Travel

Scenes from a Mexican Black Mass

For three days every March, witches and warlocks gather in Catemaco to burn pentagrams and summon the devil.

by Vincent L. Long
Aug 19 2015, 1:45pm

Vincent Long is a Melbourne-based photographer who has just returned from several months in Central America. He showed us these photos, and we wanted to know what the hell we were looking at. So in his own words, this is what happens at a Mexican Black Mass.

I'm not really sure what it means to be an actual sorcerer. From a Western perspective it probably just means you're a doctor, or a fruitloop. But in the Mexican town of Catemaco, in the Gulf state of Veracruz, it means you professionally bring luck to the luckless, heal the sick, and summon the devil. And from an area with a lot of sorcerers, a man named Gonzalo Aguirre Pech was possibly their most famous.

In the 1970s Gonzalo was known as the Brujo Mayor (which loosely translates to 'high witch' or 'sorcerer'). Alongside his aptitude for mysticism, he'd also helped to pioneer the area's tourism industry, with his crowning achievement a witchcraft convention called the Congreso Nacional de Brujos de Catemaco. Basically this is like a trade show for witchdoctors, which over the years has become a three-day festival. Held in March, the annual celebration is attended by some 200 shamans, sorcerers, healers, and herbalists, as well as up to 5,000 spectators.

The Brujos de Catemaco was a notoriously gruesome scene for years, although recently it's been toned down, with sacrificial animals banned throughout Veracruz. However, the more original, bloodthirsty variations still occur in the nearby hills. And this is how I arrived at a spin-off black mass, run at a place called White Monkey Mountain.

The ceremony works like this: Each participant arrived with a particular problem that he or she had in their lives, for example, a failing marriage, a need for revenge, or an unsuccessful business.

Then they knelt before one of eight shamans, and were blessed with incantations and incense as a number of live chickens were brought out. Their necks were quickly wrung and heads removed, and their blood spurted over the kneeling supplicants.

After this they brought out a goat. This is pretty hard to watch as the goat was clearly terrified and bleating hysterically, but it too was held, and its throat cut. This time they collected the blood in a large copper jar.

The shamans and supplicants then passed the jar between themselves, drinking the warm goat's blood. Based on their expressions it wasn't delicious, but allegedly the black magic wouldn't work without the energy and spiritual power of the blood. Once this was over, the shamans and their new converts gathered around a 15-foot-high blazing pentagon and begin chanting incarnations to Diablo. This was to summon the beast into our midst, which at the time was a genuinely nerve-racking prospect.

Diablo didn't show, or at least not for me, and after a while we were led down into a subterranean cavern adorned with upside down crucifixes and a giant statue of Lucifer with an erection. Everyone then began spitting tequila over the erection, in deference to their deity. I couldn't tell whether this was about admiration or disdain, as it was all a bit frenzied.

Here, I was told, was where it all came together. The new adherents swear their allegiance to Diablo and promise to fulfill their duties to him on pain of loss of their souls forever. Then the assembled shamans cried "Hail Lucifer" and the spell was apparently sealed.

I didn't stick around much after that. I felt like I'd seen all the blood and gore I could handle. And anyway, I value my soul too much.