Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexicans Turn to Witchcraft to ward off Drug Cartels

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 |


Julisa del Carmen, seeking relief from her fear of Mexico's cartels, went to a sorcerer in Catemaco for a ritual using an egg

By: Karla Zabludovsky
The New York Times
CATEMACO, Mexico — In the dimly lighted back room of a modest house in this tourist city now largely devoid of tourists, Luis Tomás Marthen Torres, a warlock with 50 years of experience, closes his eyes and chants as he briskly rubs a stark white egg over the arms, chest and neck of a worried customer.

The ritual is old and common here in Mexico’s dominant hub for masters of the occult — where wizardry is passed from generation to generation — but like so many things in Mexico, the requests for help have changed.

“People ask us for assistance because they’re scared of threats, of extortion. They’re full of negative energy,” says Mr. Marthen Torres.

Visitors to this middle-class town of around 67,000 people, which attributes its mysticism to the region’s ancient Olmec roots, had for decades sought wizards to cast love spells and cure physical ailments. But in the midst of the violence that has beset the state of Veracruz, new and creative forms of witchery for protection against extortion and for help finding kidnapped kin have become the leading demands from clients, local practitioners say.

Fear in Veracruz has intensified because the state is one of the newest battlefields for Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels. Jorge Chabat, an expert on security and drug trafficking at CIDE, a Mexico City research institution, said a cartel known as the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel were squaring off in this coastal state, with the latter taking advantage of recent blows the federal government has dealt the former.

The growing drug trafficking presence here has brought with it a business that has boomed across the country in recent months: extortion. Even witches and warlocks are not being spared.

“They always say, ‘This is the leader of the Zetas speaking,’ ” Mr. Marthen Torres’s son and fellow warlock, John Joseph, said about the calls he receives from self-described organized crime members demanding money.

Some of Catemaco’s wizards have grown increasingly afraid, while others — perhaps seeking an edge in the contest for customers — claim to sense the vibes of the person on the other end of the line. When they feel a negative aura, they say, they simply do not pick up the phone. In fact, Mr. Marthen Torres said he was certain he would not become another casualty of this war because the date of his death had already been revealed to him. (It’s not for at least a decade, he said.)



Of course, less prescient people may not feel quite so equipped to confront this wave of violence.

“I’m constantly aware that my children could be picked up at any moment. It’s my biggest concern,” Julisa del Carmen said after being cleansed by a sorcerer. “You’re constantly hearing about kids being kidnapped.”

She visits both Mr. Marthen Torres and his son for a cleanse whenever she has crime-related panic attacks, she said.

Not surprisingly, the growing demand for protection has led to a new set of mystical services. For only $180, you can find a missing relative, said Alondra Martínez, 35, a witch who often makes the trip to a nearby hill to perform a ritual for the safe return of kidnapped women. She said she had received five requests just last month.

“This wasn’t a frequent thing before. Now it’s becoming fashionable,” Ms. Martínez said.

A desperate couple visited her recently, but she said she wouldn’t help the frightened parents until they had paid the full fee. “I told them they had eight days to find their daughter.”

Not only civilians are seeking help. Policemen and cartel thugs are also turning to Catemaco’s shamans for protection. Policemen are fearful of being killed in an ambush or risking harm to their families in a retaliatory act; drug traffickers worry about “being caught by the federal police or losing their territory,” explained a sorcerer in a nearby town who would go only by the name El Gato Negro, adding that he often performs animal sacrifices in a cave. Sometimes, shamans here say, the authorities and criminals cross paths in the witches’ waiting rooms, but neither side readily identifies the other.

Over all, though, business is down. Some hotel owners say occupancy has fallen as much as 80 percent in three years, which means fewer clients for wizards. Still, some new customers are turning out to be quite lucrative. One sorcerer, José Alberto Vera Cisneros, said a person claiming to be a drug trafficker imprisoned in Manzanillo, the city containing Mexico’s busiest port, had recently called and asked for a ritual to get him released. When he was let out shortly afterward, the occultist said, the man gave him a car.

While cartel figures may hand out expensive gifts, Mr. Marthen Torres is providing what he calls “social services” — free cleanses to those who have been extorted to the point of destitution.

To combat escalating crime, the state and federal governments have begun Operation Safe Veracruz. Federal forces have been deployed across the state, local and state police corruption is being cleaned up, and heavily armed checkpoints have been set up. More than 250 people have been detained since the plan was put in place early last month, but violence persists. On Oct. 20, eight bodies were dumped in the town of Paso de Ovejas, 100 miles northwest of Catemaco.

