Dr. Renee Lemus

The Academic Bruja

My Story

In 2017 after 8 years in a PhD program, during which I lost my father, gave birth to 2 children, and became a professor, I finally graduated. I walked across that stage, my dissertation title flashing on the screen, looking out to my proud family cheering me on. As happy as I was, I also felt sadness. I was sad my father, always my biggest fan, would not be able to share in that moment with me.

After the dust settled on me degree, after the diploma went on the wall, everyone was looking at me to see what I would do next. At least that’s how I felt. The traditional next step for an academic would be to apply for tenure track positions, a most coveted position that promised financial stability. And yet, every time I sat at my computer to write my statement of purpose, nothing came to mind. I had all the other application materials at hand, including stellar letters of rec. But I just could not bring myself to do it. After a conversation with my mentor where she gave me permission not to apply, I heeded the advice, and focused on the thing I love the most, teaching.

It all felt so anticlimactic, like here I was one of less than 1% of Latinas with a PhD, and excitement eluded me. I had loved writing all my life, yet academia had made me feel like I was no good at it. I had to do so much work to conform my writing, my expression, my voice to what academia needed me to be. I can only describe it as academic PTSD.

And all along, I was also dealing with grief. I had lost my father, the rock of my life. I experienced post partum anxiety after 2 births. I was burning through the remnants of my former self. But who was I now?

Spiritual Awakening
In 2018, my spiritual awakening began and it was not pretty. I had already began to meditate, something I learned to do during my yoga teacher training, something else I accomplished well in grad school. The more I meditated and connected to my intuition, the more I felt called to learn about my ancestors. I knew that my maternal great grandmother Rosa used to read la barraja, a particular form of Tarot. My grandmother told me she was psychic and made many predictions. When I heard these stories there always seemed to be a little bit of shame tied to them, like my grandmother felt the need to apologize for her mother’s brujeria. My family is devout Catholic as was my bruja great grandmother, but I don’t see these as mutually exclusive. I received channeled messages from my great grandmother, and then bought my first tarot deck.

Later that year, I fell into a deep episode of anxiety and depression. It lasted for weeks, I had to be real vulnerable with my family, some of who never knew the extent of my mental health issues. It was bad!! I felt like a prisoner in my own body, and I really wasn’t sure if it would ever end. I went to a psychiatrist to possibly get a prescription for meds. During the appointment, they started to list off the possible side affects of the medication, saying your symptoms can get worse before they get better. All I could think was, how much worse can this get! I realized in that moment that whatever course I took, it would require a commitment, it would require me to put in some work. I pursued every holistic method I had access to. Acupuncture, therapy, meditation, yoga, etc. I went to see a medium after my symptoms began to dissipate. I cried so much in that session, releasing so much I had held onto. I went home and re-committed myself to my own spiritual practice.

It was also during this time at the beginning of my tarot journey that I started a podcast with my amiga and colleague Dr. Cristina Rose. The success of the podcast, and our community’s response to it has allowed us, and me to explore career options outside of the university. To use the skills I learned in academia to be a bridge of information and empowerment to my communities. I stand strong in my voice, in my thoughts and opinions, in my critical views of the world.

In addition, Tarot has truly been my saving grace in times of such uncertainty. It validates what I’m feeling, it highlights what areas in my life need work, it reminds me of the cycles of life, and it brings me comfort in time of unrest. It’s been a gift. And it’s brought me back to writing. The ancestors have spoken, writing is my divine assignment, and so it is.

My Divine Assignment
Brining my worlds together, that of academia and ancestral spirituality is the foundation for all of my work from here forward. I bring my magic into my classroom, both in person and virtually. I bring my academic knowledge into all spaces. The magic I create whether on social media, in classrooms, in my writing create methods of healing. I was brought to my own magic in order to heal my own wounds, wounds born from the tragic aspects of this life. My lived experience validated by my academic knowledge reminds me that these wounds are the biproduct of white supremacist, cisheteronormative patriarchy. My passion in life has always been to bring change to the world, to see those oppressed be liberated.

The lessons of 2020 taught me to stop thinking of liberation as some utopic future, but rather to live into liberation in the here and now. I will not wait for structure to crumble, although they are crumbling all around us. I will create spaces within this world to be liberated to imagine and enact liberating possibility.

Healing, liberation and celebration are the values I bring to my tarot readings, my writings, my classroom, and all the work I do in the world.