¡hola papi!

‘I’m Done With Religion, But I Miss Spirituality’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

I don’t know if you are the person to whom I should direct my question, but it feels queer in nature somehow and I’m not sure where to go for guidance. My question is this: do you think there is a way I can cultivate a belief in magic when I don’t currently believe in magic?

Growing up, I was raised strictly Catholic. From what I remember of that time, I fully believed in all the magic that Catholics believe in without naming it as that (water into wine and so forth). That part of Catholicism was good for my spirit. It felt like even in times where a favorable outcome was not probable, it was still possible because of God, magic, the supernatural, whatever you want to call it. 

Since then, because of my sexuality and because of the abusive ways in which religious teachings are sometimes used in conservative households, I have entirely lost my connection with Christianity and the magical aspect of it. Whatever sense of spirit I had now feels like it’s been severed and can’t be regrown, though I’ve tried to regrow it in several different ways.

I don’t have any desire to reconnect with God or a church, but I wouldn’t mind catching up with some of the saints. Any ideas? I am open to anything and I do have a tarot deck.

Witchy Wannabe

Hey there, WW!

I’m so honored you came to me with this. I love that someone out there thought I was the first choice consultant for the “where can I find some magic” question. You make me feel like an old bruja in a thatch hut in the woods. Thank you, and I promise to continue cultivating that energy.

Now, this is a mighty big request to make of your friendly neighborhood Papi. Because I think what you’re looking for here isn’t a spell book or a potion or an astrology Twitter account recommendation. It sounds like you’re looking for something to fill the God-shaped cavity in your soul. As an ex-Catholic myself, I know that’s a “capital J” Journey™.

I’m going to do my best, no doubt! That’s what they pay me the zero dollars for (please buy some stickers right here). But I hope you don’t mind if my advice is a bit on the esoteric side, as we’re dealing with cosmic truths here and this is primarily an advice column for unstable homosexuals who are worried that hitting up their barista on Grindr might ruin the one stable relationship they have. That said, here I go.

Let’s start with some working definitions. “Magic” means a lot of things to a lot of different people. While the word might conjure up backroom rituals, obscure herbs, and candles, it’s actually a lot broader than that. It’s hard to nail down, because by its very nature “magic” exists outside the sovereign of the concrete—science, math, and so forth. That’s probably why you associated it with queerness, which also chafes under the rigid confines of formal categorization.

Looking at magic that way, while perhaps too vague to satisfy a person who identifies as a witch on Instagram, can help us make sense of why we might seek it out. The facts of this world can be grim, WW. Our realities are often governed by things we can neither change nor control, immutable forces we didn’t ask for and that don’t care about us. Perhaps most frustrating of all, we’re not even sure why these forces exist or how they work. Even the people who dedicate their lives to figuring it out have, by their own admission, only a fraction of the truth.

That means no matter who we are, we all have a daily experience with the abyss, with the unknown, with the uncomfortable reality that we don’t have the answers. I think that’s why I’m so reluctant to look down on people who’ve found their “thing” that gets them through life. As long as you’re not a charlatan or hurting anyone, I don’t see a need to make a fuss. Like you, I think I’m looking for my “thing” too.

To me, “magic” is simply my relationship to the unknown and my crude attempt at living with it. My reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, my love for my friends, my understanding of who I am—science and its compatriots can buttress my grasp on these things, but in the end they can’t fully explain them. I have been tasked with being the author here, a small god, and that authority is a joyful, terrifying thing.

It’s no wonder we often turn to rituals, be they religious or supernatural or simply a monthly book club or some shit. They provide the tracks, the rails, and without the formality they provide we are steam engines skidding around a lawless universe colliding against the space junk of reality, wondering why, why, why. So we go to pilates or we play D&D. We see ourselves through with our little mantras and codes and beliefs. I think that’s beautiful. It’s really neat, to me.

My advice to you, WW, is to find your own rituals, ones that enrich you, ones that feel sacred enough, ones that will get you out of bed. It doesn’t have to be tarot. It can be whatever you decide. I think if we are anything, we are our habits, and so the best thing you can do is to make sure you’re cultivating ones that serve you well. I have this weekly column, for example. I (mostly) feel great! That’s magic for me, anyway. By some happy accident, we’re alive. We ought to feel alive. Seek out the things that do that for you.

Or if all else fails you can hang a crystal around your neck, list “impossibly powerful warlock” as your profession on LinkedIn, and get super into oils. Not sure which oils, but as we’ve established, that’s entirely up to you.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on January 7, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘I’m Done With Religion, But I Miss Spirituality’