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Los Santo Cuates

Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2002 22:32:35 -0500 
From: "E Bryant Holman" ( 
Subject: Los Santo Cuates (the Twin Saints)

"Is 'El Cuate' 'embrujado'?" - or - "Los Santos Cuates"

("Is 'The Twin' Bewitched?" - or - "The Twin Saints")

This story is true, except for the parts that are
speculation, which parts may or may not be true. It can be
said that this story is 100% true, if you count the fact
that this is "true speculation", which is to say, it is
speculation that is made in good faith: and that is to say,
I believe that the things I am speculating are real.

I am not sure how to begin this story, because to
understand it, there are number of digressions that have to
be performed in order to define the groundwork for this,
because it is all a matter of things that might seem
commonplace enough in Mexico, but Mexican culture is so
distant from ours, and so foreign, and runs so counter to a
lot of things that we like to believe, that in order to tell
this tale, I almost have to beg the reader to take what I am
saying at its face value, and not attempt to engage me in
any discussion as to whether my interpretations are the same
as theirs.

Let me start with doOa Cuca, or Cuquita, as she likes to
say that people know her as, who is alleged to be a
"brujita" - which is to say, roughly "a dear witch" - using
the diminutive form so as not to say "bruja" - "witch" -
which is a dire accusation, and an insult, or, at any rate,
a rather pejorative way of putting it.

In Mexico, there is no modern interpretation of these
terms, such as what has come about with the advent of Wicca
in the English speaking world. There are mostly rather dark
and dreadful associations with the term "bruja", and there
is almost no point in discussing that matter with anyone who
finds it disturbing that Mexicans feel that way, inasmuch as
defenders of Wicca might find these seeming prejudices to be
offensive or something.

I avoid those exchanges if I can, because they remove my
focus from what it is that I am studying, which is the fact
of brujeria and curanderismo as it exists today in Mexico,
and how it has been from almost time immemorial, both in
Mexico, in Mesoamerica, in medieval Spain, in the Roman
Empire, in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Babylon from whence
these traditions arose in the first place: and how these
traditions have come down to be still quite alive in the
world today, which surrounds me here in Ojinaga, Chihuahua,
where this type of activity is quite rampant.

DoOa Cuca came into Fausto's, my art gallery on Calle
Juarez, in downtown Ojinaga, several months ago, selling
"lonches" - these rather awful sandwiches that she was
making and selling, mostly, in some of the cantinas downtown
- and I bought some from her, and later on, when she was
gone, I gave them to some Tarahumara Indians who begged on
the streets.

The lady who worked for me, Brenda - who is from
southern Mexico, from the state of Michoacan, where homicide
seems to be the major pastime (Brenda is a widow three time
over) - and I started inviting Cuquita to come by and have
coffee with us regularly, and we would visit with her and
ask a lot of questions, and a lot of what we discussed was
spiritual material, since that is my fascination in life,
and I am always trying to find out what people believe and
set it in a sort of anthropological frame of reference, but
not exactly in a scientific manner. My quest is not at all
about science.

At one point, Cuquita told me that she read the cards. -
Tarot cards? - I asked. No - she said - "Mexicana":
"Mexican" cards. I thought that was odd, because I assumed
that they would have to be either regular playing cards, or
tarot cards. It turned out that they were tarot cards all
right, but she was not familiar with the word. I never did
find out where she learned to do this. I eventually sneaked
off to see her, and she read my cards for me, and some of
the things she told me were indeed very uncannily correct.
When she came to a point that she had trouble interpreting,
she took her shoes off and put them back on the wrong feet,
and she said that helped her interpret them.

Now, if I can move forward to another digression, and
describe two Indian women from Oaxaca whom I know - Micaela
and Quica - mother in law and daughter in law - who are of
the Mixteca tribe, and I buy rebozos (shawls) from them and
sell them on the Internet. I really like them a lot - I love
them, in fact, and they love me, too, and they confide
things in me that I don't think they would be so open about
with anyone else. I have known them for years.

I only found out recently that Micaela has a "don" -
which is to say, the gift of healing in the role of a
curandera. And Quica's father, whom she hardly knew, was a
very renowned curandero, who was killed when they brought
him up to Tijuana to remove a hex from a person who had been
cursed by a witch in the hire of a powerful narcotraficante.
When these narcos discovered he had removed a curse from one
of their enemies after they had paid a lot of money to have
it put on, they had him killed.

