Tales of the Supernatural

Compiled by Nasario Garcia, SFAOL Contributor and author of
Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas: Tales of Witchcraft
and the Supernatural in the Pecos Valley

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nasario Garcia, Ph. D., who teaches at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, NM, is a native of New Mexico's Rio Puerco Valley and is well-known for his bilingual books on the folklore of the state. Over the past decade he has conducted dozens of interviews with elderly Hispanic residents of the Pecos Valley, gathering their tales of witchcraft and the supernatural. As a special feature, Santa Fe Always Online (SFAOL.com) is pleased to present a selection of these stories, taken from his book Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas  (Witches, Ghosts, and Red-Hot Coals).


One would venture to say that there is no Hispano, including this author, who grew up in rural New Mexico within the last 40 or 50 years who is not capable of recounting an eerie story or two related to witchcraft and its supernatural trappings, thanks to the prominent role of la aguelita (the grandmother).

We as grandchildren at the ranch looked up to my paternal grandmother as the principal storyteller responsible for entertaining (or frightening) us at bedtime. Given her versatility as a raconteur, her narratives ranged from pleasant fairy-tale-type stories to those that scared the dickens out of us, such as la cosa mala (an evil spirit) or el coco (the bogeyman).

As a small boy I heard scores of stories of the supernatural that are recounted in one form or another up and down El Valle, the Rio Pecos valley. Recollections of brujas (witches), el diablo (the devil), bultos (ghosts), el mal ojo (the evil eye), una persona enyerbada (a bewitched person), and many other superstitions are but a few examples. We siblings invariably were even beneficiaries (or victims!) of a trick or two coming from our own parents playing the role of bogeyman.

Some animals that purportedly possessed supernatural powers were el burrito (the donkey), snakes, the coyote, and el tecolote (the owl). Other superstitious beliefs prevalent in my household dealt with sorcery-like powers. For example, if my brother or I went to milk a cow in the morning and found that it had no milk, it was believed that a mamona (milk snake) had sucked the milk from the cow's udder, which now was dry because of the evil intrusion.

Perhaps no single type of story fascinated me more than those of the supernatural. Whether related to balls of fire, polvitos (witch powders), sparks emitting from a chimney in an old abandoned adobe home, a farol (lantern) burning brightly at night in my grandfather's empty house while he was away, chains rattling at night, or finding shiny apples on our doorstep, all contained magical power or an evil element (la cosa mala) that intrigued me.

Children of past generations have been fascinated by stories related to the supernatural. As the eminent historian Marc Simmons reminds us in his excellent work Witchcraft in the Southwest: "Practically every adobe hamlet and town on the Rio Grande once possessed its own stories and traditions of witches, were-animals and supernatural events."

Since the late 1980s, I have made countless trips to El Valle to interview and photograph dozens of residents on a variety of subjects related to their lives in their villages. On each occasion, whether I was meeting someone for the first time or renewing old acquaintances, I was greeted with open arms. In every instance I was enriched by their reminiscences and words of wisdom.

At the time of the interviews (1989-1996) the 26 men and women featured in Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas were in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. One of the most endearing qualities about the people from El Valle is their positive outlook on life. As they reflect on their lives, they do so with a great sense of contentment. Now in their golden years, they are very much at peace with themselves, for they sense in their hearts that their mission as parents, grandparents and community people, through good and bad times, has been fulfilled and hence brought them a special happiness.

The storytellers in this corpus of oral literature, each with a distinct personality, are proud and humble people who expressed a special enthusiasm as they related the stories on witchcraft in their own manner and style.

--Nasario Garcia, 1999

To order Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas or other books by Nasario Garcia, visit Amazon.com

They're the Witches From Villanueva!

As told by Pablo Aguilar, El Amario, NM

This is what happened to me, and to my mother and my brother, there in Villanueva. Well, my stepfather was accustomed to going to work as usual, and my mother was of such demeanor that for ther there was no such thing as a mishap. She was capable of doing just about anything.

Well, one morning, very early in the morning, she got up and she said to us: "Let's go. Let's head for La Pintada, my dear children."

La Pintada is 45 miles from here. That's where she was from, a long time ago, and her father still lived there. It's a good thing we left in the morning, it took so long to get there. Anyway, she made us hitch up the horses, and we took off."

We had a horse we used to call Pela, very stubborn. Boy, he was such a stubborn horse that no sooner did he get to a little-bitty hill and there he was, holding back. We got to the foot of the hill that is the Villanueva trail. At that time it was a road for horse wagons. And that hill, well, it was straight up. It was very dangerous.

When we got to the foot of the trail, Mama looked on up ahead, up towards a place called Los Voladeros. Way up at the peak of the tallest of Los Voladeros there was this little old lady, all hunched up, at about 5, 6 o'clock in the morning. My mother could see her. Suddenly she said to us: "Don't look that way, children. Let's go!"

The horse was used to holding back whenever we got to that slope. But on that particular day he climbed it like it was nothing. He didn't hold back or anything. We went 45 miles from there to La Pintada, and by 2 o'clock in the afternoon we were already there. When we got there she spoke to her father. She told her father, my grandpa, what she had seen. "Oh," he said to her. "They're the witches from Villanueva!"

And that's the end of the story. The most important thing is that the horse did not refuse to climb the hill on that particular day. That was why we always had to take off so early, in order to have enough time to climb that slope. But on that day, as I say, by 2 o'clock in the afternoon, we were already in La Pintada.

This incident is something I can vouch for, because I saw it myself, with my own eyes. And may God punish me if it isn't true.

To order Brujas, Bultos, y Brasas or other books by Nasario Garcia, visit Amazon.com

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