As the daughter of Mexican and Chilean immigrants, something I felt that kept me from connecting on a deeper level with my culture was not being Catholic. I didn't have a first Communion or a quinceañera, and I've never observed Semana Santa or Holy Week. In fact, I didn't experience many of the cultural nuances of Latinidad because so many of them revolve around religion.
I was initiated into Santería when I was 26 and a major component of the religion is the intermixing of West African Yoruba and the Spanish Catholic tradition. But here I was, singled out again. Ironically enough, I needed to learn about Catholicism, so that I could understand the parallels between Yoruba and Catholic santos and participate in the prayers and the rituals of espiritismo. People were shocked that I didn't know "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys." It was kind of embarrassing.
It's only been in the past three years that I've really started learning more about Catholic saints. It ended up being my ancestors that forced me to look at Catholicism in a different way and incorporate some aspects into my ancestral veneration work. With Semana Santa approaching, I've been thinking a lot about whether or not I should participate. As a card-carrying Bruja and espirituista, it seems a little weird for me to do. But little by little, I am realizing that this is an opportunity for me to create my own practice that feels good and is not rooted in what I'm "supposed" to do but rather what serves me and resonates with me. Here are a few ways Latina brujas are incorporating Semana Santa or other Catholic holidays into their spiritual practice:
Take What You Want, and Leave the Rest
Just like everybody else, we pick and choose what best suits us. My spiritual practice is mine and mine alone. It's not something that needs to be verified by anyone else, and it's definitely not something that needs to look like what anyone else is doing. While some brujas definitely leave the church and never look back, there are others who use their Catholic upbringing as a jumping-off point into further understanding, like Dr. Griselda Rodríguez-Solomon of Brujas of Brooklyn. "I grew up celebrating Semana Santa because the Dominican Republic is a very Catholic country. My mother grew up Catholic [and] gave us the same principles . . . My practice is a split between Catholic culture and the 21 divisions, and that was my way of practicing my own relationship with God independent from Catholicism and the principles my mother taught me" she tells POPSUGAR Latina.
Semana Santa Is an Opportunity to Create Your Own Tradition
I think the thing we forget about traditions is that at one point, they were new. It's OK to try things out, and it's OK if they don't work or if you end up not liking them. Eclectic Bruja Tonya Melendez's Semana Santa observance has an overall theme of cleansing and renewal. "My Semana Santa ritual begins with a fresh bóveda (a special altar for connecting) then refreshing my other altars with new colors, crystal grids, and depending on [the] desired outcome," she says. "Spiritual baths are essential, with fresh herbs and flowers to celebrate the renewal energy. I also may do a juice fast during this time to have a deeper internal cleanse."
It's the Spring Equinox and the Beginning of the Astrological New Year
There are definitely things that I observe around the equinox and Aries season that I didn't realize were connected to themes of resurrection and rebirth. Spring cleaning is one. I also tend to go out in nature or go to the river and do spiritual limpias (cleanses). The spring equinox marks when day and night are exactly the same lengths, as well as when we get a break from winter. For some people, observing Semana Santa can mean just resting and recouping; for others, it can mean recognizing the roots of the tradition. "I do continue to celebrate Semana Santa because for me, I clearly understand that Catholicism, in particular, was superimposed on people in parts of Europe that were considered pagan and had already been celebrating Earth-based, cyclical, [and] goddess-based traditions for the equinox and the stolstices," Rodriguez-Solomon says. "What history tells us, and what I intuitively believe, is that the Catholic Church coincided their saint celebrations with pagan celebrations of light like Ostara, which is based on fertility."
Whatever Feels Right to You Is What You Should Do
Overall, if it feels good in your soul, why not go for it? Many brujas struggle with letting go of traditions because they feel they have to choose one or the other, and I'm here to tell you that you don't have to if you don't want to. And if you're curious, it's definitely worth it to at least observe the equinox. Or as Melendez puts it, "I believe that as long as what we do honors the spiritual, brings light into the world, and supports us in vibrating higher, there is nothing we should limit ourselves to in discovering, as long as it is not appropriated and does not cause harm."
So, what do you think? Will you be creating your own Semana Santa tradition this year?