I was raised to fear spirits. As a Catholic for 16 years of my life, I was indoctrinated with a deep fear of the occult, particularly the devil and anything that resembled it – including Santeria, Palo and other African Diasporic traditions. It’s funny though. My mother would always tell me, “muchacha, tu si eres mistica” (you’re such a mystic) throughout my childhood. And while I feared witchcraft, I was attracted to it.
My first memory of the occult was with my family. Without giving too many details, we dealt with a negative entity that scared the shit out of everyone. I never knew exactly what was happening but I felt something was not okay. It ended with two priests coming to the house, and after that, we all became devoutly Catholic. I began to fall into deep despair around this time.
I feel that the presence of this negative energy contributed to me experiencing sexual trauma at the age of 6, which was in sync with this time in my family’s history. I never told anyone and instead became reserved and quiet, retreating to the escape of my mind, books and writing. I felt like an evil, impure girl. I had dreams of the devil and upon waking, would feel an evil presence in my room. I would begin to pray all the Hail Marys and Our Fathers I could muster until it went away. I asked my mother to take me to a priest because I felt something was not right.
In the 2nd grade, my class produced a Jack & The Beanstalk play. I got a role as one of the witches. I was so overjoyed. My godmother made my outfit: I had a long black skirt and a cape. My teacher, Mrs. Flores, lent me her pointy witch hat, and I had a green turtleneck. I loved my costume so much, I wore it constantly and was a witch for Halloween. My mother disapproved of this, citing that Halloween was an evil holiday, and my witch costume disappeared.
I fed my mind more and more with books in my seclusion growing up, reading Greek mythology and other fantasy books that worked on my imagination. In the 7th grade, I had an experience that both thrilled me and scared me. A classmate came up to me a week before Halloween and asked me if I wanted to be part of a coven. I wanted so badly to say yes, but the fear put in me of the occult made me shy away. At the end of high school, I fell even deeper into my despair and depression. I hated God. I didn’t have the words for it then but I hated myself and my life. I tried to commit suicide in my senior year, to end the pain. My poetry was full of pain and sorrow, and I suffered quietly. I lost my faith in Catholicism.
It wasn’t until college that I felt free to explore my own spirituality. My depression began to lift as I felt myself transform with yoga and exploring witchcraft with peers. I began to understand that it was not evil but a way to connect with the Earth and my inner power. My despair and depression never went away though, and manifested itself in sexual obsession, alcohol and drugs. I was still self-destructive but had begun to find a way out.
I was still scared of Santeria when I met a woman who was very proud to be a bruja. She and I began to speak regularly on the phone. I told her about my budding interest in tarot cards and my exploration of Wicca. She told me about her path in Santeria and how it was changing her life. I was scared but excited. I began to read anything I could about this African tradition that I had been forbidden to explore in my life. The more I read, the more I felt like I had found something that made sense. The Orishas were not aloof like the Catholic god I was made to fear, but very much integrated into daily life. It was through this sister that I finally told my story of what happened to my family when I was 6. It was the first time someone gave me language for what I felt – this despair and feeling that something about that incident was unresolved and still plaguing me.
I experienced a great amount of strife with my mother because of my explorations into the occult, which began with a tarot deck, a glass of water and a candle. Another brother I met on the path told me about bovedas and espiritismo. I felt called. My mother was not amused. She was relentless, telling me I was worshiping the devil several times. I would try to quell my criticism of Catholicism, and bit my tongue, trying not to bring up what had happened so long ago.
My despair came to a head one summer where I was traumatized and was triggered into a deeper depressed; all my past pains came back strong. I ran straight to the Orishas. I couldn’t articulate it back then but I knew my pain needed otherworldly help. It was the first time the dark clouds in my life began to part. My ancestors started to whisper hints for me, opening up paths and making me feel more at ease. During this time, reading “Finding Soul on the Path to Orisha”, by Tobe Melora Correal, made me realize that trauma and pain gets passed from generation to generation. I began to understand from conversations with a priestess of Yemaya that there was healing and elevation our ancestors needed from us as much as we needed it from them. I slowly began to understand. Yet the fear still gripped me. I was unstable and unraveling quickly. My anxiety got so bad that I even walked away from the little relief I had. I was scared of spirits still and Catholicism had done its job in planting suspicion about the occult.
