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Archive: Latin American Folk Magic

Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2002 22:30:36 -0500
From: "E Bryant Holman" 
Subject: An Interview with Tencha

I had an informal interview with a person whom I will simply
identify as Tencha. I can't use her full name, unless I get her
permission, but I doubt she will give that to me. However, I want to
be very careful how I conduct this business with her, because, for
one thing, I still need to tape her, and I don't want to betray her
confidence, and number two, she has the capacity to consult with a
person who is psychic and would tell her right way if I am betraying
her trust, so I must act in good faith completely with her, even in
my thoughts.

Tencha, because she is having problems involving a lovers' triangle,
as is typically the crux of situations wherein people get involved
with brujas and curanderas in the first place, was asking me if I
knew anyone who might help her. I told that I knew of two
possibilities. One would be the curandera Paty, who would only help her
if she thought that the man were really hers, and not someone else's --
and the other is Manuela, who, at the time, I assumed would not care
about that. So, Tencha went to see Manuela!

Paty, I since found out, "uses" a Catholic saint, Santa Barbara, for
such "trabajos" - as the spells are termed ("works", or "labors" -
this might be loosely translated). Santa Barbara is a legendary
figure who may have never existed, and whom it is theorized was
actually a pagan goddess co-opted by the early church, and
transformed into a Catholic saint. But that is all speculation, I
think, and a murky subject.

Manuela uses the Santisima Muerte, which is a figure of a skeleton
dressed as the Virgin Mary, and who is believed to be an Aztec
Goddess converted quite unofficially into a folk saint, and very
much banned by the church.

Tencha was quite typical of many people whom I have interviewed, at
first claiming that saints and spirits are all just part of the
overactive imaginations of superstitious and ignorant people, but
later on turning out herself to be quite obsessed with the subject.

Once she got away from that posture - of denying the existence of
these things - however, she became very much given over to spilling
out great quantities of information, anecdotes, memories, and
opinions about all of this, in her own style, of animated and racing
conversation, such that is was all I could do to follow the details
of so many tales.

One thing that Tencha reaffirms so well is the tendency of people to
rate the powers of alleged curanderas and brujas, and decide which
ones are legitimate persons with an actual "don" and which ones are
"estafadores" (frauds). In addition, one gets the sense from these
conversations that, even though people try to make the attempt to
distinguish between a curandera (a person, who, by the definition
that people normally supply, that works in "pura blanca" - "only
white magic"), and a bruja, or a person who works black magic (or
red, or green, or various combinations), the distinction very easily
blurs, and it is never really exactly clear; when one is actually
talking about persons, and not simple concepts.

I will here relate three stories that she told me in one session,
and leave the rest out, for now.

The first concerns her visit to a person who might either be
described as a curandero or a brujo, who is from Brazil, but Paty
went to see him in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This man is alleged to
be very powerful, and can both remove spells (perform a "limpia"),
or cast spells ("hacer trabajos"). He has become quite rich in his
practice, and he prescribes herbal treatments, which he imports, I
assume, from Brazil. 

I can't remember what Tencha said he did for her, but she broke into a
story of another person who had seen this man, who was the wife of a man
who had been unfaithful. The man had started cheating on her with a
woman who was older than her and not nearly as good looking, and they
decided that this other woman had arranged to have the man bewitched.
So, when the wife went to the see the Brazilian, he drew her a map of
the interior of her house, and told her where to find the "mugrero"
(literally "dirt" - the nastiness), and then she went home and looked,
there were the black candles, cut up photos, the egg in the glass, or
whatever sort of blandishments were used to concoct the spell. 

What the curandero/brujo did was to arrange for the man to come back to
his wife, but only after making him suffer. As a result, the other woman
turned on him somehow, and accused him of something - I can't
remember the details - and he went to jail because of her, and got
out a year later. He cried in jail, and completely repented of
having cheated on his wife, and became her slave when he got out
(figuratively speaking - I didn't hear of any kinky stuff!).

During the course of the conversation, as I was explaining the
purpose of my studies to Tencha, she told me that I should go the
"sierra" - the mountainous region of Western Chihuahua - to a place
near the town of Madera, to see a certain Nachito, a famous
curandero, there. "Lots of gringos go to see him", she urged.

Tencha had gone there with a friend, one winter's day, when it was
cold, and snow was on the ground, and people were camping there,
with sleeping bags, and their groceries and their campfires, waiting
to see Nachito. Tencha and her friend were the last to see him, and
as they waited, out in their car, they were making all sorts of
jokes about Nachito, and when their time approached to be tended to,
they went into the house, and finally, in the other room, the last
person left, and it was their turn. Suddenly, the door opened, and
Nachito - a little old man - stuck his head out, and exclaimed,
"░Andele, hijas de la chigada! °pa'qu╚ se rian de m╠?" - "Okay, you
daughters of bitches! Why are you making fun of me?"

He made them go out to the chicken coop and get eggs, and he used
them to cure them, by the "egg method", and having drawn the evil
out, he opened the door to a wood burning stove, and tossed the eggs
in there, where you could hear them explode. 

He told them not to come back, unless they brought him a decent gift.
Tencha asked him what he wanted, and he said a bottle of Chanel No. 5
perfume, which happens to be Tencha's favorite perfume, although she was
not wearing any at the time, so that she didn't smell like it, so that
there was no obvious way for Nachito to know that.

This last story is particularly interesting. Tencha says she has a
cousin who is a "narco" (a drug smuggler), and this man uses brujos
to bring him good luck and protection, and to, as they say, "abrir
el camino" (make clear the road). He brought to Ojinaga a famous
brujo from Durango, rumored to be one of the most powerful in all of
Mexico, and Tencha went to see him. This man "uses", rather than
regular saints or folk saints, some sort of deities which might
actually be Indian gods - "the Earth, Water, Fire" were some
examples. Tencha described these as if they were entities.

This man is widely believed to be an Indian, and he looks the part,
but Tencha says that is not actually so. He is "mexicano", she says,
as opposed to being "indio".

Basically, what this man told her pretty much reaffirms just about
everything that I have surmised or gathered in my studies. We are
all surrounded by various spirits, which these people can actually
see, as if they were living beings. The more powerful a brujo or
curandero is, the greater number of these beings will be in his
presence and the more power these beings will be. Most of these are
actually ghosts, and depending on whether they were good or evil,
they will be the servants of saints, angels, or demons. This man has
hundreds of them, and he simply sends one or another off to do any
particular chore, and he will either harm people or remove the harm
done by others - all for a price.

Here is an example of a job he did for a client. These people paid
tens of thousands of dollars for this - I can't remember the exact

A woman came to him from Los Angeles, California - an Afro-American
- concerning the case of her son, who was being tried on a capital
murder charge. There was a critical piece of evidence that was going
to be used to procure a probable conviction, and this was being kept
under lock and key in the evidence room at the court, or police
department, or wherever it might have been. This brujo simply
arranged for this evidence to vanish, and the trial ended in an

I am going to go see Tencha soon and get her to repeat all of this,
hopefully, while I tape record it, and if, if I am lucky, I might
actually interview one of these people she mentioned.

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