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

I Saw the Shiny Little Light

As told by Antonia A. Ortiz, El Pueblo, NM

I remember that a light used to appear here at this little hill. It would come rolling, and one night while I was waiting for my son, who was on his way back from Texico, I got scared. I saw the shiny little light headed this way. It was rolling like this, like a small lid. You could see the pebbles really well. And it stopped right there. I don't know what happened to it.

But a little old lady who used to live there, whose house ruins are still there, she used to tell me that gold was sprinkled through the rocks in the area, and supposedly could be found in the dirt of her basement. Once two men came and arranged to take two away two small boxes of dirt for assessment. They promised to return and tell her what they had found, but they never came back. The gold was probably extracted and ground up, so said her neighbors.

But that old lady used to tell me herself that as she ironed clothes she'd put them on top of the bed. And at night when she was going to gather the clothes, the light would come and bounce around on top of the bed. That woman used to say that people would also see the same light in her basement. I don't know exactly what to believe. I only know that I saw the light myself.

Oh, and by the way-that woman's father is also said to have seen the light. A streak of light that was headed straight down part of the road, and it crossed like a ray of light right in front of him. He couldn't figure out a way to cross. He was scared to death. He finally got home, but it seems he fainted when he did. Well, nobody ever found out what those lights were about.

And that little old lady I'm talking about, who said that there was gold powder there, she used to tell me that there in between that house, the pink house that's there, that's where a wall once was. She used to say there was a buried treasure there. God only knows!

Oooohh! Another thing I was going to tell you: My uncle Miguel, rumor has it, buried money around here, at a place called Los Canoncitos, that belongs to the Riberas. I believe it's that arroyo that runs through there, because Riberas lived here, and Jose's mom (her husband's mother) was a Ribera, and listen, a lot of people would go out there to dig. We ourselves went, and sure enough, there were holes that had been dug. I even got to go there with Jose. Jose used to say to me, "Well, let's see if you can find the treasure, or if I can find it."

We never found anything. The only thing we ever did was to dig a lot, but we never found a thing. Who knows? Who knows but what the Riberas themselves came took it away. Don't you think so? Because Uncle Miguel left these parts. Perhaps he took it with him.

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.

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.

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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