In Catemaco, a small town in Veracruz, the strife between the Catholic Church and witchcraft have lived together for decades in great difficulty, punctuated by periods of peace and confrontation. The recent conflict that has shaken this city, nestled between the Veracruz jungle and Lake Catemaco, arose from the construction of Mexico’s first satanic temple between its streets. The project is led by Enrique Marthen Berdón, an authority within witchcraft at national and international level, and whom Catholics accuse of wanting to promote “violence and the spirit of evil”, said Adriana Franco Sampayo, initiator of the initiative, succeeded more than Collect 26,000 signatures against the construction.
Juan Beristain de los Santos, priest of the Archdiocese of Xalapa, one of the organizations that supported the collection of signatures, assures that the construction of the temple, of which only one of its walls is currently built, “affects society in general, not just for the Church.” The organizations Misión Rescate México, Codal, Pastoral Familiar, National Front for the Family and the MAC Women’s Association have also joined the complaint, collecting signatures on a document addressed to Adán Augusto López Hernández, Minister of the Interior of Mexico “The construction of this temple will have negative consequences, it encourages violence and illegality with this excuse of religious freedom,” regrets the priest. He also believes that people resort to these “dark” solutions because the Catholic faith is a “personal commitment ” require that people don’t want to show. “When you break up with your partner, but it’s up to you responsibility, there is no magic solution that can fix this,” says De los Santos.
Marthen Berdón’s cave in Catemaco, from where she practices witchcraft Jana Cavojska (Getty Images)
Berdón, the greatest magician of Catemaco, defends himself and assures that Lucifer is not what people say. “It is an entity that religions themselves have been responsible for turning into something bad. Until the arrival of the Holy Inquisition, Lucifer was considered a good being,” he says. He wants to build the temple so that believers have a place to worship Lucifer or Luzbel (meaning bright or shining), God’s favorite angel who was cast out of heaven for rebelling against him. “People who have seen me know that I don’t preach hatred or resentment, I preach respect for human life. Living in peace means that we live a better life,” says Berdón, who wants to finish his temple before Halloween, which is celebrated in Catemaco on the first Friday of March.
Beyond the religious struggle, it is undeniable that the cult of the “evil” faith is a widespread phenomenon in Mexico and that it is gathering more and more adherents every year, in a country where the majority of people (95.1%) have any Belongs to a religion or has beliefs. The majority remains Catholic, but as the book Beliefs, Values and Religious Practices shows, “religious diversity” has increased in Mexico in recent years. Coming from a long line of magicians, Berdón assures that the practice itself hasn’t changed much, what has changed is the environment. “Before it was made more secretive, people couldn’t get Lucifer tattoos, nor could they wear necklaces or earrings that represented their faith,” he says.
A magnet for tourists
Internationally known for its witchcraft, Catemaco attracts increasing numbers of tourists who have had a significant impact on the city. In this land of sorcerers, sorcerers and shamans, people come to try to solve their health, love or business problems through non-traditional methods. There you can perform a cleansing to ward off envy and remove the “evil eye”, attend a black mass to worship Lucifer, make a spell or buy a protective amulet. Warlocks work with black magic, healers with plants and shamans with “white magic”. Prices have skyrocketed in recent years, with magicians charging between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos to salvage a business that has collapsed.
Travelers in canoes in the Lagoon of Catemaco on Witches’ Day 2022. Yerania Rolón Rolón (Cuartoscuro)
Dagoberto Escobar Pereira, a resident of Catemaco since he was born there 77 years ago, is somewhat unhappy with the commercial dynamism that witchcraft has taken on in his town. “In the past, when there were no roads and you had to bring things into town on mules, you didn’t see these vicious circles,” he says over the phone from there. “But the Catholics won’t achieve anything either, because freedom of belief has to be respected,” he says. “Now everything is ambition, everyone has the ambition to earn more and more because everyone wants their car. Before their work was not glorified, they did it there without making much money on their ranches and some lived in caves,” says Pereira, who worked as a publicist before retiring. He also speaks of strange episodes that he believes in with the utmost implicitness, such as sorcerers making pacts with the devil and turning into animals, birds talking between the leaves of the trees. “And that Lucifer is a being of light… in this world everything is even, therefore there is sun and moon, light and shadow, good and evil and so on.”
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