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courtesy of Celina

What wellness and spirituality looks like when you're LGBTQ+

Wellness editor Emilia Ortiz speaks to people in the LGBTQ+ community about how they navigate their spiritual faith

Dazed Beauty Wellness Editor Emilia Ortiz is the no bullshit, Brooklyn-based bruja, spiritual advisor, creative, mental health advocate, motivational speaker, empath, fairy Godmother you’ve been waiting for. Passed down to Emilia through the generations of her Puerto Rican lineage, Brujeria encompasses various indigenous forms of spirituality and witchcraft practices used by Latin American, Caribbean, and African peoples. Harnessing her spiritual gift, Emilia decided to turn her attention to mental health guidance – something she felt she never had access to growing up – and set up her own self care platform, Sprititual Mami.

In the world we live in today, spirituality and religion can often be complicated to navigate. For those who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, it can be exceptionally complicated. While times are changing and we have witnessed religious public figures becoming somewhat more accepting, not everyone is on the train towards progress. So how can you navigate teachings that view your identity and who you love as sinful and wrong? Wellness can provide a segue.

As a WOC who has identified as either a lesbian or bisexual from my teens on, I have struggled with this. I wanted to connect with some people who have experienced similar feelings and who would be down to share their stories about how they found their path, and even themselves, through their wellness journeys. May their stories inspire you and remind you that you are sacred, regardless of your identity or who you love.

Celina, co-founder of the Decolonizing Beauty Project

“Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, I was told not to associate myself with anything “magical” or to place any admiration on idol gods. The dogma preached to me also made me repress my true gender. As I began to decolonize that mentality, I started on a journey with spirituality. The universe is moved and filled with energy. I believe I can manifest the future by focusing on the now. I burn Bursera graveolens [mostly known by its Spanish name Palo Santo] an Amer-indigenous plant native to Turtle Island, while I incant prayers to cleanse bad energies and let the good energies within me flourish. At night, I thank the universe for keeping me safe and pray for a prosperous new day. Finally I also strongly believe that I have the power to choose my own path through life and that as long as I know myself to be good and positively intentional in my actions towards myself and others, I believe the energies will keep me safe.”

My self-love ritual is to log off, unplug, and reconnect with my body by practising mindfulness throughout my day. Sometimes mindfulness looks like slowing down my walk, taking in the sights, listening to the wind and my surroundings, taking deep breaths and looking up at the sky. Other times my mindfulness involves checking in with myself and doing everything I need that day. Those needs can change instance to instance. Perhaps, it means making myself some pastries or making some bomb-ass pancakes. Part of my mindfulness for me is also understanding how I can unplug or try not to participate in capitalism.

One affirmation I tell myself is: You have been through a lot, be kind to yourself. I love you. 

Jay Versace, comedian

“The beginning of my spiritual journey was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had yet in my life. I unconsciously planted seeds that resulted in some powerful self-realization, success and clarity. However, with my understanding that I was a witch also came a very scary time because I was so used to my old ways of living. I took a huge leap the day I decided to take full responsibility of my life and create my own reality. From then on I’ve grown such a beautiful magical essence around me that I’m not afraid to live in. I am a black witch. I use the elements and work with my ancestors to not only manifest things but to heal myself and break generational curses. My ancestors are a key part to my story, they have been standing in front of me to guide me and behind me to protect me throughout this whole experience. And for that I give them all the praise. I respect all spiritual practices and anything that helps elevate people as I expect the same respect for myself.”

Michael Cardenas, head Brujo and owner of Olde Ways

“My background is in Brujeria, several types of folk magic and Espiritismo. My religion is Santeria. I have taught various different spiritual subjects throughout the years but the most profound has been “Connecting With The Ancestors.” Just about every time I teach this class I have several LGBTQ+ spiritual seekers express deep concerns about connecting to their ancestry because of cultural trauma and homophobia. It kills me to see people in genuine pain over whether they would be accepted by their own bloodline and spiritual guides. What I’ve learned through my personal experiences and working with others in mediumship readings is that our spiritual team who was assigned to us before our birth are not only accepting and unconditionally loving, but are also fiercely protective over us and want us to thrive. All we need to do is open our hearts and connect through our Spirit. You are enough. You are loved. You are worthy. There are occasionally problematic ancestors but we work on them through prayer and ceremonies to elevate their spirits to break the cycles of hatred and pain to begin the healing process for ourselves and future generations.

