Bad Brujas Only: Digital Presence, Embodied Protest, and Online Witchcraft

Amanda Kelan Figueroa (browngirlsmuseumblog@gmail.com), Harvard University and Ravon Ruffin (ravonruffin@gmail.com), National Museum of African American History and Culture

Over a year before Donald Trump took the presidency in 2016, a group of self-identified Cuban brujas, latina practitioners of witchcraft and/or indigenous rituals, led by Yeni Sleidi released an online video titled “Brujas Hex Trump.” From this platform on YouTube, the video called for fellow witches in both the digital and physical realms to intervene in the presidential candidate’s campaign through a type of activism not previously considered political — ritual, witchcraft, hexing. Since this initial call via YouTube, monthly hexes have continued among Brooklyn-based latinas, organized via social media.

The organization of social justice activism through interpersonal networks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms is not an unusual phenomenon for marginalized communities, evidenced by such movements as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. However, the model of integration between online and offline practices demonstrated in social media witchcraft or brujería communities is worthy of note, as a reclamation of the female-identified body and indigeneity in this current political climate. Witchcraft in its traditional forms would seem to be the antithesis of digital media due to its emphasis on materiality, embodied presence, and physically-enacted rituals. However, these networked communities of digital brujas transcend this divide, as a politicized tool for empowerment, and decolonization of history and the female body.

Groups like Brujas Hex Trump capitalize on the ability of personal practices to have overarching political impacts, while an organization called Witch Cabinet creates workshops and digital courses for femme- and queer-identified people to learn self-care through magic ritual, and social media astrologer Danielle Ayoka gives horoscopes and personalized tarot readings via Twitter and Instagram. The intersection of the embodied rituals of witchcraft and the digital space of social media appear to be irreconcilable, and for this reason, digital expressions of witchcraft and magic are widely considered to be cheap, commercialized, or inconsequential. However, we will examine these points of apparent conflict, between medium and message that occur in these examples of witchcraft, in order to demonstrate a method for seeing the social media space as a mediator, and not an obstacle, for these practices.

Using a theoretical frame based on Chela Sandoval’s work on dissident coalition building, Chon Noriega’s understanding of museological power structures, and the investments of black digital studies in a radical black archival practice, we build from embodied theories of ethnic studies and art ecosystems to find a method for considering race and ritual in the digital sphere. Undertaken primarily by women of color, digital witchcraft is successful at translating online presence into embodied action in ways that perhaps offer strategies for other social, institutional, and cultural communities and their activism. By studying the ways in which these digital witchcraft communities make use of social media platforms in order to bridge these divides, sometimes by using them against their designed purposes, the potential of digital activism, and its implications for studies of chicana and black feminism, indigenous studies, and other branches of ethnic studies, digital or otherwise, can be considered.