by Edward Wilkinson-Latham

The following article has appeared in various lenghts in The Globe and Mail, Flux Magazine and Outpost Magazine #43.

Fortune-tellers, swamis, shamans and soothsayers of every stripe can be found everywhere from New England state fairs to the bazaars of India, but fewer places can boast a culture of witchcraft as thriving and lucrative as Mexico's. Markets in Mexico city are notorious for their back street séances and dark stores selling powders and soaps to cure anything from unrequited love to blessing your car. Mexico is the centrer of the witchcraft world, where some brujos or brujas (male and female witches) become national celebrities, hired by police departments to help find victims of kidnappings or retained by politicians to help orchestrate electoral strategies.

Catemaco in Southern Veracrus, is a Mexican lake side bucket and spade town. Beach balls, waterbeds and a few undernourished mules dot the sandy shore line, while signs advertise mud baths and boat trips to feed crocodiles and monkeys. A popular holiday spot for urban Mexican families to vacation, the town’s main attraction is witchcraft. Due to the country’s obsession with magic theses back streets are now no longer dark alleys as they once were, but tree lines avenues with Beverly Hills style mansion knock offs. Advisors to Presidents, actors and thousands of believers, witchcraft is big business.

I had rung and made my appointment to see Tito a few days previous. One of Mexico’s most successful male witches or brujos. The woman on the other end of the line asked me in Spanish if half past three was good for me to which I replied and that it was.

“Great, oh and are you under any other witches guidance at the moment,” she asked.

“Not at this present time” I replied.

“Great, then we will see you on Wednesday.”

Through iron bars I could see a small tiled path leading across the long lawn to Tito’s grand marble house. Two rotweillers sat, one either side of the path and looked in my direction, silent and motionless. The screetch of the gate had both dogs in a frenzy as they galloped towards me, nearly garroting themselves when their chains became taught. I slowly walked from one paving slab to the other, anticipating booby traps or perhaps unteathered animals of ferocity that might plunge out of the thick garden foliage. Once past the snarling dogs, who salivated with eagerness to make me into a tug of war toy, the flight of white marble steps lay before me. Half way up the stairs I began to hear terrible screams from inside the house. Bloody curdling cries of a woman dying. Pausing in fear I hesitated while my knees tingled and my heart beat like a battering ram. I debated for a second to call off the entire episode and make a run for it, away from the screams, past the pacing dogs, and over the fence, but taking a deep breath I opened the door.

Inside the entrance the hall had become a waiting room. Two large, stubble faced Mexican twins, in matching tight brown suits sat on a white leather sofa, each holding a glass with a white egg in it. They stared transfixed on a television, which I realized, was playing ‘Silence of the Lambs”; now at its most gruesome point. Another scream filled the room while the twins sat opened mouthed. I wanted to at least say hello but I probably wouldn’t have been heard over the excessive high volume. A stack of empty glasses lay on a counter next to the television. Besides sat a bottle of tequila and a basket of eggs. I looked back at the twins to see their glasses with no tequila, just egg. Eggs as ice cubes fleeted across my jumpy mind before I poured myself a drink and got a grip of myself and where I was. The room led off in three directions through dim curved passages, tiled from floor to ceiling. There were a series of framed photographs on the wall at the other end of the sala, next to a door with an ornate black iron grate, but the mood of the room seemed to stunt my adventurism and I decided against a closer look.

Whilst I poured myself my second drink the twins looked at me for an instance and I just smiled back trying to seem relaxed stood against the counter. Deciding to strike up a conversation I walked over to the couch. As I was about to extend my had the black wrought iron door opened and the two twins got up and marched single file into the room, closing the door behind them. I walked over to the photographs on the opposite wall, more interested in fact that I might be able to eves drop on any sounds coming from behind the door. Half way across the room I suddenly heard a woman’s voice.

“Hola Senor”

I jumped and turned around to see a small woman sat in a high backed wooded chair at the side of the room in the shadows.

“Do you have an appointment?”

I told her my name to which she told me to sit and wait.

