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Book Review: American Brujeria by J. Allen Cross

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

“This book is for you with the cafe con leche skin and the tongue that can’t quite remember that one Spanish word. It’s for you, the one that has to live your days hoping that Spanglish will see you through and La Virgen will still listen when you pray to her in that same twisted tongue. It’s for the victims of assimilation, colonization, and deprivation, who have no one left to teach them how to pray El Padre Nuestro even though their soul cries out for it.”

AMERICAN BRUJERIA: MODERN MEXICAN AMERICAN FOLK MAGIC was written by J. Allen Cross, a practicing witch of Mexican, Native American, and European descent. He works as a psychic medium and occult specialist for a Portland-based paranormal investigation team. Cross’ tradition is steeped in Mexican culture, and he has written this book to explore a magical system that he named “American brujeria.”

WHAT IS AMERICAN BRUJERIA Cross describes American brujeria as: “the folk magic that has been brought to the United States by Mexican immigrants. This system includes the lighting of novena candles, calling upon saints, the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, spiritual cleansings through limpias, and the casting of spells known as hechizos.”

AMERICAN BRUJERIA VS TRADITIONAL BRUJERÍA Traditional brujería is secretive and accessible to few people. You must be mentored by an elder brujo/a/x and are unable to talk about it openly.

American brujeria is the natural deviation from tradition due to immigration. The word brujo/a/x in Mexico and the United States mean very different things. In Mexico, a brujo/a/x will most likely be interpreted as someone who doles out curses or sacrifices living creatures. It’s a word that strikes fear. In the United States, it means someone who’s a nature-loving spiritual healer and is working to connect to their ancestors and reclaim beliefs that were lost due to assimilation and colonization.

In the introduction, Cross summarizes his experience reaching out to his community, who embraced this project and eagerly shared what they knew. Some of the people he spoke to went as far as to reach out to their own families for more information on their stories, beliefs, and memories.

I appreciated that the author was careful to emphasize how the methods our families use trump anything in this book. Our methods become more powerful when we tap into our ancestral lines. When we follow their recipes, spells, and methods, it’s as if our ancestors are guiding our hands.

VAPOR RUB MAGIC IS REAL My favorite part of the book was the section on the magic of Vicks VapoRub. I grew up experiencing the healing powers of this mostly petroleum jelly substance. My mom would rub VapoRub on my nostrils and over my chest when I had a cold. So it was nice to see this tradition validated as magic and to read about why it is so powerful.

The book goes over several topics, including:

  • Crash Course in Catholicism

  • Santa Muerte

  • Altars

  • The Rosary

  • Candles

  • Limpias

  • Herbs

  • Florida Water

  • Red Ribbons

  • Oils

  • Holy Water

  • And more

As a Latina who is actively attempting to connect to her own ancestors, I found this book to be incredibly relatable (I should note that I’m not of Mexican descent, but Nicaraguan). From watching the ladies at church lighting candles and whispering prayers that were basically spells, to praying the rosary three times a week with my mom, most of the traditions in this book were a part of my childhood. The great thing about this book is that it provides much-needed context to the witchcraft most of us American Latinx brujo/a/x practice every day. At the same time, it’s beginner-friendly. For example, the candle section of the book explains the basics of candle dressing and stresses fire safety. So whether you’re an experienced or beginner American brujo/a/x, this book will have something for you. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

AMERICAN BRUJERIA: MODERN MEXICAN AMERICAN FOLK MAGIC was released on May 1, 2021. This post was possible thanks to an audiobook provided for free by the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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