Micaela has been giving me spiritual advice for a long
time, and once she told me that one secret she had was
passed to her when she was young by an old woman, who had
told her to always pray to the "Santos Cuates" (the term
means the "Holy Twins" or the "Twin Saints", and implies two
saints who are twin brothers).

I asked her what those were. She said that she didn't
know what they looked like, as she had never seen an image
of them, but that she had a lot of faith in them, as the old
woman who told her about them was renowned for her wisdom
and her spiritual power. I was very intrigued by all of
this. But I was sure, and I still am, that there is no
Catholic tradition of this, but rather, it has to be a
regional thing, that survived under the dubious aegis of
pseudo-catholicism through syncretism - wherein some Indian
gods transformed themselves into the "Santos Cuates" so that
they could live on in the imagined community of the
descendants of those who had honored them openly when they
preserved, still, their true names and true forms - if there
really is such a thing.

It was with that notion in mind, that I took the
opportunity to ask, rather casually, at first, but then
quite seriously and in the vein of my research, NoE, a
person I know who is a twin, if he had heard of "Los Santos
Cuates", and he at first said yes, but it turned out that
was not true - what was true was that this turned on a light
in NoE's head, a distant memory that was awakened, as he
recalled how, when he and his brother were yet very small
children, it was shown that they had a "don" for performing
cures, over the case of a cow that was gravely ill and about
to die. The cow belonged to their uncle, to whom it suddenly
occurred to run to the father of the twins and have them
come massage it, in the form a cross, with one twin
massaging in one direction and the other in the other,
forming the image of a cross, after which the cow
miraculously recovered. Thus, it was established that the
"cuates" had curing powers, albeit that this was the only
time that these had been put to the test.

Having now established an interview mode with the
"cuate", I moved along to my usual questions, including the
one where I asked if he had either participated in, or
witnessed, a "limpia" - a curing ritual performed by a
curandera or curandero. Indeed he had, with none other than
doOa Cuca. She had performed this remarkable ritual
involving having burning coals in a brazier, over which she
added some herbs, and sprinkled it with "Perfume de Siete
Machos", and the cuate - NoE - stood over it and allowed the
smoke to envelope him, while she chanted secret prayers. I
found all of this to be fascinating.

Not much later, however, the other cuate, Edgar, showed
up, and I asked him about this, and he became upset in his
telling of it, as he described how it was that this was not
a "cure" that they had done to his brother. They had, he
said, in fact tricked him, and they had bewitched him, and
he had been trying for years to find a way to have his
brother cured of this.

So now, I interviewed Edgar, both about this, and about
the cow incident, and his version of that was exactly like
that of his brothers, but the scene with doOa Cuca, as he
described it, was completely different.

	And at this point, as much as I have been trying to
avoid it, I must, once again, launch into yet another
digression, because, for those of you who don't know this
already, Mexican culture is extremely complicated and full
of apparent contradictions. I must now talk about a person
whose shadow also moves across this story in her own oblique
way, because of her connection with a very uniquely Mexican
"Saint", or goddess, if you will.

The "Saint" or "Goddess" - whichever you prefer - is La
Santisima Muerte, and the person is Manuela Porras, a
curandera who specializes in rituals and amulets of hers,
and who is the person, for instance, who first told me about
Perfume de Siete Machos, which is sort of a curandera
essential. I have since found out that practically all
curanderas use it.

In my interview with Manuela, whom I talked with after I
had interviewed Cuca, but before I talked to the cuates NoE
and Edgar, I learned something about the prayers of the
SantIsima Muerte - which, actually, I already knew quite a
bit about, and I even had a copy of them of them at the
time. But it is interesting that Edgar told me that, in
addition to the ritual with the smoke and Perfume de Siete
Machos, they were given a prayer to recite for three days at
the stroke of midnight, and in the prayer sheet there was a
picture of the SantIsima Muerte, and this prayer that they
had was no doubt a modified version of the one that is
normally said.

Edgar described how the brothers were going with two
sisters, who wanted them to marry them, and, at the
instigation of the girls' mother, they want to see Cuca, who
was supposed to help them with their relationship.

