shape of a goat and, every night in front of this goat, cursed God, Santa María, and the sacraments of the Holy Church.’’ Ramos wrote, ‘‘[A]sserting that they did not have nor believe in a god other than that devil…they performed these rituals in some fields [apparently they were in a trance] ,…not in dreams since there were some people who saw them.’’ These people, Ramos continues, ‘‘tried to make them [the sorcerers] refrain from their doings through chanting and holy gifts [ dádivas ], and with all this [information they] came to me.’” This perpetual demonization of elements of African worship set up the forefront to the centuries of demonization of Brujería practices.[4]

From the sixteenth to the subsequent eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, slaves were shipped from Africa to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola and were forced to convert to Christianity by the imposing church and the overseeing hacendadosland owners. Branded slaves were baptized to be fully recognized as the property of hacendados.[4]

In the late 1800s to early 1900s during the early days of American occupation within Cuba, there were established attacks to undermine the legitimacy of several Afro-Cuban institutions and organizations— including Brujería.[6]

With the growth of a single Cuban identity came a greater appreciation for conformity and deviation from “creolised manifestations”. However, the declination of faith-based practices in Cuba due to the rise in Marxism from 1959 to the 1990s lead to practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions to have to find innovative ways to survive Castro’s political informants that particularly called for the suppression of witchcraft and Brujería.[7][dubious ]

The introduction of Spiritism in the twentieth century attracted more participants of all racial backgrounds. It also added new foundations of practice and ritualistic objects such as: santiguos (healing blessings), 19 despojos (spiritual cleansings), prayers, and spells; and an array of indigenous, medieval Catholic, and African offerings.[4]

Modernization of Brujería[edit]

[8]The brujas inherited traits from catholicism, and yet the church had deemed them as evil and demonized them. In some places, their demonetization has come to an end on this scale, and they are left as they are, but in others, brujas are forced to not practice their form of ‘magic. That being said, with the increasing rate of persecution amongst practitioners since the colonization of the Afro-Latino Caribbean, Brujería has been forced into modernization to combat erasure.[4]

As separatist ideals begin to gain more momentum, particularly in Puerto Rico, there becomes more clings to cultural nationalism— including clings to aspects of Afro-Boricua and Taíno folklore. Previously (1950s–1960s), journalists in the island denounced Brujería as a way to help “educate the masses”. However, the shift in cultural nationalism from the 1980s onwards now leads to media outlets uncovering “hidden traditions” of the “endangered Puerto Rican Hispanic, Taíno, and African traditions”[4]

Romberg argues the practice of modern-day Brujería as "the vernacular co-optation of discourses of interest and passions, of consumerism and spirituality, commodity fetishism and morality, and welfare capitalism and magic". And also reveals that despite misconceptions, Brujería builds to social order through both “holistic or individualized types of intervention” and endorsement of positive “mainstream social values”.[4]


Brujería doesn't participate in community, hierarchical, or initiation-based practice or membership. Rituals are interdependent on the procedures, practices, and attitudes passed down by its participants and heavily depend on forces of nature and the spontaneity of the spirits. Following specific guidelines and doctrines in Brujería is possible .[5]

However, some commonalities include basic ritual gestures, communication during divination, possession, and specific components of altars. These similarities are often referred to as “a kind of spiritual lingua franca” which explains the ubiquity of the practice cross the Afro-Latino and Non-Afro-Latino diaspora.[5]

In practice, brujos stress to not believe in the ritualistic objects or hold too much pertinence in the material representations of the spiritual entities, but rather focus on the messages and “powers of the entities that inhabit these icons” that are also used to summon ancient demons. [4]

Power is sensed and manifested when the voices of Spiritist entities, Santería orishas, and the recently deceased are brought on by “Brujería rituals, divination, trance and the making of magic works”. The spirits' abstract means of revelation include through emotions, through senses, and through healings as a means to transform the “emotional, proprioceptive and (to some extent) physiological states of participants”[5]

Whereas a lot of focus within the practice of Brujería is on the technological systems, Brujería focuses mostly on interpersonal client-patient power that “emerges during healing, divination and magic rituals challenges the assumed precondition”;[5] specifically in regards to health, labor, family relations, and even career management.[4]