And as long as the crime continues, Catemaco’s shamans expect to remain in high demand for protective spells and clairvoyance by cops, robbers and victims alike. Mr. Marthen Torres said the bodies of bludgeoned victims were still warm when he arrived at crime scenes across the country to find out how the killings had taken place. “I can see the last image the victim saw on his eyes,” he said.

Some would surely find this hard to believe. “Crime isn’t resolved with magic,” President Felipe Calderón said during a speech in 2009 (though he almost certainly meant it in a figurative, not literal, way). Similarly, Ernesto Cordero, an aspiring candidate for the 2012 presidential election and a member of Mr. Calderón’s political party, recently pointed out that there were no magical remedies for “getting out of the problem we got ourselves in.”

Catemaco’s wizards and sorceresses beg to differ.

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24 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Old news. What do you think Santa Muerte is?

Texcoco said...

This is nothing new, people have used Santeria for years,
people go to a sorcerer and ask for everything they can, as far as I know is a common practice for more than 40 years.

Anonymous said...

This stuff works! I don't charge any money to rub my huevos all over these women... But on a serious note, I have heard some stories of healing and protection from some "wizards". I think the fbi or dea should go undercover as shamans and listen to all these narcos spill their guts and arrest them afterwards. I had freinds who were in the "game" and would pay these people and have their cars and houses "blessed". It was funny but I guess it worked for them. The so called shamans are no different than shrinks... Sometimes you just need to hear someone say "Its gonna be ok". I guess thats all they're really paying for but even that is comforting to hear these days,even its coming from a total stranger.

Anonymous said...

Only the new york times will reports on some of the dumbest things, that don't got shit to do with what is actually going on in Mexico. But god forbid they say something about the War that's going on, not some witchcraft bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting cool photos, BB!

Anonymous said...

9:23 PM...Spare me you uneducated inconsiderate sorted opinion. You could just check in by saying "the asshole checked in." Please don't give your dumb opinion, because it really shows how shallow you are. The point of the article is the desperation of the the Mexican people and the tole the war is having on them. The use of curanderas and brujas are a big part of the Mexican and South American cultures. The article was putting a different spin on what is really going on in Mexico. But if you need articles on the war itself, there are plenty. I am sure you only look at the pictures though. By the way, how is everything in the trailer park?

Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about hardened hearts! After all the fear and evil they are afraid of, And still won't turn to God? If there is a devil which is what they turn to you would think they would turn to God, It really works, If they don't believe that than it's because they truly havent put their life in God's hands, I'm not trying to preach a sermon here but God IS greater than he thats in the world!

Anonymous said...

Great, competition for the Catholic church. Mexicans at some point must understand its up to them,the citizens to run their country,freedom of speech protected viciousley would be nice,the right to own weapons and defend yourself would be nice,honest public servants would be nice,the actual use of tax money for public works,would be nice, on and on--

Anonymous said...

11/1 11:29PM,

God doesn't interfere in such matters, he never has and he never will! When it's your time to go it's your time to go..God deals with you afterwards. In all my years..I've never known anything that can truly save you from the evil men do. It's about choices plain and simple..you play with fire you can expect to eventually get burned! It starts with yourself..what you do and how you act determines your fate! Rubbing eggs on yourself isn't going to do shit but waste an egg but hey if it makes you feel better..than so be it! At least the egg farmers will be happy!

DFL said...

How ignorant! Pure stupidity!!
These are the very same people who think that if you step on a crack you will break your mothers back! Simple minded uneducated Idiots!

Anonymous said...

Deja te curo de " ojo " by rubbing an egg all over you. LOL, supersitious or not. It's been Mexican tradition for most folks to be believe in some type of unusual medical practices. Empacho is another example. For the Mexican-Americans who know what I am talking about, it's not witchcraft at all. Witchcraft would be going to the brujo and doing some evil intended practices toward someone. For most it's just a matter of trying to seek the easy way out. What they need to do is turn to god and jesus christ because there is nothing but " maldad " in Mexico. Greed has been the route to all evil and it's on full display amongst the cartels and citizens there.

Anonymous said...

Half of the Republican Presidential candidates (Perry, Bauchmann, Paul) all believe god magically made the earth in seven days flat, 4000 years ago; so who's saying what these peoples beliefs are any stupider? Rubbing an egg on your face while some dude tells you what you want to hear for a fee makes them feel better about the bad shit they are about to do. And some 'educated' people feel better when they throw all the evidence out the window that the earth has been around for a long time, and suspect that Jesus rode dinosaurs. Still, it is part of the culture and these con artists...I mean 'spiritualists' would make great informants. "Two can keep a secret if one is dead" is a great mantra to live by when your an outlaw.

