Witches Day: The black mass of Enrique Marthen, the greatest wizard of Catemaco | The USA Print

His antlers were well developed and he looked nervously everywhere until his body went limp and he couldn’t see. The goat was killed after midnight, when it was already Friday, during the black mass to which EL PAÍS has had access, held in the house of Enrique Marthen, the elder sorcerer of the town of Catemaco, in Veracruz. No one could see what happened, but they all heard the howls of pain as the older wizard, knife in hand, bent down to kill the animal. Afterwards, those present fell into a strange silence that could actually be divided into two, that of the devotees who were waiting impatiently to be anointed with the blood of the sacrificed animal, and that of the influencers, who did not know how to explain that to their few followers. And that is only the first act of the ceremony.

It is Thursday morning, the day before the black mass, and Catemaco oozes a tranquility that only falters when talking about bujería. The battle between spiritualities becomes almost diabolical in the central square. There, in front of the Basícila de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the City Council has hung a banner with the activities for the Day of the Witches festival. The celebration is held every year on these dates. Every first Friday in March, witches celebrate a black mass in the privacy of their homes. The objective is to eliminate the bad energies accumulated during the year of work. To complement this famous ceremony and attract more people, the authorities organize parades of witches, music concerts, and cleanses to eliminate evil spirits. This activity brings to the town about 10,000 tourists every year.

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Photographs of scapulars and religious figures in the Basilica of Our Lady of Carmen Catemaco, Veracruz (Mexico). Aggi Garduño

Martín, a nice 23-year-old boy, hums as he scrubs the floor of the basilica with big licks. “It is ignorance that leads people to resort to the Devil”, he says with the delicate voice of someone who has learned to enjoy an act as innocuous as washing up, “because whenever you ask for something you have to give something in return and, however, you ask God and he gives you. But you have to make an effort, ”says the young man leaning on his mop. To counteract the negative energy of the black mass, the Church has scheduled acts to purify and pray for sinners. “The only true way is God,” says the young man before continuing to clean the floor of the Church.

Beyond modern and spectacular witchcraft, Catemaco is a town in which traditionally quackery has dominated, driven by the syncretism between indigenous rites, the Catholic religion imposed after the conquest, and the Cuban Santeria that arrived with the slaves that Spaniards sent here. That has created a breeding ground in which mysticism and dark beliefs thrive. Dagoberto Escobar Pereira, a 77-year-old neighbor, a former town journalist, publicist and construction worker, has lived through the changes that have made Catemaco an international center of witchcraft. He is a Christian, but based on effort and devotion.

Dagoberto Escobar Pereira, inhabitant of Catemaco, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Carmen Catemaco, Veracruz (Mexico).
Dagoberto Escobar Pereira, inhabitant of Catemaco, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Carmen Catemaco, Veracruz (Mexico).Aggi Garduño

“He tempted me once,” he says, pausing as he settles into the kiosk in the main square, with the basilica behind him.

-The devil?

-Yeah. It was a first Friday in March. I was sitting on the sidewalk, desperate because I had many problems, when a horse passed by on the street. It was pretty, very pretty. But he didn’t have riatas or anything, and he turned to see me, but I said no, I’m with my holy father, don’t come to tempt me. I looked at the clock and it was midnight from Thursday to Friday. And I wondered what such a beautiful horse was doing on the loose, that people who have money take care of those. I never touched it.

This is just one of the stories that Pereira tells. He wears old clothes that are a bit baggy on him. The mustache and the index and ring fingers are yellow from smoking. Before, even Catholics knew about “homemade witchcraft.” For example, when someone wanted a visitor to leave the house, they would put the broom upside down behind the front door. “And the visit would leave,” says Pereira in a dispassionate tone, as if he were saying that people drank water to quench their thirst.

Warlocks as they are now known, however, did not exist. “That was a modern thing, before there was no ambition to have money because there was no communication. “But we have free will, everyone can do what they want, it doesn’t bother me, it’s part of our culture and it’s true that it brings a lot of tourism to the town,” he says.

Malecón de Catemaco in the state of Veracruz (Mexico).
Malecón de Catemaco in the state of Veracruz (Mexico).Aggi Garduño

Before the first act

It’s already ten o’clock at night at Enrique Marthen’s house. María Mata is sitting waiting for the ceremony to begin with her red, low-cut dress, her neck full of protective energy necklaces, long eyelashes and an imposing attitude, sure of herself. The older sorcerer changed his life in July of last year.

“I was very ill and no one was able to help me. I spent three years going to the psychologist, but it didn’t work”, says Mata, who has come from California. His life began to change when he arrived at this lost house on the outskirts of Catemaco. “Now I know who I am and I’m sure of myself and I don’t need anyone else, I’m not emotionally dependent like before. I have my feet on the ground, ”she says as she places her heels on the floor. “That energy is perceived by my children and it has changed my life,” she says. The stories of other clients are similar. They were very bad, desperate, when Enrique Marthen rescued them from the darkness that ruled their lives. Now the sorcerer, dressed in a golden robe, enters the house through the front door holding a staff with an animal head strung on top.

