Sorcerers and Astrologers
Occult science among the ancient Mexicans could be represented
as a middle ground derived between the tribal medicine
men and the magical practices of the medieval sorcerer. The
sources of information are limited, chiefly gleaned either from
the works of the early missionaries to the country, or from the
legends and myths of the people themselves.
Writing about the sorcerers of Mexico, Bernardino de
Sahagun, an early Spanish priest, stated that the naualli or magician
was one who enchanted men and sucked the blood of infants
during the night, a reference to the vampire-like characteristics
of Central American magical practitioners. He
observed that the magician was ignorant of nothing that appertained
to sorcery, and possessed great craft. Magicians hired
themselves out to people to work evil upon their enemies, and
to cause madness and maladies. He added
‘‘The necromancer is a person who has made pact with a
demon, and who is capable of transforming himself into various
animal shapes. Such people appear to be tired of life and
await death with complaisance. The astrologer practices among
the people as a diviner, and has a thorough knowledge of the
various signs of the calendar, from which he is able to prognosticate
the fortunes of those who employ him. This he accomplishes
by weighing the power of one planet against that of another,
and thus discovering the resultant applies it to the case
in point. These men were called into consultation at births and
deaths, as well as upon public occasions, and would dispute
with much nicety on their art.’’
Astrology among the Mexicans was, like their calendar, intricate
and advanced. (The reader is referred to Lewis Spence’s
The Civilization of Ancient Mexico (1911), Bernardino de
Sahagun’s Historia de la Conquista de Mexico (1829), and Bulletin
28 of the United States Bureau of Ethnology.) In connection with
the astrological science of the Aztecs, it is noteworthy that the
seventh calendric sign was the one under which necromancers,
sorcerers, and evil-doers were usually born. Bernardino de
Sahagun noted that
‘‘These work their enchantments in obscurity for four nights
running, when they choose a certain evil sign. They then betake
themselves in the night to the houses where they desire to work
their evil deeds and sorceries. . .For the rest these sorcerers
never know contentment, for all their days they live evilly and
know no peace.’’
The myths of the Mexicans give a good working idea of the
status of the enchanter or sorcerer in Aztec society. For example,
the Toltec god Quetzalcoatl who, in early times was regarded
as a culture-hero, was bewitched by the god of the incoming
and rival race, Tezcatlipoca, who disguised himself as a physician
and prescribed for an illness of his enemy’s an enchanted
draught that made him long for the country of his origin—that
is, the home of the rains. This would indicate that potions or
philters were in vogue among Mexican sorcerers.
In their efforts to rid themselves of the entire Toltec race,
the traditional aborigines of Mexico, the incoming race’s god
Tezcatlipoca was pictured as performing upon a magical drum
in such a manner as to cause frenzy among the Toltecs, who
leaped by thousands into a deep ravine by their city.
Wonderful stories were told of the feats of the Huaxteca, a
people of Maya race dwelling on the Gulf of Mexico. Sahagun
related that they could produce from space a spring with fishes,
burn and restore a hut, and dismember and resurrect themselves.
The Ocuiltec of the Toluca Valley also possessed a widespread
reputation as enchanters and magicians.
Divination and Augury
Although divination was practiced among the Aztecs by
means of astrology, there were other less intricate methods in
use. A College of Augurs existed, corresponding in purpose to
the Auspices of Ancient Rome, the members of which occupied
themselves with observing the flight and listening to the songs
of birds, from which they drew their conclusions.
The calmecac, or training college of the priests, had a department
where divination was taught in all its branches. A typical
example of augury from birds may be found in the account of
the manner in which the Mexicans fixed upon the spot for the
foundation of their city.
Halting after years of wandering in the vicinity of the Lake
of Tezcuco, they observed a great eagle with wings outspread
perched on the stump of a cactus, and holding in its talons a
live serpent. Their augurs interpreted this as a good omen,
since it had been previously announced by an oracle, and upon
the spot where the bird had alighted they drove the first piles
upon which they built the city of Mexico—the legend of the
foundation of which is still commemorated in the heraldic arms
of modern Mexico.
Dreams and visions also played a great part in Mexican divination,
and a special caste of augurs called Teopixqui, or Teotecuhtli
(masters or guardians of divine things) were set apart for
the purpose of interpreting dreams and of divining through
dreams and visions, which was regarded as the chief route between
man and the supernatural.
The senses were quickened and sharpened by the use of
drugs, and the ecstatic condition was induced by lack of sleep,
fixing of the mind upon one subject, swallowing or inhaling cerebral
intoxicants such as tobacco, the maguey, coca, the snakeplant
or ololiuhqui, and similar substances.