Brujos and practitioners of Brujería never question the spirits. The performative methods of surrender training is the only lesson brujos aim to teach. The expectation is to have faith in the spirits and the spirits will theatrically reveal what is meant to be shown.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1987 horror film The Believers, a Brujería cult is suspected in a series of child murders.
  • In the television series True Blood, Jesus Velasquez (played by Kevin Alejandro) is a Mexican brujo.
  • In the television series Constantine, the Brujería are revealed to be the series antagonists. They are depicted as ancient magical creatures cursed by God and rejected by Hell who were thought to have been destroyed by the Great Flood but have survived in hiding.
  • In the movie Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, actress Gloria Sandoval plays a bruja who is a part of a worldwide coven of witches.
  • In the television series Power, drug dealer Nomar Arcielo (played by Vinicius Machado) refers to FBI agent Angela Valdez (played by Lela Loren) as "bruja" due to his distrust of her.
  • In the television series Ash vs Evil Dead, Pablo's uncle is a brujo who sends Ash on an ayahuasca trip, and helps him defeat a Deadite. Later, Pablo becomes a brujo especial.
  • In the crime novel The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly, a character describes "an impromptu 'marriage' on the beach officiated by an artist friend who was ordained in a cult-like Mexican religion called brujería".
  • Azealia Banks released a series of videos on Instagram showing her cleaning up the remains of sacrificed chickens, claiming to be practicing brujería.
  • Aja released a single titled “Brujería” in May 2018.
  • In the manga and anime Bleach by Tite Kubo the arrancar Zommari Rureax's Resurrección is named Brujería.
  • Author Zoraida Córdova's 2016 Brooklyn Brujas (Labyrinth Lost, Bruja Born, and untitled third book) series follows the Mortiz sisters and their magical community in Brooklyn and Queens.
  • The rapper Princess Nokia released a song called Brujas, where she sings about brujería.[9]
  • In the Hellboy stories The Coffin Man and The Coffin Man 2: The Rematch, Hellboy faces off with a Brujo known as the Coffin Man.
  • In Bad Boys for Life Mike and Marcus must track down a criminal known as "la bruja".
  • The 2020 film The Old Ways centers around a bruja attempting to exorcise a demon from a Mexican-American woman.
  • In the 2020 young adult novel Cemetery Boys the main character Yadriel is a trans boy seeking to prove himself as a brujo to his traditionalist brujería family.
  • In the 2021 season of CW's Charmed reboot, a reoccurring character appears as the "Charmed One's Prima" or cousin who hails from their Puerto Rican side of the family and practices brujería.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b María Herrera-Sobek (2012). Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions. ABC-CLIO. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-313-34339-1.
  2. ^ a b "brujería". Pop Culture Dictionary, by Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2020-02-24.
  3. ^ a b Herrera-Sobek (2012), p. 175.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Romberg, Raquel (2003). Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico. University of Texas Press.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Romberg, Raquel (2012). "Sensing the Spirits: The Healing Dramas and Poetics of Brujería Rituals". Anthropologica. 54: 211–25 – via Wilifrid Laurier University Press.
  6. ^ Murrell, Nathaniel Samuel (2010). Afro-Caribbean Religions an Introduction to Their Historical, Cultural, and Sacred Traditions. Temple University Press.
  7. ^ Boylan, Desmond. "A modern witch". The Wider Image.
  8. ^ https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199578160.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199578160-e-24
  9. ^ "We Spoke to Actual Witches About Brujería". Teen Vogue.


  • Ankarloo, B. & Clark, S, (2002) Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the period of the witch trials
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (1989) The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, New York: Facts-on-File.

Further reading[edit]

  • Spence, L. (1994) The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico
  • Christian, W.A., Jr. (1989) Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain
  • Henningsen, G. (1980) The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (1609-1614)
  • Castaneda, C. (1968) The Teachings of Don Juan
  • Romberg, Raquel (2002) "Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico"
  • Chatwin, Bruce In Patagonia
  • Kinnie, Ernest The Brujo....2-Act Play