Words By Ambar Ramirez
She picks up and burns the sage before anything else, allowing the tendrils of smoke to cleanse and calm the surrounding energy of the tarot deck, as well as the body. After shuffling and kissing the tarot cards, she hands them to me.
To everyone, the journey to spirituality may look different. For Lauriena Zarrelli it began with her mother and aunt passing. For America, it began around the 1800s.
While spirituality and spiritualism are defined as different concepts, they hold many similarities. Spirituality is defined as the quality of being concerned with the spirit or soul rather than the material or physical. Spiritualism is a belief or religious practice that centers around the idea that departed souls can communicate with the living. In my opinion (and many may agree), one can’t exist without the other. Both spirituality and spiritualism center around the idea that something more exists past the bounds of our physical bodies. For there to be spirits that live after death, has to mean that there are spirits or souls that live within us.
Between belief and science, rose spiritualism and spirituality. Before the 1800s, a puritanical form of Christianity was the most prominent religion, and those who practiced any sort of spirituality during that time were often executed for witchery. But then came industrialization and urbanization. The rise of new inventions and science lead many to start questioning religions. During the Civil War, seances and mediums became very popular as families and loved ones found comfort in believing that the soldier’s souls lived on and watched over them.
The popularity of spiritualism in America is often attributed to the Fox Sisters and spirit photographer William H. Mumler. Though many didn’t know it at the time, the Fox Sisters actually fabricated their talks with the dead and kept it up for so long for monetary gain. The same goes for Mumler, as many speculate he tampered with the photos he took to make it look like there were spirits. So it is no surprise that many are skeptical when it comes to spirituality and spiritualism.
Still, it is difficult to deny there is, in fact, something past the veil. Throughout all cultures exists some form of spirituality and spiritualism, like Puerto Rican Brujerias or Haitian Voodoo. Today, it seems that America has found itself again in the 1800s spiritualism era but with a modern twist. Now with social media, especially TikTok, it seems improbable to scroll on your feed without coming across a Tarot reading segment or “witchy” practices to follow. Apps like Costar that focus on astrology are all the rage, and you can’t have a conversation with somebody without knowing their “Big Threes”: sun, moon, and rising. Why is there a rise in popularity of spirituality or “witchy” practices all of a sudden? Is it like any new wellness movement or trend that becomes popular due to its ubiquity? Or is it because it actually works?
Zarrelli opened the door to her quaint apartment near Ponte Vedra before I could knock. Flickering candles illuminated what she calls her “sanctuary” while Stevie Nicks’ vocals filled the air. On a round wooden table, crystals, sage, tarot decks, and more candles filled the space.
It was seven years ago when Zarrelli began her journey to spirituality and becoming the self-proclaimed witch she is. It started when her mother and aunt had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which increases the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
“My mother passed first and my aunt died 10 months later,” Zarrelli said. “In between their deaths, I also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, so I took it upon myself. I had a bilateral mastectomy [and] complete hysterectomy, so I was grieving the two most important women in my life and everything that made me a woman, and I was feeling really lost.”
Instead of following a more traditional route, Zarrelli reached out to a dear friend who traveled around the world doing energy work.
“It really saved my life,” Zarrelli said. “Like, I didn’t wanna be put on antidepressants. I didn’t wanna do anything. We did just a lot of energy work and healing, and she taught me certain rituals, certain things to do, certain ways to connect and really honor them. And in a way, once I really started tapping into that, I started diving down into, like, the spirit and reading books.”
Every morning Zarrelli lights sage and kneels down by her window where the sun shines through and verbally shares her gratitude toward the universe and has a conversation with her mom. She has found that all she has to do is ask and she will receive, that it comes down to an exchange of energies.
“I talk to my mother all the time, and I do rituals and I hold ceremonies and I’ll ask for signs and I totally receive them,” Zarrelli said. “It feels good and it feels natural. And now honestly, I feel very emotionally and spiritually connected to my mother. We definitely have a very beautiful relationship and bond still.”
Through renewing that connection with her mother and healing through energy work, Zarrelli found joy and beauty in the world again. And she did it all through holistic, natural methods or what she calls “magick.”
“Magic with a ‘K’ is using energy in a natural form to provide change,” Zarrelli said. “So, like, that’s how witches use magic. It’s using the universe as energy, right? Charging my cards in the full moon, charging my crystals in the full moon.”
While not a medium or psychic, Zarrelli is very much in touch with her intuition and enjoys giving tarot readings to friends or anyone who is seeking comfort.
This may lead and tie into why spirituality, tarot readings, crystals, astrology and WitchTok are so popular right now. In a time of much uncertainty and negativity with how our Earth is being treated with what seems to be never-ending wars and political decisions that seem to favor hatred, finding the “light” within ourselves gives us hope that there is a better life.
“That’s another thing that witches wanna do. They want to help guide you, the individual, that they’re working with, help them touch and become more in tune with their own intuition and their own power and their own magic,” Zarrelli said. “And everybody has it. It’s just the power of belief.”
Unlike how spiritualism in the 1800s fed off of fears, believing in spirituality and spiritualism now is to choose to believe that there is magick in the world. It’s like any religion. In religion, people choose to believe in a higher being—God, Buddha, etc. But with spirituality you choose to believe in the power of the universe and yourself. So…do you believe in magick?
Lauriena Zarrelli holds an open door to anybody who is looking to tap into their spiritual side. Send her a message on Instagram @diggity_dot, to get your cards read and have your mind blown.