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

That Was the End of the Wailing Woman

As told by Valerio Garcia, Ribera, NM

People used to say that almost everyone around here had heard the Wailing Woman. I never did, but one time I went and read a book about the Wailing Woman, just so I could find out for myself what she was all about, where she came from, and all that.

In this book it says that in the 13th century they used to kill persons who were supposedly witches. And this one particular woman, they tied her to a post so as to burn her alive, because people claimed she was a witch. All of this came from Spain. When they tied her to the post to burn her, as I understand it, they burned an innocent person who was not a witch. And when an innocent person was burned, those who burned her, as well as their descendants, were going to hear her cries for centuries to come. On the day that they burned her, some of her relatives 20 miles away heard her cry.

And from that time onward, until right this very moment, they've heard her wail-so say the people-throughout all parts of the world that the Spaniards conquered. So there's people scattered all over the globe who are descendants of those persons who burned this woman, who up until today can hear her wail. I don't believe it, so I guess I'm not one of those descendants.

But there was a time, when I was young, when I did believe the people around here who said there was a Wailing Woman, all dressed in white, up by San Jose. People would see her every evening. So I asked my dad for permission to go kill the Wailing Woman with a rifle. My dad said that I was crazy, that there was no such thing. He didn't believe in wailing women either, nor in ghosts, nor in anything like that. My dad used to say that everything you saw during the day you'd see at night, except that at night you couldn't see it very well.

And it's true. That's the way things are. Because you can see that once a person dies it doesn't get up, even if people try to scare you with it. A live person, yes. But if it's dead, it can't get up-least of all if it's buried.

Anyway, they used to say that there was a Wailing Woman, a witch, around here. I was young, about 16 years old, something like that. I asked my dad for permission to go looking for her with the rifle, and he said: "What rifle?"

He didn't have one, but a relative of ours had a 30-30, and I went and asked him for it. He said: "Well, maybe. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to go see if I can find the Wailing Woman."

His reaction was like that of my father. "There's no such thing," he said, "but I'll lend it to you. But I don't have any shells. And who knows who's got any? Perhaps my neighbor Pablo has some. He's got a 30-30."

So I went to Don Pablo's house to ask if he could give me some shells. He said to me: "Does your father know about this?"

I answered, "My father has given me permission because he doesn't believe the Wailing Woman exists."

"Neither do I," Don Pablo said. "There is no such thing. But let's go see your father."

He went and said to my father: "Is it true that you gave him permission to go?"

"Yes," said my dad. "Let him go. He's not going to find anything anyway, because there is no such thing."

So I had permission. I went and got the rifle, and Don Pablo grabbed a few bullets and took off with me. What a nice state of affairs! Well, we came to one of those orchards. It was in the month of August, with lots of trees and vegetables and everything. We sat down underneath a tree and then he gave me a bullet and I loaded it, waiting for that Wailing Woman to come out.

But no one came for a long time. Then a poor woman comes out, dressed in white. I raised the rifle to shoot her down. But then Don Pablo grabbed the rifle and raised it upwards, and the bullet took off into the sky. "Are you crazy?" he said.

Well, it was a woman. Naturally I was going to shoot at her. It was her own fault for being dressed in white-the way people said the Wailing Woman dressed.

Don Pablo took the rifle from me and went to talk with her. On the way back he kept scolding me and saying, "Man, you're crazy!" And it's true: I was going to shoot her. I thought to myself that she was the Wailing Woman. But she wasn't. Poor woman. Who knows who she was? Don Pablo never told me. But for me, that was the end of the Wailing Woman.

There's things that happen in this world, and that's it. I don't believe there's any witches, or the devil, or anything like that. If the devil exists, it exists just like God-where we can't see it. We don't see God, but we know that He exists.That's the way the devil is. But he's quite different from God.

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

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