Written by: Mya Spalter
Emilia Ortiz has become infamous for her advice on mental health, self care, her fiercely winged eyeliner, and her intolerance of any bullshit. Ortiz speaks to her social following about mental health, spiritual wellness, and physical self-care in a way that never lets you forget that those three concepts are inseparable – and worth fighting for. Today she talks with fellow witch Mya Spalter about glamor, protecting your energy, and why witches are so queer.
Thanks for being the Salty cover star. Let’s start off with the simple stuff: How do you define Bruja? Is it synonymous with ‘a Latinx witch’ or does it just mean ‘witch’ in general?
It’s both. I think prior to recent times, it was very specific, it meant a witch. But I think that now people associate it with being an independent woman who is rebelling against society, and not following the norm. Or even if you’re a non-binary person. And I’m fine with that- for resisting in different ways and finding empowerment in different ways. I think that it should always be associated with witches (of any gender), but I do think that there should be room for it to grow. Because the people that use the word have grown too.
Do you think witches are more likely to be queer or that queers are more likely to be witches?
I do think that people who are queer have always been more spiritually connected. Not that straight people can’t be, but more often than not queers are a bit more open to the concept. When you’re more open as far as your identity and your sexual preference that can also lead you to be more open minded in general and open to different energies.
What do you think about the space between affirming and allowing yourself to be who you are and the part of self care that’s about adornment and beauty, glamor, luxury and comfort?
Glamor is connected to magic in a lot of different ways. You know, throughout history people used makeup for ceremonial purposes, often for protection. Eyeliner and eyeshadow [were] used for protection, not just from diseases, but also from bad energy. I know a girl who would work sigils into her eyeliner. I know a ton of people who be out here, being skin witches and concocting different skin routines and figuring out the perfect combinations. They’re basically making spells.
I’ll use certain clay masques or certain charcoal masques when I feel like I need to ground myself. I’ll put that on my face, and when I wash it all off I usually feel I connected with the Earth. I live in New York City and I can’t necessarily go outside and put my forehead on the fuckin ground, doing headstands and shit, you know?
I feel like accessible beauty has always been a connection to witchcraft, we just didn’t realize it. There’s a lot of beauty that goes into setting up your altar or dressing candles and things like that. And for some of us it’s messy and not so beautiful. And that’s okay too. There’s times when my stuff isn’t necessarily looking like a tumblr picture. It happens. There’s so much beauty in magic when it’s about empowerment, and seeing the beauty in even the ugliest things.
“Accessible beauty has always been a connection to witchcraft.”
You’re from Flatbush. Where did you find magic and witchcraft in your community when you were growing up?
Growing up in Flatbush it wasn’t that hard to find [magic] because it’s such an afro-and Caribbean based community, and there was always the Jewish community there too. Growing up there in the 90s and early 00s was very good for me because my family practiced their own stuff. Anywhere down Flatbush Ave you can find it, amongst all the hair stores, a botanica or religious goods store or someone who will give you a reading. There’s one like literally down a block from me where I live now. It was always there and it was always present. Between people speaking about it, in the grocery store talking about why they were getting bay leaves or things like that. It was just a regular thing.
Do you think that’s specific to Caribbean people and neighborhoods, or do think that magic is kind of everywhere, but this is the style of it that we can actually recognize?
I’m somebody who believes that every single culture and every single community throughout history has had their own form of magic. It’s more about which ones got passed on, which traditions were carried and continued. When I’ve traveled, one thing I’ve noticed that when I’m in an area that doesn’t have at least ONE community of color, I often don’t find it. But you may find Wicca or stuff based on crystals and general energy healing. Like I said, everybody has their own magic, but I do think that when it comes to people of color, there is an emphasis. Even if your family is Catholic or Christian, there somehow is always some little something in there that’s connected to magic that we end up doing.
“Every single culture and every single community throughout history has had their own form of magic.”
That brings me to another question about cultural appropriation in the spiritual world. Can you talk a little bit about where you see the line between engaging and honoring practices and deities from other cultures and just……
And just appropriating? It is a bit tricky for a lot of people to navigate. If you’re unsure, you really should seek out an elder and ask what they’re feeling about things. The other thing to keep in mind is that there’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.
It’s a very fine line but it’s important to remember that certain beings, you know deities and stuff, do not want to work with certain ethnic groups because that is not their purpose, as far as creation. Certain deities have been created, conceptually, to help with providing the oppressed with a way to overcome their oppressor.
I do think it’s okay for people to explore, but to be mindful in their exploration. Understand that while something may call to you and you want to hold space there, and let’s say an elder does say to you “yes I do feel like there’s this connection”, it does transcend ethnicity and culture. But although the universe doesn’t have those concepts, we do as humans, and that’s where it can be tricky.
I would not ever advise anybody to go and take on that message to then be somebody who teaches others. If you wanna practice yourself, and just hold space for yourself in that way, that’s one thing. Try to be mindful about if you are taking up space in another culture.
What do you use weed for in magic? Do you ever use it as an element of a spell? Or if not magically, let’s just talk about weed.
I’ve used it with self love work. Especially because it helps me to get grounded and more in touch with that feminine energy, especially since you work with the female plant mostly. If I wanna connect with that divine feminine energy, and I’m trying to uplift myself but also be more grounded in my own power, I’ll use it for that.
It’s definitely something that I use for protection and cleansing on a regular basis. Let’s say, my anxiety is acting up because I had an energy overload. Too much going on, I was over stimulated, my shield wasn’t enough. Smoking and having a moment of meditating and focusing on my breathing has helped me clear out people’s spells really quickly, and then I don’t have to purge it and throw it up.
Wait, can you talk about that a little bit more? Do you throw up from energy overloads?
I’m an empath, an anxious empath at that. There’s times I’ve had to throw up after being around certain people or being at certain things. But working with other herbs in conjunction, like rosemary and lavender, has been really good for me in those times. Pink Himalayan salt in the bath has been my thing, some Florida Water. But I swear by Pink Himalayan salt as an empath. I feel recharged or a lot more calm and back in my own element after.
You’re talking about aftercare now, but what do you do before? You mentioned your shield. How do you make your shield? Especially as an empathetic person.
In general I like to use the white light and I will just visualize it surrounding me and I’ll call it in. I’ll say “I call upon the white light”. But also oils are good, I like lavender and peppermint and rosemary. Those three are pretty good if you’re an empath I find. Dab some on your forehead.
It doesn’t seem like you need to take on an air of something other than your regular personality in order to be ‘spiritual’ with people. How did you give yourself that license?
I gotta credit being a Sagittarius, to be honest. And not giving a fuck. You know, having the same birthday as DMX is really helpful.
” What I never understood was, why can’t I do things as I’m compelled to do them? If that is my most authentic self, and I’m being honest and I’m being truthful and there’s love behind my actions? Why do I gotta dress myself up as like some other person?
That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Part of being your most spiritual self is being your most authentic self. Because when we’re being our most authentic selves in everything we do, that’s when we really are coming from an unconditional place.
Emillia is photographed for Salty by: @lulahyers
Make up: @raisaflowers