The Spread of Witchcraft

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The resurgence of European-based religious Witchcraft (or Wicca) isn’t the only form of modernized folk religion to spread around the world and grow in popularity. Magical traditions and witchcraft(s) have also come to America from Mexico and the Caribbean. Two recent stories have emerged that remind us that Witchcraft is global and creating tensions within both Christian and secular society as it grows. This first concerns the town of Catemaco in southern Mexico (the Mexican equivalent to Salem) where the booming tourist trade of Brujos and shamans are spurring the Catholic Church into waging a spiritual campaign against the practitioners.

“Thanks to this bustling trade in mysticism, Catemaco is Mexico’s unofficial capital of all things occult. It also presents a unique challenge for and competition to the Catholic Church. For decades, the church has waged a campaign against “brujeria,” or witchcraft, in Veracruz, a state along the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years the church has issued declarations and even put a cross on the top of White Monkey Peak, a nearby hilltop used by shamans as a ceremonial center.”

But despite the Church’s claims of rampant fraud and extortion, the occult is becoming ever-more mainstream in the Catemaco due in part to the city’s reliance on the tourist trade it brings.

“Despite these scams, the tradition of witchcraft, which predates Catholicism in Mexico, persists … Today, while tourists are the main customers, many residents still go to shamans for routine cleansings and good-luck amulets. An even greater challenge is economics: Brujeria means big bucks. The Veracruz government dubbed the region “the Land of Witches” in a recent tourism campaign, and a massive, festive “black mass” is held each first Friday of March. The state governor often attends. “It’s our way of life; there are no companies here,” said Norberto Baxin Mantilla, known to customers as “the Black Unicorn.” “There are hundreds of witches and shamans. It’s a source of income.” Baxin’s work space, located in his house, is adorned with posters of skeletons and statues of “La Santa Muerte,” the incarnation of death, a skeletal figure that has spawned a growing cult in Mexico in recent years. The hood of his silver Camaro also bears the grim-reaperlike image of Santa Muerte.”

In the end it seems that (spiritually speaking) money talks, and since the Catholic Church can’t spur tourist income for this region, the Witches, shamans, and other magical practitioners are finding mainstream acceptance (and government approval) by filling that gap. But the (sometimes shady) monetary ethics of Witchcraft in the global south don’t always play well in America, as seen in a recent case of a school Principal in New York who is catching heat for hiring a Santera to “cleanse” her school.

“A principal at a high school in Lower Manhattan had heard the jokes about using a “sage,” or spiritual guru, to perform a “cleansing” of the building to counteract misbehaving students. The principal took the jokes seriously – performing a Santeria ceremony during the school’s midwinter break in 2006, according to a report released today by the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City public schools. One day last winter, the principal, Martiza Tamayo, told an assistant principal, Melody Crooks-Simpson, that she had a friend who could do just that. Ms. Tamayo promised that the friend “could burn sage and incense in the school and it would calm the students down,” according to the report.”

The ritual (which included the sprinkling of chicken blood on the building) apparently went fine until the principal convinced the reluctant assistant principal that she must come to a follow-up ritual and then demanded $900 for “her share” of the fees. That and a general misappropriation of funds involving the Santera (which included paying her as a private driver for some students) has caused the local Department of Education to remove Martiza Tamayo from her position. There is no word on if the fiscal misdealing was all Tamayo’s doing, or if the Santera was directly involved as well.

While neither of these stories are going to be heralded as PR coups for Santeria or Brujeria, both stories illustrate the slow mainstreaming of these traditions and practices. One wonders how this will affect Wicca and other European-based forms of Witchcraft as they start to interact and co-exist in greater numbers. Eventually the maxim that “not all Witches are Wiccans” will be all but unavoidable.