The Fire Came From Inside the House

by Lorna Reaux

I had my most intense experience with brujería in Fall 2016 when I was in a desperate pinch for two thousand dollars, the tuition I needed to fund my semester abroad. My summer job wasn’t cutting it, and the money for my trip seemed more elusive every day. My promised adventure in the United Kingdom…I couldn’t let it go. Money never came easy, but there were magical alternatives for those who thought outside the box. Self-love spells, protection spells, cleansing spells, and two hexes—all explicitly outlined in my lock-and-key grimoire. Friends looked to me for money spells to pay off their card debt. Via the Tumblr witch era, I considered myself quite seasoned. It was a fad then, just like it is again on TikTok. Supermercados near me had aisles of herbs for cheap—ideal for a nineteen-year-old college student. Good luck spells to bless me with positivity? A pouch of lemon balm and rosemary is two for four at the bodega. I could do a dozen good luck spells per week.

As a first-generation American, Dominican culture became lost to me, blurred between borders of countries only my parents have lived to cross. Still, I felt an innate desire to be closer to my roots. Dominican vudú practices included the 21 Divisions, which is exclusively practiced through lineage. You either know it through your parents, or you don’t. Don’t go out and try it. I was incredibly envious of the sentimentality of family religion passed down through generations. At the same time, I grasped at straws through blogs of white witches as I tried to make my own concoction of brujería. My mind fabricated stories of a misunderstood, spiritual great-great-great-grandmother who had to stop practicing magic because a righteous Christian sister-in-law threatened her. I could’ve made up whatever story I wanted to console myself, but the bottom line was that Vudú wasn’t passed down to me—and neither was much of anything else.

A part of the first-gen American experience is a sense of not belonging anywhere. You are neither “here” nor “there,” but at the same time, you are everywhere. The experience resonates with immigrants, too, but my particular feeling of being an outsider was one my family didn’t relate to. My parents and cousins all loved America. What are you talking about, girl?

 

If I made it to the United Kingdom, maybe this inner dread would go away, or maybe I was doomed to be a weary traveler everywhere I went—but I had to get to England first and find out for myself. I had to feel what it was like to be from another land. Yes, I had to get two thousand dollars. Somehow.

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I already knew I’d incorporate candles, color, oil, and herb magic—my favorite combination. I’d use a green candle for prosperity and money and make my own money oil with herbs like basil, lemongrass, and mint, all mashed together with extra virgin olive oil. I coated and blessed my green candle with the oil, along with three quarters, face up. Groups of three in numerology are associated with quick money, and the deadline to pay my two thousand dollar tuition was at the end of the month.

I grew into the habit of editing and forming the spells I’d find on the internet. These spells, most likely false, at least made people feel powerful and in control. “So Mote It Be” at the end of chants sounded silly, so I’d say something else. Ya tu sabes! (Kidding.)

The thing about winging it, though, is you might not be prepared for everything.

That night, I cast the spell at midnight. I let the candle burn, and I laid down to rest my eyes. My childhood room was lit up by one solitary candle under the Aquarius full moon and a partial eclipse. Suddenly, my brother kicked open my bedroom door and swatted my curtains, which were engulfed in flames. I jolted awake, half asleep but conscious enough to register what was happening. The candle holder I used had been too wide. My curtains were in flames. The same candlelight that manifested my spells—my desire to get away, to run away, to belong—set my own house on fire, right next to the place I laid my head at night. My wish to no longer feel like an outsider backfired, poetically, harming the only people who loved me because I deemed them not enough.

It was over just as quickly as it started. I sat on the edge of my bed. I could tip over, maybe. The smell of smoke. The sound of the fire alarm by my closet. I could still hear it ringing deep in my eardrums after it was silenced. My fingertips were still smudged with olive oil as I rubbed my eyes. I sneezed out basil. My brother didn’t say anything. He just put his finger to his lips in case dad asked.

I didn’t do any more digging through witchcraft ever again. My mother knew about my brujería dabbling, and she wagged her finger after the fire with a “Te lo dije.”

Two weeks later, a refund check hit my college student account. My spontaneous, one-month replacement RA position simultaneously gave me free housing during the duration of the job. Two and a half grand refund.

Lorna Reaux (she/her) is a Latinx Scorpio moon from Westchester, NY. She loves all mediums of art and fiction writing. Follow her on Instagram @pocalabia.