Catamaco in the state of Veracruz is home to a large population of brujas (witches) attracted to the area by the high electrical energy that bounces off the mountains and three surrounding volcanoes.  Witchcraft purification ceremonies take place the 1st Friday in March, and I am here to have my aura cleansed by magician Deborah.  

After a night in the city of Veracruz, we drive three hours to the region of Tuklas, home to a large population of brujas, attracted to the area by the high electrical energy from the mountains and proximity of three volcanoes. According to the Mayan calendar Catemaco; a small village touched by ghosts; is the land of magic; its meaning in the Aztec language is “navel of the moon”. It is believed these energized vibrations attracted alien space crafts and UFO’s. A reproduction of a huge Olmec head stands guard at the crossroads into town.   

We stop in San Andres to pick up Dr. Rosa Azamar Aburto, a general surgeon, who owns the 40 room Hotel Michelle, grows eighty varieties of medicinal plants, teaches at the Cultural Center . . .  and has been engaged to introduce me to the head shamans and brujas.  She tells me, “some of my plants can cure just about any ill, when taken in proper dosages, but too strong a dose can make you crazy”.   

Catemaco, in the state of Veracruz  is home to many witches and shamans who practice ancient healing, using animals and plants to draw out mental and physical illnesses. During the Olmec civilization, Gods were represented in part by different plants and in part by animals; the monkey was the patron animal of the “witches of the magic”. Tradition brings hundreds of witches to Catemaco for the Annual Congress of Brujas, (Spanish for witches) that convenes here every year.    

We are here to track down the witches of Catemaco; and to participate in the First Friday in March Purification Rituals, performed to celebrate the full moon, the sun, the earth, water and the heavens.  

We travel by small boat to a tiny island. On the stroke of midnight, when Thursday turns to Friday,  a live chicken is sacrificed to heal a young girl with its blood ; mysticism, magic and shamanism rule the night as  auras are cleaned with  herbal waters, incense and branches of patuli leaves ; candles  light the night and the mind; raging bon fires send smoke signals up to the heavens. It is a moment to remember.   

In European Cultures, the 1st Friday in March was also a magic heritage day of communicating with the devil. Since Spanish times, shamans have influenced governments with witchcraft carried out by man to reach the image or likeness of the Gods they worshipped.  


Nanciyaga, a natural jungle reserve in the most northerly path of any tropical rainforest on the planet attracts tourists and naturalists. I begin my visit with a guided tour of the tropical forest, a pre-Hispanic planetarium; make friends with animals in their native habitat, and  meet the resident shaman who proceeds to clean my aura in a small candle lit hut, chanting prayers and blessings in Spanish.  

I walk down to the lake for a mineral mud bath; after my therapist smears volcanic mud all over my face and body; I am told to relax in the sun to allow the mud to dry, drawing out impurities in my body.  After half an hour, I dive into the river; it is not easy to wash off the caked mud; I am given plant leaves which I rub on my body to facilitate the cleansing process.  Legend has it; a Nahua Indian Princess stayed young forever using the mud from the mineral springs in Nanciyaga. In the evening we return for a traditional theatre enactment of the history of the Olmec Civilization. I learn the best protection against black magic is to carry a tooth of a crocodile, which my tour guide Enrique carries with him at all times  


I cross the town square; old ladies and children are  selling  branches of flowers and petuli leaves outside the cathedral; inside,  worshippers  pass  these branches  over their bodies,  heads and under their feet to clean,  purify and protect them from evil spirits. They hang pendants, strands of hair and photographs on the altar . . .  asking for favors or Milagros offerings.

Sunday evening

Tonight I will meet Deborah, a revered magician who will perform a group ritual, usually performed one on one.  I dress in white, Enrique my guide tells me where  we are going is very primitive; we will sit on the  earth floor; there will be mosquitoes; I change into jeans and a long sleeve shirt disappointed I will not be wearing virginal white as do all the other witches in town.  We are told to bring our perfume with us. I bring my Rive Gauche spray.  

Lionel our driver stops to buy two flashlights. The road is pitching black with only the car headlights to guide us around sharp curves. We drive through a micro weather region, cut through the jungle; bouncing and swerving down a deeply rutted dirt road for half an hour. We leave the car in darkness and follow the light of the flashlights down a path to the primitive house Deborah and her son built on the edge of the river. The earth is the floor; the hand hewn high vaulted ceiling soars towards the heavens; magician Deborah, dressed in white, speaks no English. Enrique attempts to translate as our purification ritual begins, but it is difficult; she does not want her flow of words interrupted, so we all stand in a circle, trying to understand her dialect Spanish and grasp the meaning behind her chanting. We had been told to bring our perfume with us, and take turns pouring a little into a plastic pan filled with herbs and water; then wash our hands in the brew. We are given branches of patuli leaves and run them up and down our arms and legs, over our faces and heads, even under our feet to rid us of evil spirits that may have invaded our body.  

Deborah fills a plastic dishpan with water, petal leaves and rose petals, vanilla and lemon. Everyone pours some of their perfume into the water; I spray mine, then we wash our hands in the dishpan, rubbing our palms briskly together. Deborah chants rapidly in Spanish; I follow as best I can; we close the circle by holding hands.  Glowing red hot coals are brought into the house and placed on the floor next to the pan of herbal perfumed water. Magician Deborah passes a bottle of essential oils; we pour a little into our hands and throw on the burning coals; the oils send up a vapor of smoke. We repeat this offering. She passes a bowl of incense around twice; we take turns throwing a handful of the incense into the fire, the flames respond by flaring up to accept our offerings.  We follow her outdoors; it is raining, but it does not deter us from concluding the ceremony reaching up to the heavens for acceptance and forgiveness.  


I wander down the street along the lake; Jose Marie sits on the floor of the small Pasteleria y Reposteria bakery, kneading the feet of the owner’s dancer daughter. He agrees to give me a reflexology massage if I come back in half an hour.  When I do, he seats me on a folding chair; then begins working on my right foot, telling me “it leads into my body, and my left foot leads out of my body. Energy flows into the body through the left hand and out of the body through the right hand”.  He reads my feet with his hands telling me I have a strong body; he thinks I am focused on yang.  It feels like he is playing my toes like an instrument. He tells me my ideas are strong and centered, that I prefer to go for my idea more than someone else’s. He recommends olive oil for more energy to the organs, telling me “when organs get more fluid they remain lubricated. I am amazed when he says “your body is concentrated in your neck; you need more movement to release your neck.” I am also reminded of the 120 year old woman I met in Turkey who drinks a glass of olive oil everyday.  

El Norte blows through Cataract bring strong winds and rain, as if cleansing the earth. My plans change; it is too rough to chance a lake ride back to the island of purification..  A return to Vera Cruz is a better plan.