Catemaco, Town of Witches and Warlocks
Catemaco is a small city and municipality location in the south of the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located on Lake Catemaco, with the municipality stretching north to the Gulf of Mexico.
Catemaco is a tourist destination with its main attractions being the lake, remnants of the region’s rainforest and a tradition of sorcery/witchcraft that has its roots in the pre Hispanic period and mostly practiced by men.
This tradition is well known in Mexico and attracts clients from all over the world, including businessmen and national level politicians. Catemaco holds an annual event in March dedicated to sorcery which can draw up to 5,000 visitors.
Known for its community of “brujos,” which can be translated as ‘witches’ or ‘sorcerers’, as most are men. The history of magical practices in Catemaco extends back to the pre-Hispanic period and may have survived because of its relative isolation, but Lake Catemaco is said to emit a kind of mystical energy, along with the Mono Blanco Mountain that rises above it.
These magical practices are an uneasy mix of Catholic rite, especially the invocation of saints and pre-Hispanic beliefs and rituals. Though many tourists are simply amused by the kitschy t-shirts of witches or other souvenirs or attractions, some do take the practice seriously. There are practitioners of both “white” and “black” magic, with the white version being more acceptable. Those who practice the black version charge more.
Although the sorcery is a main attraction, it is not promoted as part of Halloween or Day of the Dead. The main event for practitioners is the annual “Congreso Nacional de Brujos de Catemaco”, officially called “Ritos, Ceremonias y Artesanías Mágicas” (Rites, ceremonies and magic art & crafts) because of objections from the Catholic Church).
The main event is the opening, on the first Friday of March. This begins with a “black mass” on the edge of Lake Catemaco by the “brujo mayor” (loosely translated as “high witch or sorcerer”), which attracts up to 5,000 people.
The event was founded in the 1970s by former brujo mayor Gonzalo Aguirre and today attracts around 200 shamans, healers (curanderos), herbalists, psychics and fortune tellers. It also brings in as much as three million pesos to the local economy
The popularity of the “brujos” and the event has created problems as well. Many con artists have taken advantage of the situation, making the finding of genuine practitioners difficult.
There have been disputes among the brujos over clients, tourism, and who leads the rites at the annual gathering. There has also been controversy related to those who sacrifice animals.
Reporter Luis Cobelo from vice.com web portal, conducted an interview with Don Reyes, one of the better known “brujos” in Catemaco.
“People come here to ask for anything, from those who want that loved one again, to those that want to see someone suffer or die” explained Don Reyes, an experienced sorcerer who’s been living in Catemaco for many years now.
“Look, this is a job to kill this person,” he said as he showed Luis Cobelo the picture of a man under a wax figure buried with pins.
Although in Mexican folklore religion is very important and plays a significant role in the lives of Mexican people, witchcraft is becoming more popular, and many people is coming to Catemaco, where even the state government supports and offers guided tours at the entrance of town that can take you to “see the witches”.
Don Reyes says that the reputation and the successful “work” performed by a “brujo” speaks for itself, and assures that his spells always work. He usually works with what is known as “white magic”, which means that he asks for the favor of religious figures and angels to cure diseases, for prosperity in businesses or just to vanish “bad vibes”.
He also relies on “La Santa Muerte”, to whom you can ask the same but is more love related, that means that people that normally ask for its favor are looking for someone to fall in love with them or the recover a former lover.
Now, Don Reyes is acquainted with the dark side as well, and states that a “black magic” work is usually asked to Satan himself. As the usual requests go for money, power, protection against mortal enemies or to kill someone.
In return you have to pay with something that depends on what you ask, but it can be an animal sacrifice or in some extreme cases, even human sacrifice.
When someone comes to me asking to hurt someone, I ask that person if he or she is sure and willing to face the consequences, because the thing is that when the spell begins and they see that is working, sometimes they want to pull back, and that is not how it works. So the person needs to know that it may very well end with the life of the person that is under that spell.
Back in March 2008, Alejandro Gallegos García, a 48 year old traditional warlock who works in the idyllic town of Catemaco, explained to James McKinley Jr, a reporter from The New York Times, the exact procedure for a “lethal witchcraft job”.
To kill a man, all you need is a black cloth doll, some thread, a human bone and a toad. Oh, and you must ask the devil permission, in person, at a cave in the hills where he is said to appear.
Assuming you have these things, plus the green light from the prince of darkness, you simply lash the doll to the bone, shove it down the unfortunate toad’s throat, sew up its lips and take the whole mess to a graveyard, reciting the proper words.
“The person will die within 30 days,” Mr. Gallegos said matter of factly, as if he were talking of fixing a flat tire… (by the way, the toad dies too…)
In the end, this mix of questionable practices, vestiges of a pre-Hispanic past plus the use of Catholic saints bespeaks of a syncretism of beliefs, that can be found all over Mexico.