Anonymous said...

@DFL idiots just like people who believe in the bible right?

Anonymous said...

Anyone hear remember Adolfo Constanzo, El Padrino de Matamoros (The Godfather of Matamoros) this is exactly what that motherfucker was doin,for drug capos,and bosses an shit.Supposedly doin human sacrifice,when in reality some of them were rival drug dealers an all that shit,a lot of humanity are very spiritual,and then you have some who think."Get the fuck outta here".

Anonymous said...

If Mexico keeps ignoring God, God will keep ignoring Mexico:

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

2 Chronicles 7:14

Anonymous said...

Now all the fucking Jesus freaks get to chime in.

El_Regio said...

lol @ Anon 8:54 pm you cracked me up with that comment about rubbing huevos on women for free!

@ Anon 10:54 am no, because the bible is backed up by biblical facts, unlike these brujos.

Yes these people are very ignorant for what they are doing. They have no clue the door they are opening up for evil, it's no wonder why Mexico is in the shape it is in now. So long as they continue worshiping death and building shrines for it, this will only get worse.

DFL said...

@10:54
YEA. IDIOTS LIKE YOUR MAMA!

American_Me said...

Proud of my mexican heritage but this is one thing that I've always hated about it since I was growing up. Alot of people in mexico (and also here in the US) are into “brujeria” and their stupid fucking ignorance just pisses me off! Those brojus/brujos don't give a damn about “helping” people. They're just after their fucking money. A small percentage of that voodo shit does work but that's because the people performing it have pacts with the devil.

Anonymous said...

The human psyche is a strange thing...the power of suggestion is real but any supernatural cure or protection is pure bullshit! The whole concept is based on the placebo effect..if you believe something will work than there really isn't anything that will convince you otherwise! I believe one commentor on here had it right..by saying Mexicans in the war zone have gotten desperate and are turning to the bizarre and outlandish for relief.

Anonymous said...

in response to DFL,you should try it one day,it will help you in your bitterness!!& ignorant?you shouldnt use that word to describe others when all you have to do is look in the mirror!!

Anonymous said...

Recipe for Peace Water:
1 part of each of the following:
River water
Spring water
Rain water
Sea water
Holy Water (this can be from blessed by a church or made with a mirror on a full moon.)

Sprinkle or spray in a full circle around areas one wants to protect or resolve conflict.

The power of the peace water is not the physical act. The power is in how it preps one's mind to take on an overwhelming task in a peaceful manner.

It's the next step after envisioning peace. One has to physically do something difficult/embarrasing to attain and often the conflict is that others might reject you as being crazy for doing such a silly stunt.

The process can be applied no matter what one's religion is. It is not witchcraft nor magic, it's the power of positive thought.

Before anything has ever been, it always has started with a thought.Before it has ever come to be, it must accept that conflict is part of the process.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with charging a fee for protection guaranteed. I believe the point in saying this with most peeps is so they believe it, which is force-fed and unreal.

All the things spoke above in the article are rituals, just like baptism in the Christian faith.

I do not judge them, but I hope that people look with clean eyes to know that God is not in anyone's box. The US has a great problem with that, which tells me they are hurting and looking for something.

I am fortunate to live where I see the sea meet the moon every night less than 10 feet from my bed and they never fight, just reflect upon each other and in the morning, the sun greets them and the moon wanes, and the breeze starts.

All of these hateful comments for what? Sometimes it is better to be happy than right. It is very easy to love and care for someone that you like, but Christ tells us to love our enemies, yet you guys fighting before you have even defined who your enemies are?

Mohammed put peace in place with his songs so beautiful and he was an illiterate man.

Gandhi threw out oppression in his country by peaceful means.

Maybe all these people speaking badly towards each other should take a breath and quit thinking that we already know everything. None of us do.

We should listen to each other and respect one another, no matter what our beliefs are.

God will never be in a box and so long as we keep defining a spirit in such ways, people will retaliate with hate, or at the least, hold a grudge and never speak openly.

How do empires develop? Through hate of a fear and a feeling of self-righteousness.

How do empires diminish? Through expansion of that hate and fear among the general masses beyond their means.

In the end, any empire diminishes itself, whether a cartel or a government. Their clashes only postpone the inevitable. A few people walk away with the riches from supporting both sides.

Start listening to how this developed in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Lol they are. People are ignorant to other peoples religions. According to christains, you must bow down to god lol which is actuallt popular to bdsm relationships :D

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