Illustrations: Dani Pendergast

How Black and Brown Mystical Artists Are Tapping Into Our Ancestral Power

Generational wounds prevented Black and Brown women from using their magic in public. But today, women of color are reclaiming their spaces in mystic arts like tarot and astrology.

TThe ancestors called on Tatianna Tarot at an early age. She couldn’t have been any older than six or seven when it happened. While browsing a bookstore in Brooklyn with her dad, a deck of tarot cards caught Tatianna’s eye. She wanted to take the cards home with her, but, of course, her dad wouldn’t buy them. What would a child do with a deck of tarot cards anyway? But Tatianna’s juju wasn’t the type to lay low. Once she got to her grandmother’s house, she found a deck of playing cards in the kitchen. They became her entryway into the metaphysical world.

She had a system back then. Hearts meant love. The good luck club, as she calls it, meant just that: Good luck was on the way. And the mighty spades card, a trump in the game of its namesake, indicated something bad was in the works. She used card and palm readings to bargain for ice cream and cookies with the other kids at the lunch table.

Little did the Bed-Stuy-born Afro Latina know that the juju ran deep in her bloodline. Her Puerto Rican dad saw spirits but refused to embrace his gift. It scared him. And her estranged Black mother was raised in the occult: Tatianna’s maternal grandmother, a hairdresser, did astral projections in the living room, was hired by the mafia to do spells, and sold spiritual services such as putting roots on people. As the family’s story goes, Tatianna’s maternal great-grandmother taught her grandmother these things, but her maternal great-grandmother has denied teaching it to anyone.

After a string of bad luck, including strange deaths in the family, everybody became devout Christians, and her mom joined the military — which is how she met Tatianna’s dad. Their juju became a family secret.

“I feel, like, karmically, because of my mother’s lineage and what they’ve done, I must have been born to do the opposite, to kind of do it the right way,” says the New Orleans–based Tatianna, now 32, when speaking about her gift. “It is very misconceptualized and demonized in the media. So there’s a lot of people looking for help. There’s a lot of people looking to connect with their own lineages and their own ancestors and their own gifts.”

TToday, Tatianna is one of the nation’s best-known tarot readers with an established social media presence. She’s also one of two dozen or so highly influential mystics who are also women of color carving spaces for themselves in the mystic arts and doing it with a culturally specific sensibility.

This is important to note because, for centuries, the dominant narrative of mysticism in the Western media has been Eurocentric, with no serious regard for the spiritual practices of indigenous, Asian, and African peoples from around the world. A quick Google search points to the Middle Ages as the origin of tarot and Babylonia as the birthplace of astrology, though Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle are credited for turning the art into the modern-day movement we know it to be today.

The average person who partakes in tarot and astrology is a casual cultural surfer. They read online horoscopes or download books about sun signs, but over the past few decades, most “popular” offerings in this space were created or curated by White people. Popular media also historically reinforced the erasure of people of color in the mystic arts, often relegating mysticism to the category of voodoo, as seen in movies like Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (the imagery of which scared some children) and Carmen: A Hip Hopera (yes, the one with our queen Beyoncé), which scared the hell out of almost every millennial instead of educating them about a belief system.

But now? People of color in the United States appear to be reclaiming their ancestors’ histories. As astrology experienced a new cultural interest in the 2010s, with almost 30% of Americans believing in astrology, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, more and more women of color are popping up on social media with their culturally sensitive takes on mysticism.

“I think the explosion that astrology is experiencing is because a lot of people, especially Black women, are in a place where they’re starting to feel like the more traditional, spiritual mediums are not working for them anymore,” says Mecca Woods, a popular New York City–based astrologer.

“And so the way that I present astrology is more from this place of what it means to be a person of color, what it means to be marginalized, what it means to be in the world that constantly tries to make you feel like you’re less than, and what that looks like for someone like me,” Woods says

When Ashleigh D. Jay, a Chicago-based astrologer, first noticed Black women astrologers like Woods and Janelle Belgrave posting about their mysticism on social media around 2012, she felt seen. She grew up reading her horoscope in the newspaper, but this was the first time she read relatable horoscopes from astrologers who looked like her.