Preparations for the celebration of Witches' Day are held at the El Ahijado Museum and Ceremonial Center.
Preparations for the celebration of Witches’ Day are held at the El Ahijado Museum and Ceremonial Center.Aggi Garduño

First act

The six-pointed star painted on the floor is filled with bottles of tequila, brought by visitors as gifts. The dancers withdraw and one of the wizards prepares to speak. He sounds the drone of the drones that record the act from above. One of the witches begins to speak. “We promote complacency instead of abstinence, we defend freedom without restrictions,” he says to the hundred people gathered there. Then Marthen steps up to the microphone. “We will now precede the sacrifice of life,” she says. The atmosphere is suddenly tense. The goat enters from one side, innocent, clueless, lost. Circles are formed, the aides-de-camp, dressed in a tight-fitting red leather costume, cover the view of all those present with a black canvas. Marthen takes a dagger from her sheath and shows it to the audience. “Please don’t take pictures of him, because of censorship,” says the witch in a small voice.

Then he ducks. No one can see what’s going on, but his microphone is on and the goat’s howling says it all. “Talk”, he asks as he cuts off his head, “talk”. “Hail Lucifer”, someone says, some follow him. The animal’s howling ceases. One of the warlocks has collected a whole bowl of his blood. “Strength, power, healing,” they all say. Marthen climbs onto the altar behind the cross. It is a small pyramid and at the end, an upturned cross. She puts the bowl of blood down on the floor and pulls out a hospital bag of blood.

“Well then”, it begins, “tonight, for the first time, we will shed human blood. Someone donated it today and it will be poured into this pyramid just as it was done in ancient times.” With the knife she breaks the bag and the blood spreads down the stairs of the pyramid. An intense, deep music comes out of the speakers. “May this blood wash away all the problems, all the negativities that would have surrounded our lives,” he says before spreading some pirul branches in the bowl of goat’s blood and sprinkling everyone with it. Those who want more come closer, put their hands in and smear their faces. Youtubers record everything they can. The goat has disappeared from the scene. His head is saved for the third act and his body is lying behind some bushes.

Black mass ceremony at the El Ahijado Ceremonial Center, in the city of Catemaco, Veracruz (Mexico).
Black mass ceremony at the El Ahijado Ceremonial Center, in the city of Catemaco, Veracruz (Mexico).Aggi Garduño

Second act

The private ceremony is held in the cave, a place illuminated by red lights and presided over by a naked Devil. The 40 people with the “press” pendant stay outside, waiting for the third act. The two journalists from EL PAÍS are invited to come in. Inside, on the central table of the space, three seated young girls slowly waddle. Each of them is covered with a fine black cloth. It is very hot and the room is almost completely filled. Marthen speaks and asks those present tonight, and without dwelling too much, ask Satan for something for the rest of the year. When they’re done, Marthen opens a bottle of wine and asks the girls to reveal themselves. They take off the black cloth. Her body is protected from nudity by leather garters that surround their bodies in circles. The sorcerer sprays her body with wine while they move like snakes, until the ceremony is over. People leave the temple backwards, so as not to turn their backs on the Devil. Most are sweating and their faces shine with exhaustion and devotion.

Private ceremony for sorcerers in the demon's cave.
Private ceremony for sorcerers in the demon’s cave. Aggi Garduño

third act

The third act takes place in Mexico’s first Church of Satan, still half-built. On a table they have left the head of the goat, the pirul leaves for the clean ones and a book of satanic prayers. Before burning the stupa and gasoline six-pointed star they read a few prayers. Enrique approaches the base of the star with a torch. Silently, with everyone’s eyes on him, he sets fire to the structure. “Long live Lucifer”, they shout in the red light of the bonfire.

Enrique Marthen Berdón was born in Catemaco, in a Catholic environment where he was taught that the devil was a dark and dangerous being. During his years working in the United States, he would clean up people close to him as a favor. But he began to educate himself, to learn about psychology, logic, philosophy, and about the sacred texts. “You start realizing that it was the Catholic Church that turned Lucifer into an evil being, when Lucifer precisely means being of light,” he explains.

Enrique Martín Berdón
Enrique Martín Berdón “El Ahijado” the elder witch. Aggi Garduño

Some time later she decided to return to Catemaco and dedicate herself completely to witchcraft. Like Martín, the Christian boy who swept the floor of the Basilica, Marthen also defends that his work has no effect if the other person does not make an effort. “You don’t have to give your soul to the Devil, but you have to work for what you want to get,” he defends. Politicians, businessmen, but also street sweepers have passed through his consultation. “We are all important, and when I enter here I attend to both of them equally,” he says.

“Do the sweeper and the businessman ask you for similar things?”

In this world everyone wants the same thing. The one who has nothing wants to have a little, the one who has moderately wants to have more, and the one who has a lot wants to have twice as much. The world is filled with an excessive ambition towards money. I try to guide them, but in the end everyone has to follow their own path in life.

On the first Friday of March, the sorcerers of this Veracruz town meet in a secret place to perform rituals.
On the first Friday of March, the sorcerers of this Veracruz town meet in a secret place to perform rituals.Aggi Garduño

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