Some tribes of Native Americans believed that visions came
to the prophet or seer pictorially, or that acts were performed
before them as in a play. They also believed that the soul travMEXICO
AND CENTRAL AMERICA Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
eled through space and was able to visit those places of which
it desired to have knowledge. It was likely that the seers hypnotized
themselves by gazing at certain small, highly-polished
pieces of sandstone, or that they employed these in a manner
similar to the crystal-gazing practices found around the globe.
The goddess Tozi was the patron of those who used grains of
maize or red beans in divination.
On such native group, the Cuna people indigenous to Panama,
believed that the Avisua, sang songs of magic that have curative
powers—whether it was the healing of the sick, change
atmospheric conditions, or inspire a person to act in some oppositive
way. The witch doctors, or Neles, claimed powers of extrasensory
perception using them to heal, or see into the past,
present or future. The main source of those powers was
dreams, as well. From 1968 until 1972, Robert Van De Castle
conducted ESP tests among Cuna children, both boys and girls.
The results were inconclusive, with the girls scoring higher
than the boys. Whether or not any of these children were Neles,
was also not determined. If that is so, the powers of the witch
doctors, remain untested.
Charms and Amulets
The amulet was regarded in Mexico as a personal fetish.
The Tepitoton, or diminutive household deities of the Mexicans,
were also fetishistic. It is probable that most of the Mexican
amulets were modeled on the various ornaments of the
gods. Thus the traveler’s staff, carved in the shape of a serpent
like that of Quetzalcoatl, was undoubtedly of this nature, and
to it occasionally sacrifices would be made. The frog was a favorite
model for an amulet. As elsewhere, the thunderbolts
thrown by the gods were supposed to be flint stones, and were
cherished as amulets and as symbols of the life-giving rains.
Vampirism was an important part of Mexican folk belief and
there are various vampire deities. The notion of the vampire
that most permeated the life of average people is found in connection
with the ciupipiltin, or ghosts of women who have died
in childbirth. These haunted the crossroads, crying and wailing
for the little ones they have left behind them. But as in many
other countries, notably in Burma, they are malevolent—their
evil tendencies probably being caused by jealousy of the happiness
of the living.
In order that they do not enter their houses and injure their
children, the Mexicans at certain times of the year stopped up
every possible hole and crevice. The appearance of these ghosts
(Sahagun described them as ‘‘goddesses’’) at crossroads is highly
significant, for we know that the burial of criminals at such
junctions was merely a survival of a similar disposal of the
corpse of the vampire, whose head was cut off and laid at his
side, and entombed at a crossroads for the purpose of confusing
him as to his whereabouts.
The Cult of Nagualism
Both in Mexico and Central America a religio-magical system
called nagualism existed, the purpose of which was to
bring occult influence against the European conquerors for
their destruction. The rites of this practice usually took place
in caverns and other deserted localities, and were naturally derived
to a large extent from those of the suppressed native religion.
Each worshiper possessed a magical or animal spiritguide,
with which he or she was endowed early in life. This system
flourished as lately as the last quarter of the nineteenth
Central America
Information on magic and sorcery amongst the Maya,
Kiche, and other Central American peoples is even rarer than
that relating to Mexico, and there is little but local legend to
guide research in these areas. The great storehouse of Central
American legend is the Popol Vuh, an early study published by
Lewis Spence (1908), with some having appeared in more recent
years. This fascinating work of mythological history states
that some of the elder gods were regarded as magicians, and
the hero-twins, Xblanque and Hun-ahpu, whom they sent to
earth to rid it of the Titan Vukubcakix, were undoubtedly possessed
of magical powers.
As boys, the twins were equipped with magical tools that enabled
them to get through an enormous amount of work in a
single day. When they descended into Xibalba (the Kiché
Hades) for the purpose of avenging their father and uncle, they
took full advantage of their magical propensities in combating
the inhabitants of that drear abode. Xibalba itself possessed
sorcerers, for within its borders were Xulu and Pacaw, who assisted
the hero-gods in many of their necromantic practices.
Regarding divination, the Maya possessed a caste of augurs,
called Cocomes, or the listeners, while prophecy appears to have
been periodically practiced by their priests.
In the books of Chilan Balam, which are native compilations
of events occurring in Central America previous to the Spanish
Conquest, certain prophecies appear that seem to foretell
many events, including the coming of the Spaniards. These appear
to have been given forth by a priest who bore the title (not
the name) of ‘‘Chilan Balam,’’ whose offices were those of divination
and astrology. These pronouncements were apparently
colored at a later date by Christian thought, and not of a genuine
aboriginal character. For example, certain astrological formulas
in the books exist that are simply borrowed from European
almanacs of the century between 1550 and 1650.
Amulets were in great vogue among the Maya, and they had
the same fear of the last five days of the year as had the Mexicans,
who regarded them as nemontemi or unlucky, and did no
work of any description upon them. These days the Maya called
uyayayab, and they believed that a demon entered their towns
and villages at the beginning of this period. To avert evil influence
they carried an image of him through the village in the
hopes that he might afterwards avoid it.
