Witchcraft and death, rites of evil in the Sierra de Zongolica, Veracruz
In the cosmovision of the Nahua people of the Sierra de Zongolica, many of the deaths of their countrymen are the product of evil rites or tlachiwilistli, since they conceive the possibility that another person, through a ritual specialist called tetlachiwia ("the one who does evil"), may have the power to influence the divinities, the supernatural, to harm another human being.
According to Iván Romero Redondo, a researcher assigned to the Center of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in the state of Veracruz, and who has dedicated a great part of his anthropological works to the analysis of the set of beliefs of this indigenous group, at least three types of death (mikilistli) can be distinguished among them.
The first of these may be due to accidents, lightning strikes, snake bites, labor mishaps, among other factors. One more refers to natural death, illness, old age, etc.; and thirdly, death due to murder and witchcraft, in which violence is established as a determining principle, as human power.
In the various Nahua villages settled in the Sierra de Zongolica, an intense ritual activity prevails, which in many situations and contexts, reveals the conflict and tension within the community. These expressions of tension and conflict, come to be assumed and represented in terms of tegogolia (rancor), tegogole (hatred) or in the extreme case of the practice of the rite of evil (tlachiwilistli), for example.
For the Nahua of this area, life and death are processes of association and dissociation between corporeal and ethereal elements, of a body that serves as a depository of soul entities.
Among the settlers, evil is represented by the tlakatecolotl, whom they conceive as the devil or in other cases, hierarchically superior to the Catholic demon. The tlakatecolotl is in effect the 'owl man', meaning that reveals its link with nature and the supernatural; in another analysis, it also responds to 'the man of the charred heart'.
The tlakatecolotl is the patron saint of the tetlachiwia, that is to say, of the specialists of the rites of evil; the popular belief -configured by means of stories, legends, and myths-, indicates that several of the attributes of these come from their relation and contact with the tlakatecolotl, to which, most of the rites celebrated at night have as objective to find him to favor a socially censured act.
The Nahua conceive that the tlakatecolotl resides in the center of the earth, in the "basements", they consider him as the lord of the mitlan, and it is through the caves that one can access the realms of this deity. Likewise, his conception as an owl man implies that his song announces the unleashing of tragedies and discomforts.
This nocturnal bird foreshadows for the Nahua, particularly for those who listen to it, serious illnesses or adverse situations for someone in their family, whose fatality is inevitable and is almost always a warning of violent death or witchcraft.
In this sense, many of the revelations and evidence of the sacred, of the divine dialogue with the supernatural, is established within the individuals themselves, through dreams. In the Nahuatl language, to dream corresponds to the concept tetemikilistli, whose root is the word death, in this way somnolence is erected as a space that allows the temporary dissociation of the unity of the person.
Within the framework of the tetemikilistli experience, the individual is able to experience travel to other worlds, and meet with the tonalli (conceived in a similar way to the soul of the Catholic religion) of other individuals, or to converse with gods or divinities and/or travel directly to the region of the dead.
The Nahua coincide in determining the premonitory character of dreams. An example of this is when they dream of dead relatives, friends, or neighbors, it implies that someone of the family will die or will kill in order to defend the family or the family patrimony, such as the land.
When dealing with the worldview of the Nahua of the Sierra de Zongolica through the axes of death (mikilistli) and tlachiwilistli (witchcraft), there are elements to deduce that they experience reality under the constant, integral, and interwoven interaction of the various planes: social, natural and supernatural.