Making a connection to the ancestors and spirit guides is the first step towards creating a powerful spiritual practice and developing your spiritual gifts. To make a connection dedicate a space in your home anywhere but the bedroom. Set out a glass of water, a white candle, and some flowers as an offering. Each day greet this space and at some point take a few minutes to sit and pray from your heart or simply speak as though you were speaking to your best friends. Every week change the water and replace the candle and flowers when you can. Being consistent with this practice has transformed my life and I highly recommend it.”

Iandá, Brujo and owner of Brujo Works

“Spiritualism. When I first heard of the concept, I thought, “this is for me—but I’m gay. How could the Orisha [human forms of deities in Yoruba religions including Santeria], this divine energy, speak so highly of me and accept me?” I came into the tradition of Lukumi [also known as Santeria] after a series of depressive episodes that lead me down an, all too common for LGBTQ people, suicidal path whilst in my sophomore year of college. I was looking for something that completed me; there had to be more to life than consistent rejection. I became disinterested in the traditional Southern American religious mindset which has ensnared the Afro-American mentality for so long. This led me to get an initial reading by a priest within Palo [Afro-Cuban religion that worships natural powers and spirits] —a palero. It was supposed to be a simple ancestral reading, also known as an eggun reading, but it was anything but just a reading. The messages I received from this officiated oracle confirmed my spiritual place and thus my physical place in this world, saving me. That was the true moment my spiritual path was laid out. The Orisha Ochun [human form of the deity associated with love, beauty, fertility and divine femininity] danced down from a staircase of honey, pushing through my ancestors who were professing my spiritual gifts of sight and sound, and how this was my path.

In another reading, Orula [also known as Orunmila, the Orisha of destiny and wisdom and protector of life, present at the creation] himself had spoken for me, which in part had the Babalawo [priest of Orula]  thinking I was crowned with Orula! The Orisha of Fate and Destiny spoke so highly of me without having gone through the proper initiations, which is a rarity. I don’t mean to put it all on the Orisha, as any person who has been told this is their path shouldn’t, because my ancestors themselves—some of which who are crowned with Ochun—have come through. Their Cuban tongues keep me in line and push me towards my fate. Whilst remembering them and the path they’d cultivated within the womb for me, I will carry out Oshun’s will, and my ancestor’s practices and beliefs, queer and all.

I want everyone to know that I am not trying to fit in a category of acceptance, I am creating my own. People need to know that they can be themselves. It is the only way to live. You don’t have to be a certain way, and you damn sure don’t have to care what others will say and have said about you.”

Being a spiritualist is more than using my spiritual gifts to serve the Muertos [the dead]. I have to take time for me and below I give you my own personal morning ritual that adds honey to my lips, figuratively and literally, that will work on your own personal daily affirmations and add a little of Oshun’s magic directly to you.

  1. You’ve awoken, you’ve endured another day on this earth and are ready for another. Before you get out of bed thank your ancestors, known and unknown of LIGHT.
  2. Once done, go into the bathroom do your daily “do’s”. Before you do anything else walk into the kitchen, grab your bottle of honey.
  3. Look into the mirror and give yourself an affirmation, then a simple prayer to Oshun, her energy, and works:

    “Oshun, goddess of the sweet waters, mother of the bee, and owner of the blood that keeps the world alive. As I place this honey on the flesh of my lips, allow me to speak nothing but your energy into my life today. As you drew Ogun from the forest and allowed the world to see your worth from the moon, allow me to show the world my worth, and be able to overcome any and all challenges I face today. Seen, and unseen. Ase.”

  4. After the prayer comes the fun part. Layer your lips with the honey and go forth into your day. Grab a piece of Rose Quartz or Honey Citrine and go forth, for you have invited the energy of Oshun to guide you through the day.