Last year was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was hanging on by a thread and was dealt a painful blow. I applied to nursing school and moved out of the South Bronx. Something inside me told me it was a bad idea to move back with my mother, but I naively believed that we could get past our spiritual war. It took less than 3 weeks for it to erupt. I felt it stewing the minute I stepped in. In a series of conversations, my mother pleaded with me and asked why, after being an altar server and finding me kneeling praying as a little girl, I would abandon Catholicism. I broke down crying and told her about the negative entity I had felt my whole life. We immediately went to my godmother’s house and it was all confirmed. I thought we had gotten somewhere, but boy was I wrong.
One evening, I got home and my mother began screaming at me. She told me everything I was into – Africa, yoga, my sorority, cutting my hair, my lifestyle change – was not of God. That I was going to lose everything and everyone if I didn’t renounce my beliefs and turn to Jesus. I don’t remember crying as hard as I did that night. For a moment, the fear of having to figure out where to go made me renounce. I found out quickly that I couldn’t even form the words. I couldn’t lie. I could never appease her by saying such an awful thing as denial of what I knew to be true.
I moved yet again, but this time I was losing it. The fresh trauma of losing my mother brought up every trauma I could imagine. I had thoughts of killing myself again. I cried every night. I tried to hold it together for nursing school. 5 weeks into the program, I woke up one morning shaking. And when I say shaking, it was uncontrollable. I went straight to my therapist at the time and he got me to agree to stay in the Crisis department of the hospital. I cried and faded in and out of sleep for 8 hours until my close friend came to get me. I felt like my life was over. I had finally gone crazy. I had finally lost my mind, as I had feared would happen my whole life.
From October 2012 until recently, I spent in therapy and getting spiritual help from master healers. I am grateful for the nervous breakdown. It finally allowed me to get to the bottom of so much of my psychological distress. It made me realize how much help I have needed. That my constant moving around was not simply out of irresponsibility or flightiness, as many would assume. I knew death had been chasing me for a long time.
My healing journey was taken to a whole new level one morning when a sister friend called me. She started talking about egun and the Orishas. I felt myself get scared of the practice again, yet something deep down inside tugged at me. Through her intervention, I spoke to a priest of Yemaya, who for the first time in my life, acknowledged that there was a negative energy haunting me, causing me despair, depression and pushing me near suicide. I was put under the protection of my egun and the Orishas, and focused all my energy on opening myself to their blessings.
The power of the Orishas and egun is unmatched. Every day as I poured my heart out and gave up my pain, I began to feel more whole.The spell of the last 20 years broke itself as my ancestors stood around me. It’s not that they weren’t ever there. It was that my eyes and heart were now ready to feel the power of my ache and their love work its wonders. My pain began to be replaced by this indescribable peace that I had never in my life felt. Tears of joy and gratitude were how I began to speak to my ancestors.
The path with Orisha and egun is not easy. Certainly not. There is a lot of work and sacrifice involved. From my experience, the work is deeply personal. It is a removing of all the rotten things that do not serve me on reaching my destiny, the one my Ori picked for me long before I got here. It is still nerve-wracking sometimes, to trust my gut and my spirit. Every day I must work at my self and my path. This time, the light in my life is undeniable. I feel stronger and braver than I have ever been in my life. I have come to understand that it is our separation from our roots and our story that causes our despair as Afro-descendant people. That a negative entity plagues us all in the form of generational trauma and internalized oppression. My life has been transformed by the Orishas. I want to shout it from the rooftops. For now, I will share my story in hopes that anyone listening understands the treasures their ancestors and spiritual life have for them.