LOS ANGELES (RNS) — To Alex Naranjo and Marlene Vargas, intuition and magic are what they call humans’ “natural birthright.” You don’t have to be Wiccan or a New Age enthusiast or have “extraordinary lineage” to get in touch with it.
Magic, they say, “is innate to all of us,” it’s just been “trained out of most of us in Western culture.”
In their first and new book, “Your Intuition Led You Here,” Naranjo and Vargas write about how to access that intuition, partly by telling how a former social worker and an owner of a medical billing company, both cradle Catholics, ended up practicing magic. They also advise readers on how to create an altar, work with crystals and candles and make offerings to ancestors.
“It’s part of our mission to empower people,” Naranjo told Religion News Service. “If that energy isn’t there or if you haven’t put your intention into it, it’s not going to be as effective. It’s not going to be as powerful because there’s nothing more powerful than yourself.”
Naranjo and Vargas are the founders of the House of Intuition, a brand with 10 metaphysical stores — eight from Pasadena to West Hollywood, one south of L.A. in Orange County and another in Miami, Florida. The chain started in 2010 with a small shop offering tarot readings in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park.
Their stores’ sleek and black-and-white aesthetic — “symbolizing the light and shadow inside of us,” according to the couple — is designed to be inviting, neutral and “non-witchy.” Their business no longer leads with tarot reading, focusing instead on equipping people with what they need to tap into their ‘inner magic.’
Vargas, 50, and Naranjo, 54, said they both still personally infuse all of the oils, scrubs and candles they sell at their stores and online.
They offer affirmation candles to induce prosperity and zodiac magic candles paying tribute to astrological signs. In online reviews, those who have bought House of Intuition’s popular “Money Magic Candle” claim their houses were appraised at a higher value than expected or say they got a small business loan approved after losing their day job during COVID-19.
The couple appreciates those kinds of stories. Before they got their first store up and running, both Vargas and Naranjo lost real estate investments in the recession.
These struggles are in the book, as well as personal setbacks: Naranjo, who is trans and gay, writes how difficult it was not being able to talk about her identity with her Colombian mother, a Catholic.
Vargas details the heartbreak of losing a favorite aunt, a betrayal that led to leaving her ex-wife and then finding solace in tarot reading. Both authors detail their disconnect with Catholicism, particularly the awkwardness of confessions.
Naranjo was introduced to magic two decades ago when she immersed herself in a religion that cropped up in Cuba and involved sacred drum circles, the summoning of spirits through trance and familiar Catholic prayers. But she left after being told she had to be initiated to continue with ceremonies.
But she put the magic she learned to use, she said, helping her mother, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Naranjo performed rituals for her healing and made offerings to the mountains and oceans.
After a series of financial setbacks — a family hardship that led to Vargas leaving the medical billing company she ran with her sister and filing for bankruptcy — the two moved in together to ease their cash crunch. It was then that Vargas saw Naranjo’s rituals, how she set intentions over candles and used an altar as a sacred space to pray.
They began praying together for guidance out of their situation. “We built an energetic tie,” they wrote. They organized massive yard sales and started a trucking company. Their vision for another venture, a spiritual detox center, eventually evolved into the House of Intuition.
To prepare for the meeting with the landlord at what would become their first House of Intuition shop, Naranjo and Vargas ritually poured honey over lighted candles to “sweeten up” the property owner, who, they feared, would balk at their earlier bankruptcy.
They emphasize that anyone can come up with similar rituals, as they did their landlord sweetener, using their own intuition. Still, they offer more than 30 “tried-and-true simple rituals.” There’s a blessing for new contracts or partnerships that, the couple writes, can be used for anything from buying a new home to entering a new venture. There’s a love jar spell to manifest a “love that is sustainable and lasting.”
Some rituals require no more than space to assemble an impromptu altar; others require a bowl with crystals and oils. They demand only inspiration, which can come from nowhere or from established traditions. To this day, Naranjo and Vargas still incorporate some Catholic prayers into their magic rituals. “It’s not a one-or-the-other type of situation. There is no set ‘God’ in magic,” the authors write.
During the pandemic, the couple was tested once again by the loss of loved ones and temporary store closures. At some points they thought it was the end of the House of Intuition.
“That feeling of loss again was exactly where we needed to be to be able to write the book,” Vargas said. “It came from the same space.”
A positive message of their book notes how their struggles have come to define their success. They long avoided using their LGBTQ identities or their immigrant backgrounds “as leverage,” they write. But they came to recognize the importance of highlighting their upbringings and the struggles behind their success.
“We wanted people to fall in love with the House of Intuition, have a connection with the space and what it has to offer. ‘Don’t be so connected with us,’” Vargas said. “Now we’re in a different role. We want to share our story so that people can feel empowered by where we’ve come from and where we are today.”