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).

FROM THE INTRODUCTION TO BRUJAS, BULTOS, Y BRASAS:

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


My Daughter Got the Evil Eye

As told by Viviana Tapia, La Sierra, NM

My daughter got the evil eye, and she still has a droopy eye. She was the reigning queen when somebody cast the evil eye on her. Many people suffer the same fate, and they don't believe in that sort of thing. But it is true. People do suffer from the evil eye. Many people have died from it.

If those who are afflicted with it are not treated before the first Friday after the spell, they'll die. Some are afflicted in the bloodstream, right? And it stays there. There they are, suffering. But those who are affected in the bile (liver), it will burst and they die. They die from the evil eye, because the bile will spread inside the body, you understand? Right away! All because of the evil eye. Some people don't believe in that, but it does happen.

And some people are hit harder than others. At least those who affected in the bloodstream can be treated and cured before the next Friday rolls around. Otherwise, there's no hope. But if the evil eye is cast in the bile, the bile ruptures and the people vomit and die. There's no cure for it.

Well, my daughter was acting as queen as part of the church celebrations and activities. She was wearing a crown and looked very pretty. Then someone hit her with the evil eye, and she became ill. And her eye tilted to one side. She still has a droopy eye. It didn't straighten out. They did it because she was very pretty.

People used to treat the evil eye with remedies. For example, you treated it by spitting wild pie plant with cachana, a root used to ward off evil. You had to spit it-spit in the face of the afflicted, so that the evil eye could be lifted, so that it would go away. It's cachana, that's what the medicine is called. The same persons who would spit are the ones who would chew the root. And it had to be a Juan or a Juana in order to cure the victim. Got it? Any other way was not possible. It had to be one or the other in order for them to cure the afflicted. If not, nothing doing.

In the past, whenever you saw a pretty child, you had to make the sign of the cross on its forehead so as not to inflict it with the evil eye, whether it was a baby boy or a baby girl. Later on as they get older, when you least expect it, they're afflicted with the evil eye, like what happened to my daughter. And that's the way we cured her, except for the droopy eye-by having a Juan spit on her face. Any other way, it's useless.

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

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