A woman burns a piece of clothing in a flaming pentagram during a black mass on March 2, 2019, in Catemaco, Mexico. The action symbolized the closing of a cycle by destroying the garment. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres

In Mexico, modern witches celebrate ancient rites of spring

CATEMACO, Mexico (RNS) — On the first Friday of March, sorcerers, witches, sahumadores, healers, snake-handlers, herbalists and spiritual guides appeared as they have for almost 50 years in the streets of this small town in the southern Mexican state of Veracruz, heading for "La Punta," the village's ceremonial center on a spit of land that juts into the Catemaco Lagoon.

Although the history of witchcraft in Mexico goes back to pre-Hispanic times, the last half-century has seen a boom in the popularity of ancient rites as a practice and a spectacle. According to Catemacoan history, witches performed ceremonies and rituals on the first Friday of the third month of the year to renew their supernatural powers.

Black masses and other rites are held at Catemaco's La Punta, or tip, on the Catemaco lagoon in Veracruz, Mexico. La Punta was chosen because it was the first human settlement in the town. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Sorcerers, witches, shamans and mystics parade through the streets of Catemaco ahead of "First Friday of March" ceremonies, on March 1, 2019. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

At La Punta, a black mass is led by a senior sorcerer, who gives thanks for the gift of "Mother Earth, water, fire and air," according to a local herbalist who goes by the name of the goddess Pachamama. The mass aims to "get rid of all the dark negative energies and cleanse our souls," she said, adding that it is said that in the hills surrounding Catemaco there are sorcerers who perform "a black mass to reaffirm their pact with the devil."

Witches perform a black mass on March 2, 2019, in Catemaco, Mexico. They make a pentagram of fire symbolizing the closing of a portal. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The Olmec, an ethnic group that inhabited Veracruz 1,500 years before Christ, were astronomers, and the Catemaco rites are held in March to mark the alignment of the planets and to honor the beginning of the spring and the renewal of the harvest.

An herbalist known as Pachamama has participated in Catemaco's ceremonies for the last 10 years. Pachamama believes she inherited the herbalist tradition from her grandfather. RNS photo by Irving Cabrera Torres


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.