“Sit and watch TV”

I thanked her and returned to the white leather couch and sat nervously, making sure my camera was working correctly to occupy my thoughts. Hannibal Lector was chowing down on some unfortunate imbecile, when the black door again opened. Candlelight bled out of the room and the two twins sauntered out. Their jackets were soaked in green liquid, their eyes were blood shot red and their faces dripping wet, but the same placid expression remained. They passed the TV both taking a final glance, before they left and without hesitation walked out into a downpour and past the two wet dogs snapping at them through the curtains of rain.

After some chitchat between the one behind the door and the small woman, I was invited to enter the room. The smell of eucalyptus became almost overpowering as I entered in to a small dark room. Dozens of candles, and plastic bottles filled with liquids of different colors stood in tiers, leading up to an altar featuring a large image of Jesus with a blackened face. Grotesque stuffed animals, charred at the edges littered the display. The room was entirely matt black and on the soot covered walls were pinned hundreds of photographs of people, some covered with soot they were now unrecognizable, layered under fresh additions. The desk was littered with bank checks and amulets on string, more bottles of blue liquid, a can of coke and small soot covered stuffed piglet. This was the office Tito Gueixpal who stood before me. He was a stocky man and looked like he could wrestle if he had to. His jet-black hair, open shirt and excessive gold jewelry made him look like a cross between Elvis and Dracula on final Las Vegas tour.

I explained I was a journalist interested in his powers and reputation as one Mexico’s most famous living witches. His poise slightly shifted and straightened, eager to accommodate my nervous questions.

“My father was a brujo and his father before that. It has been in my family for a long time. All illness, bad luck and even death are caused by la magica negra - the black evil,” he explained.

“I drive out that evil harnessing la magica blanca - the white power, but I can also create the black evil. All I need is the person’s name a recent photograph and one of their possessions like a piece of clothing."

He gestured around the room and I wondered how many of the people in the photographs were cursed or saved. He turned me towards the altar and I repeated after him, an incantation about good and bad power, most of which eluded my Spanish. Fresh eucalyptus leaves were burnt in a large bowl, making my eyes stream and opening the flood gates to my previously blocked nose. In my blinded delirium I wondered where my passport was and if I was missing any clothing. Tito then opened a bottle of blue liquid, he said was cobra blood and splashed it all over my body, taking a couple of swigs himself and spitting it over my torso and tearful, snotty face. I stood there rigid with streams of liquid pouring from my face. My eyes were closed shut as I stood in painful confusion. I felt a hand give me a tissue. Barely enough to block the gelatinous water fall from my nose, the tissue was quickly reduced to mush. Wiping my face with my hand in a squeegee like motion I could now see Tito behind his desk, stringing an amulet. “Wear this to protect yourself” The amulet was a small black cross on a leather cord and I tied it behind my neck, feeling that if anything the thing might make my eyes stop stinging.

Back out in the reception room I tried to regain my composure, and adjust to the light. Tito formally introduced me to his tiny wife who I had encountered earlier and they proudly ushered me around the living room showing me the framed photographs of Tito with former presidents, chat show hosts, soap stars, and beauty queens. He reached over to a coffee table to a fan of a dozen or so magazines on the table that I presume contained articles about him. I spied a copy of ‘Señor’ magazine, Mexico’s poor bastard brother of Playboy.

His wife stood the other side of me as Tito showed me a page with a large photo of him arm in arm with a saucy blonde, looking exactly the same as he stood before me. I looked back at his wife, who stood smiling enthusiastically as Tito stood barrel chested and proud with his collection of top shelf publications. At that point I knew it was time to leave the spirit world. I congratulated him on his successes and made my way to the door. As I turned to leave he thrust a pile of calling cards in my hand to distribute “back home”. I walked out of the house and down the stairs slowly, drenched in the blue fluid and rubbing my blood shot eyes. I felt the rainfall on me like a shower. Looking up I cleaned my face trying to get some vision back. Opening my eyes I discovered I was some four feet away from the path. Shutting the gate I stood there soaked and feeling something had changed but unable to know what. On the bus I studied the small black wooden cross around my neck, whilst cleaning out my ears of the remaining ‘cobra blood’. Should I take the thing off? What might happen if I do? Two days later I lost the amulet swimming in a lake. At the time of writing this, nothing has yet happened.

Tito and many other witches can be found in Catemaco.

By Edward Wilkinson-Latham. EWL© 2002. Mexican Diaries © 2002