Witchcraft & Sorcery In Mexico
By Ralph F. Graves
Maria used to hold court at the rear table of a small outdoor cafe in Acapulco´s “Old Town.” She was a curandera and consulted throughout the day with various clients; reading fortunes with a set of tattered tarot cards, offering advice on love, money, family affairs, herbal cures and “cleansing” potions.
“My mission in life is to help people,” she told me after reading my palm. “But I am not a bruja (witch) as some people think. The true witch or warlock can cast spells . . . or cure them. They are born with special powers for good or evil.”
Witches, warlocks, shamans, curers, sorcerers, or whatever they may be called, the practitioners of magic-both white and black are revered and sometimes feared in Mexico—a country where belief in the occult proliferates not only among the rural and uneducated segments of society, but the upper classes as well.
Of course, belief in witchcraft is as old as mankind, and in Mexico, its roots lie in both Hispanic and pre-Hispanic cultures. The use of herbs and potions were parts of elaborate rites and ceremonies to cleanse or purge evil spirits in ancient America. And the Spanish conquerors imported their medieval superstitions and beliefs that had roots in the Dark Ages in Europe; indeed, it is unclear whether today´s rituals of “cleansing” originated with the conquerors or the conquered.
But they have survived the advances of modern medicine and are often used as a last resort when the latest drugs or surgical procedures have failed to produce the desired results. Cleansing, or purification, is often sought because a person (or in some cases, a house or business establishment) is believed to be suffering from a negative aura, curse or an evil spell. In mild cases, a shaman may prescribe magical amulets, charms or potions that are easily available in the market place. A dried hummingbird might be prescribed as a man´s love charm; a goat´s beard is to be burned and the smoke inhaled to cure certain internal maladies; laurel is often used as a cleansing agent and deer´s eye seeds can be worn as an amulet to repel the effects of an “evil” eye.
So prevalent is witchcraft in Mexico, its practitioners have their own national convention. Held each March in the tiny town of Catemaco, Veracruz, it draws witches, warlocks, curers, shamans, psychics, parapsychologists, wizards and sorcerers from all over the country. It is believed the site and the date for this event go back to the ancient Olmecs and is based on the annual ceremonies that purified their temples.
At any rate, this is an occasion that calls for communing with the spirits and receiving new revelations from them. It is also a time of ritual initiation of new witches and warlocks. During the night, two important rituals are performed. One is of white magic, where rings of plants and flowers surround incense, lotions and purified water. A black magic ritual features symbols of demons, snakes, bats, owls, etc. surrounded by a ring of sulphur. Many of the conventioneers have great fame among those who believe in and practice witchcraft. As widespread as the practice is in Mexico, one might never suspect that witchcraft is illegal here. But, according to the third article of the Mexican Constitution, this type of “Charlatanism” is prohibited.
But try explaining that to Maria. “Where else can people go to get help with their problems?” she asks. “A doctor can treat a broken leg, but who except a shaman can treat a broken heart?”