A handful of dried rose petals, an apple sliced with a spoon, piloncillo, and a few drops of sweet-smelling essential oils stirred into a pot of boiling water. This is the recipe to my mother’s “love potion” made to attract self-love; a physical manifestation of love to pour over one’s body while reciting positive affirmations.
She raised me with tons of remedios de la abuela, or remedies from grandma, from an onion on your belly button to relieve a fever, burning palo santo to rid negative energy, to the belief that loving yourself is a radical act of resistance.
All knowledge that was passed down to her from parents, tias y tios, and abuelos y bisabuelos, among others.
Ancestral spirituality is a deeply personal practice. It’s a vague term that essentially boils down to the act of connecting with one’s spirit through (but not limited to) brujería, herbalism, astrology, oracles, and much more.
Of course, each form of ancestral spirituality varies greatly from region to region but pre-colonial knowledge and practices still exist across the globe.
As Chani Nicholas, a professional astrologer and writer, put it: “spiritual knowledge comes from our own intuitive understanding of life, from the lineages we come from, from our own ancestral knowledge, and from religious and spiritual practices that are open for us to learn from.”
Learning to use spirituality as a form of healing and resistance is vital to both ourselves and our given communities.
I spoke with several individuals who each channel their ancestral spirituality in different ways and asked them how to use spiritual practice as a form of healing and resistance, now during this difficult Trump era and beyond.
To Loba, a bruja, yerbatera, gardener, and doula, identifying as a bruja is a political statement in itself. Brujería and spirituality are forms of resistance that reclaim the power that was lost through systems of oppression.
In Loba’s research, Loba found that brujas were historically sex workers, healers, midwives, and widows, among others. These individuals were outside of the gender binary and were not actively participating in child-bearing, “Usually when I talk about brujas and brujería, I talk about people that were resisting the status quo.”
Loba also notes that it’s important to realize that ancestral knowledge, healing, and resistance often comes from a place of hurt, trauma, and secrecy for protection. It’s vital to acknowledge the privilege to practice openly while indigenous folks might have a difficult time speaking about the traditions that might be rooted in trauma while recognizing the complexities around race and diaspora.
For Chiquita Brujita, a third generation bruja, spirituality is the ultimate reclamation of divine power, “It’s this fortitude to say that I’m magical and empowered. It’s this power and ability to manifest change and assert control over your own life.”
This form of spirituality is also a means of healing, says Chiquita Brujita, “when people are troubled, whether it’s physically, emotionally, romantically, financially, lo que sea, when they need to appeal to a higher power, they appeal to spirit.”
I asked them to provide some spiritual practices that function as a form of healing and resistance. Here’s what they came up with:
1. Call on ancestors.
Speak with educators, storytellers, historians, language keepers, and healers of your community that sustain knowledge, cultural practices, and spiritual beliefs.
Go back to your traditions, medicinal, and spiritual practices. There is also a lot of memory carried in our dreams.
“I push my work and fuel my fire,” says Loba, “I call my grandmother, brujas feministas in my lineage, gardeners, yerbetera ancestors and all those whose existence disrupted the system.”
2. Burn herbs mindfully.
This means NO BURNING of wild harvested white sage or plants that are in the extinction list. It’s also vital to recognize and respect the ancestors of the land you stand on.
Be mindful not to decimate the environment because of the aesthetics of spirituality.
3. Build a garden and care for plants.
“Perhaps the only thing that might suit most of us,” says Chani Nicholas, “is to study some aspect of nature a plant in your home. A tree in your neighborhood. Watch how it grows, sheds, reaches towards warmth. Soak up its resilience. Rest under its shade. Push up against its trunk. Feel the breeze on your skin. The sun on your mood. Rest your consciousness on something that is full of life and abundant in its ability to teach you.”
This helps in understanding the intricate web of exchange and life.
Loba also encourages getting in touch with nature, “Gardens, plants, and soil are magical in their own ways. The way in which nurturing can help life grow has been extremely important in understanding power and light.”
4. Cultivate joy.
“I believe strongly, for example,” says Chiquita Brujita, “that joy is resistance. Anything that keeps you grounded and ready to take on another day with hope.”
5. Do more acts of service, community building, personal development, and self-care.
These acts help us to become stronger individually and, as a result, collectively. They fuel and support resistance.
6. Protect your energy.
Light your candles, burn your sage, charge your crystals, read your cards, do your therapy, say your prayers.
Do whatever you need to protect your energy so that you can heal and protect yourself and your spirit and, if possible, be strong enough to protect others.
7. Read and learn how to properly research.
Read some academic books on the history and practices of everything and steer as strongly towards women of color writers as possible.
For those in the Latinx community, read this Ancestral Resistance Zine: “This document grew of a collective conversation among us who have been an active part of struggles on different fronts for the dignity and freedom of people who have been historically oppressed.
We offer this collection of prayers, practices, and intentions for the sake of the ancestors, for the sake of our families and the Earth who made us, and for the generations to come.
We hope that by sharing these pieces we are in some small way helping nurture the powerfully important but challenging resistance work of, as Grace Lee Boggs said, “growing our souls.”
As Chani concluded, “Healing and resistance through spirituality is incredibly personal. It’s about what we need in the moment, depending on our situation, resources, access, and abilities. No matter the political struggle we are in, no matter the oppression we face, healing is political. Healing is also justice.”
Itxy Quintanilla is a multimedia journalist telling nuanced stories through writing, photography, film, and audio. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA and received her B.A. in English and Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara. You can find her snacking on trail mix and daydreaming to the sound of Frank Ocean. Follow her on Twitter @itx_yagirl