Do you believe in witches? Well, if you do, chances are you were raised a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim, because all three of the world’s major religions proclaim that witches are real. Of course, these religions all condemn them. It is written in the Book of Exodus that “You shall not allow a witch to live.” Does that sound to you like the Bible says to kill them? Does to me. This is usually taken by rabbis, priests, ministers and imams as proof that witches are real.
Witches are quite real in the Hispanic culture, probably because here in the U.S., 55% are Catholic and 22% are Protestant. They are not to be confused with curanderas, which are folk healers. Witches are seen as evil in the Hispanic culture. They put curses on people, causing them to lose their hair, get sick, go insane and have bad luck. People sometimes go to a witch and ask them to “curse” someone with some malady or another. While it is true that both curanderas and witches are believed to have supernatural powers, witches do things that hurt people, and curanderas do things that help.
Growing up in a poor Hispanic neighborhood, I knew there was a witch or two nearby. I recall as a child a time that my cousin next door cautioned me not to step in a puddle of water because the witch down the street had sprinkled cursed water on her porch. My cousin said that if the cursed water touched me, it would make me sick. And everyone knew that if you heard a screech owl, called a lechusa, in the trees at night, a witch had taken on an animal form and was flying around your house.
One evening, my mama needed me to run to the convenience store two blocks from our house. On the way back I walked by a house where a small group of people sat outside at a round table with a large glowing candle in the center. I stared as I walked by with eyes as big as saucers.
The woman who sat at the top of the circle looked up at me as I walked by, barefooted, uncombed hair, staring at her. She leaned forward, reached to the candle and pinched off the flame with her fingers. She then held up her index finger and the candle flame was on the tip. She glared at me and grinned in an ominous manner. I dropped the can of baking soda and ran crying down the street to find my mama.
When I returned to fetch the baking soda, accompanied by my older brother Richard, there was no one at the table, and the candle was gone. Richard stayed close to me the entire trip or else I would not have dared it.
It was a parlor trick, of course. Now I know that, but at 8 years of age I could not know. What I remember most about that night is that when the witch looked at me, I felt cold and alone, weak and forsaken. Yes, forsaken like my mama had dropped me off at the bus depot and driven away. And it was frightening.
And remember how the curandera made me feel in my last guest essay? ‘Nuff said.