“I think it’s extremely helpful, because it’s something that is more personalized and customized for us, and many things in the world aren’t made to fit us,” says Jay about the rise of visible diversity in astrology. “I’ve found that, for a long time, on the low, Black women have been very interested in astrology and spiritual practices in general, but we haven’t really had the freedom of platform to talk about it openly.”

According to Réyel, an Ohio-based multidimensional clear channel seer, the gift of mysticism is passed down generationally. However, she says, colonialism, imperialism, and, eventually, slavery damaged the diaspora’s magic so badly that the trauma of these events are imbedded in the genetics of POCs.

“There’s this generational wound of our magic not being allowed, and now we’re at a time where we’re saying that we’re magical, and we’re finding our power back.”

“When it comes to erasure, the root cause is patriarchy, which is [the process of] learning people and going to these lands, trying to be their friend, and then they steal your secrets,” Réyel says. “When it comes to tarot and healing or energy work or seeing prayers that are of power activation to another person, if you did that type of work, you were killed.”

Réyel sees 2015 as the year when more and more women of color started to share their mystic arts with the world. She saw women of color revolutionizing the word “witch,” which was often used in a derogatory manner to describe mystical women. Réyel had her own fears about her gifts and worried about being targeted by the government if she went public with her services. In 2017, she had a spiritual awakening and could no longer suppress her magic behind her corporate cubicle. She quit her job and started channeling full-time.

“There’s that fear that comes from our grandmothers and mothers before them, and our father, because men had magical gifts, too,” Réyel says. “And so there’s this generational wound of our magic not being allowed, and now we’re at a time where we’re saying that we’re magical, and we’re finding our power back.”

“We all have some sort of indigenous magic within us, so it’s really contingent on whether or not the individual is open to it.”

Réyel believes the spread of Christianity played a big role in the erasure of Black and Brown people from mysticism. By way of “guns, germs, and steel” imperialism, indigenous peoples in Asia, Africa, and the Americas didn’t have the manpower or technology to defeat the European insistence upon their colonialist version of God worship, often distributed within the carefully curated King James Bible.

“They brought that to a lot of countries and lands and said, ‘Hey, the way you’re practicing gods and honoring nature, honoring the stars, that’s all the devil,’” Réyel says. “And these people don’t understand what that word means. Like, what is the devil?”

But at least one popular Bible story comes with its own set of astrology, if you look closely. Réyel and Jay point to the story of the Biblical Magi, aka the Three Wise Men, who visited Jesus after his birth, as described in the New Testament.

“You knew where to go, and you offered spiritual gifts to this child—frankincense, myrrh, oil—to make sure [His] aura is pure, that [His] energy is pure,” Réyel says about the Three Wise Men. “They knew what type of person He was. He’s enlightened, and that’s the thing that we’re learning now. We’re working with essential oils to make sure that we’re purified, that we smell good, that our rooms and our space is amplified with good energy, with good vibes.”

AsAs Europeans pillaged indigenous lands, destroying documents and histories, they also killed village elders and leaders who served as healers, decision-makers and shamen. According to Réyel, they successfully programmed Black and Brown people to see Christian doctrines as bond; anything else would result in damnation.

Tatianna agrees and continues to see the effect of imperialist-based religious systems on mystics of color. That’s why, she says, there aren’t as many people of color openly practicing tarot. It’s still viewed as “devil’s work.”

“I think it came with Christianity, in the colonization of that, really, to control the people and to get people to adhere to this faith to control them,” Tatianna says. “With the spread of Christianity and the Bible saying, ‘This is permissible, this is not permissible,’ that’s how we really got to where we got to with these practices, unfortunately.”

Despite all this, metaphysical arts are thriving and even seeing a resurgence in pop culture. Tatianna refers to Black and Brown magic as juju, a type of mysticism that includes all the things that come naturally to people of color, such as prophetic dreams, superstitions, sensing spirits, reading energy, and more.

“This is juju, and everybody has it,” Tatianna says. “It’s going to look a little different because we all have some sort of indigenous magic within us, so it’s really contingent on whether or not the individual is open to it, whether they have the belief system in that, whether they accept it, or whether they ostracize it.”

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