In his book Atlantis in America (1925), Lewis Spence, who
published several books on the folklore of Mexico and Central
America, believed that there was some evidence for the influence
of the civilization of an Atlantis in what he found.
Death Day
Beginning in the days of the Spanish conquests, the original
Indian culture, religion, and superstitions have become inextricably
interwoven with Christian beliefs and customs, creating
a complex synthesis. With the modern history of war, revolts,
and revolution extending into the twentieth century, it is not
surprising that death has a special place in the symbolism and
folklore of the Mexican people. This is vividly illustrated in the
traditional celebration of All Soul’s Day on November 2nd,
when toys, cakes, and candies in the form of skulls are on sale
in the streets, with carnival style costumes and plays depicting
Although All Soul’s Day is an imported Christian feast, it has
blended with the Mexican Indian beliefs in which skulls and
death goddesses are typical of pre-Columbian art, with the
death orientation of the Spanish monastic orders, and the
Christian memento mori tradition, as well as the memory of wars
and revolutions.
The extraordinary profusion of death images is well illustrated
by the work of the Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe
Posada (1852–1913), famous for his calaveras (skeletons) that
ate, drank, made merry, rode bicycles and horses, brandished
swords and daggers, or were humble workers and revolutionaries.
Something of the extraordinarily complex history and beliefs
of Mexico is captured on film by the great Soviet director
S. M. Eisenstein in his uncompleted epic Que Viva Mexico of
1932. His vast footage remained in limbo, or was carved into
short films by other hands during Eisenstein’s lifetime. Political
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
and ideological complications of the time prevented Eisenstein
from completing the film as planned; but a 60-minute version
titled Time in the Sun was completed by Marie Seton in 1940,
and a longer reconstruction by G. Alexandrov (Eisenstein’s assistant)
and N. Orlov titled Que Viva Mexico was completed in
the U.S.S.R. in 1979. Both are available on videocassette, but
the former was released in Britain on the PAL system. The Alexandrov
and Orlov film is available on NTSC video from Ifex
Films, 201 W. 52nd St., New York, NY 10019. Both versions illustrate
the Death Day feast, as well as the history and folklore
of Mexico. An earlier short, ‘‘Death Day,’’ made from Eisenstein’s
material was released in cinemas in 1934.
Until his death in 1950, Enrique O. Aragon, a Mexian physician,
and dean of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico,
set out to investigate claims of paranormal activities, including
those of poltergeists. He worked not only to clarify the
phenomena, but also to expose fraud.
Organizations dedicated to the study of parapsychology and
the paranormal are limited throughout Mexico and Central
America. Those in Mexico are Sociedad Mexicana de Parapsicologia,
at Apartado 12-699, 03000 Mexico, D.F., Mexico; the
Instituto Latinoamericano de Psicologia Paranormal, at
Apartado Postal 156, San Juan del Rio, 768000 Querataro; and
the Fundacion Interncional Subdud (International Subdud
Foundation), located at Plutarco Elias Calles No. 702, Col. Club
de Golf, Cuernavaca, Morelos 62030, Mexico. The latter is a
branch of the international organization, and was established
in 1982 as a charitable organization. The foundation works
with the University of Zacatecas and the Instituto Politecnico
Nacional to help physically and mentally challenged adults and
children in Mexico’s rural areas. As therapy, the staff works
with the patients using energized gems, acupuncture, and Kirlian
photography as a diagnostic tool to determine the psychological
health of the children while they are in treatment. Panama’s
Instituto de Estudios Parapsicologicos, located at
Apartado 8000, Panama 7, Panama, and the Sociedad Hispano-Americano
para la Investigaticion Filosofica y Metafisica,
operating from the same location, also publishes, Boletin Informativo.
Courses in parapsychology were present from
1982–85, but were suspended at the National University during
the time of political unrest. A Spanish-language website for
the Parapsychology Institute in Mexico is available through
Berdecio, R., and S. Appelbaum, eds. Posada’s Popular Mexican
Prints. New York Dover, 1972.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Recinos, Adriàn, Delia Goetz, and Sylvanus G. Morley,
trans. and eds. Popul Vuh The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiché
Maya. London William Hodge, 1951.
Sahagun, Bernardino de. Historia de la Conquista de Mexico.
Mexico, 1829.
Spence, Lewis. Atlantis in America. London Ernest Benn,
1925. Reprint, Detroit Singing Tree Press, 1972.
———. The Civilization of Ancient Mexico. London, 1911.
———. The Gods of Mexico. London Fisher, Unwin, 1913.
———. The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico. London Rider,
———. The Myths of Mexico and Peru. London Harrap, 1913.
———. The Popul Vuh The Mythic & Heroic Sagas of the Kichés
of Central America. London David Nutt, 1908.