Whereas NoE was willing to go along with this, Edgar had
his doubts. So he watched while NoE went in there first, and
they closed the door behind him. Later, they opened it, and
invited Edgar to come in. At that point, he said, he felt
like a blast of hot air, and he got a feeling as if a cold
chill ran up his spine, and he resisted going in, and no
amount of entreaties would change his mind.

Later, when he went over to see his girlfriend, he
opened up her closet and there, in the corner, almost hidden
away, he saw a glass of water with an egg and what seemed
like a lot of broom straws stuck into it. He decided that
this was a tool for applying a hex to his brother, although
I think it was later argued that it a divination device,

At any rate, he took it outside and flung it as far as
he could, and he right away broke up with his fiancEe, and
then he began a several months long campaign to have his
brother break up with the girl's sister, and he is still
convinced that even now, years later, his brother is still
under this spell and that effects him badly, and that he
must be cured. (Believe me - I have left out a lot of

Later, Micaela and Quica agreed to be interviewed for
this book I am working on about curanderismo and brujeria,
and in the course of the interview I asked them what they
thought about the case of the cuates, and when I described
the part about the glass of the water with the egg in it,
she absolutely turned ashen gray with fear, she crossed
herself, and exclaimed "Holy God!" in a tone of sheer

I asked her if she felt competent to remove the hex, if,
in fact, he was under one, and she declined to do so, for
the question of "amparo" - or spiritual protection - which
was something she was sorely lacking, and this is why, for
instance, when she massaged someone, she would feel bad
afterwards, because all of the ills would be transferred to

Still later, I talked to Manuela's brother Lalo, and I
asked him if he was aware of all this. He said that Manuela
had already examined NoE, and had determined that there was
nothing wrong with him - that probably whatever had been
done to him, I assume, was removed when Edgar found the
glass with the egg in it and threw it away.

I must confess that what I wanted to do was to arrange
this limpia, and then photograph it and tape record it -
Micaela prays in Mixteca, only she says the names of the
saints in Spanish, so it sounds really cool - she recited a
small portion of her curing prayers for me at one point --
but Micaela left town, and I don't know when she will be

We were going to take the cuate to see yet another
curandero I know, don MartIn, but he is out of town again,
and I don't know when he will be back.

Seeing Manuela is out of the question now, because Edgar
beat the stuffing out her brother (Chuy - not Lalo) in jail
a few months back, and she has no use for the cuates now.

So that leaves Paty, a very, very cool curandera I know
who lives outside of town, who worked with us couple of
years ago on a PBS and BBC production with Michael Wood,
wherein I was a consultant. Paty will be able to tell us
right away if the cuate is really embrujado, and if he is,
she will fix him.

But my story has not ended. Just recently, a woman that
I know - an artist - came down from Alpine, Texas, with a
lot of her artwork, hoping to sell me some, or at least
leave it on consignment. I took two pieces off of her hands,
which were reproductions of some Mesoamerican art - from the
state of Guerrero, not very far from the region where
Micaela and Quica live. When I paid for them, I was so busy
gossiping and carrying on with Julie PeOa - the artist, that
I hardly even looked that the artwork that I had just

Later on, as I was joking with my assistant, Mary, about
the twins, whom we have now taken to calling the "Santos
Cuates", I just happened to look over at one of the
mono-prints that Julie had brought me, and the figure
practically jumped out of the frame at me! It was a very
stylized rendition of a pair of twins! I looked at the
other, which was a completely different glyph, or motif, but
the subject was the same - twins! I told myself, and I told
Mary, and genuinely believe that this is true - There they
are - the Santos Cuates!!!

In the Aztec ceremonial calender, as a method of lining
up the 20 "zodiacal" signs along the axis that represents
darkness or passivity and that which represents light or
energy, incorporated the images of the mythological twin
brothers, Tezcatlipoca (the ancestor figure of the Aztecs)
and Quetzalcoatl (the ancestor of figure of the Toltecs) to
establish the "line of Tezcatlipoca" and the "line of

Concepts such as this, however, far predate the arrival
of the Aztecs in the Valley of Mexico. The "Santos Cuates",
however, is a concept that probably dates from the arrival
of much earlier tribes, the Zapoteca-Otomi speakers, from a
period between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, when they arrived
in the Valley of Mexico (Otomi) and in Oaxaca, Chiapas,
Veracruz, and Guerrero (Zapoteca). Many of their myths were
largely adopted by the later Mixteca, the builders of Monte


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