Jorgie Cowan, Bruja and artist

“As a child I was taught there was a right way to speak, a right way to stand, to pray, to dress, love, walk, dance, and think. I apparently did them all wrong and the world did not hesitate to meet me with violence when I fell outside of the mould it had carefully prepared for me and my body. It’s difficult for me to fit into a few words the depth of this trauma, of learning to survive and move through the world as a hairy, brown, queer, transfemme, but I can tell you I found refuge in magic and healing in ceremony. Magic rooted me to the feeling of sacredness we abandon when others convince us we are less than, it taught me that we can find real power in our silence. The journey was messy but after righteously changing my spiritual path a dozen times in search of truth that resonated on a deeper level, wondering which path would not only accept me as a queer/trans individual but actually embrace me for it, I found my way back to my ancestors and our practices. Since then it’s been a journey of decolonizing and cycles of learning and unlearning. All of my knowledge began blending into one practice held together by my love for the earth and her love for me. Honouring and working with the elements came instinctually, the planets became my extended family and I could spend countless hours researching the stars and their signs, mediumship, plants, remedies, dimensions, rituals, etc. Tarot reading especially became a prominent ritual in my life as a means of divine consultation, meditation, and connecting with others; channelling messages and providing guidance filled my heart. My first and only deck was gifted to me when I was a baby bruja in 7th grade by my sister witch who oozes Oshun/Erzulie energy. She showed me how to embrace myself unapologetically before I really knew who I was – I can still feel our ancestors’ smiles widen as they watch us shuffle our cards. Queer Caribbean children running down alleys at night, barefoot with candles in hand.

To this day I channel that love and divinity into my self-care routines, especially when applying make-up because of how vulnerable of a step just applying eyeshadow can be for trans people. I start with eyes closed, deepening my breath to break through any blockages and anxious shakes, hugging/massaging myself, stretching, settling as peacefully as I can into my vessel, dissolving any judgement I feel towards my reflection. I start calling in my guides, ancestors, orishas, warriors, fae, etc. to let their hands guide my touch and decision making. Together we infuse the oils and shiny pigments on my skin to carry generations of beauty, resistance, and fearlessness. A new reminder in my reflection that I am a product of so much more than just pain.”

Kamil Oshundara, activist and cultural executive

“God, Goddex, Goddess is queer. They are they, ze she he, fluid and non-binary. In Ifa [system of divination of which Orunmila is the Grand Priest], they are Oludumare [Yoruba Supreme Being], the full spectrum of light and darkness, the embodiment of all that is. You, in any form you take, are indivisible from the divine. You are more than a reflection, you are a home for god to exist in flesh. Anyone who has told you otherwise has mistaken their love for themselves as their love for God. It is solipsism, which is a sickness that has nothing to do with you. This condition prevents people from seeing the glory, the god in you, because they cannot see it in themselves. This form of spiritual erasure is colonial and inherently blasphemous.

When thinking about what rituals I use to re-connect to spirit and reaffirm my beauty, I always return to my relationship with mirrors. As a daughter of Oshun and an Iya [priestess] of Shango [Orisha of thunder and lightning associated with justice and power], I spend a lot of time in mirrors. Performing, twerking, looking at myself naked mostly, examining all of my openings, getting acquainted with God in human form. Through this, I learn to worship myself and my many textures. I am God, my armpit hair is God, the scars I hide from the public are god, so why should I be ashamed? Who is making me question the divine?

In the first act of Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing, Mookie and his girlfriend sit on their bed on a blazing hot summer day. To cool her down, he grabs an ice cube and rubs it on every inch of her skin, thanking spirit for each of her parts – “Thank god for the left nipple, thank god for the right nipple,” until she is covered. This is a ritual that has helped me. As soon as I wake, I thank the universe for each joint, tattoo, mole, and aching body part. I thank them for persisting and existing. Through regular gratitude, I seek to unlearn the lies of white cis Western society. Maferefun Oshun [praise Oshun] for the power to adorn, mould, and truly see ourselves.”

Leah Guerrero, Brujita Skincare

“I grew up in a suburb with plenty of friends who went off to colleges while I stayed behind. I chose to work at age 15 to learn independence and advance my social skills. Since choosing not to further my education in a traditional way, I was always told that it would be harder for me to advance in life/career. I turned to books and read all about natural skincare, Ayurvedic practices and holistic health.

One important ritual that I carry to this day is mouth pressure point massage. Whenever our jaws tighten or clench, it’s a form of physical defence. All those muscles become tense and painful. Firmly massage around the mouth, jawline and inside gums area to release that defence. I usually do it during bath time when I feel most vulnerable and am able to speak to myself directly and lovingly.”