The spell of rending
A few years ago, in the spring of 2010, I was getting into making absinthe, and had been struck with a more ancient variation of the simple anise and wormwood concoction that is modern absinthe. The more medieval variation is known as absintium, and was used as a medicinal liquor, it is a combination of 15 different herbs, the main ingredient still being wormwood, but the others all adding to a particularly pleasing experience that had the odd side effect of getting a person incredibly drunk and waking them with no hangover (this is the main reason I was interested in it).
Most of the Herbs I needed could be found at the polish health stores that were in the neighborhood just to the north of us, but there were a few that I could not get there, so I went to the botanicas in the neighborhood to find them. A botanica is a latin american magic shop that can be found all over in most major urban areas, they sell things like catholic saint’s candles, incense, medicinal herbs, magic potions, tarot cards, religious icons, folk religion idols and alters and the like. The botanica is set up to serve the neighborhood where it is situated, so the specifics of what is there is different depending on the surrounding population. If it is a good botanica you can usually get either a tarot card reading or a palm reading there as well.
This particular botanica where I found the herbs I was looking for was overseen by a powerful looking old Mexican woman and her son. My mother in law Norma had been wanting to this botanica for a while to check it out, and I knew that this place was going to be good because when I walked in I saw spells and charms tattooed up and down the son’s arms. I struck up a conversation with him and when I told him the herbs I was looking for he thought I was making a healing potion, and that I was a bit of a practitioner myself. I told him that I was just making liquor and he was impressed. However, while I had been having this conversation the head of the shop had come out from behind a curtain and offered to read Norma’s cards, because she had such an interesting aura (her words, not mine). The woman my relative into the back and read the cards. When they both came back around twenty minutes later Norma told me that she had gotten the best card reading she had ever received, and that the woman had told her that if she wanted to be rid of a person that was bothering her, the woman could take care of it with a ritual for a small fee, for she was a priestess of palos, a Central American folk religion. Norma told her she would think about it, and we left the shop.
On our way home, my wife, Norma and I all talked about this and we agreed that she would do the ritual on the condition that my wife and I would come with her. I was all for this, growing up on reservations had allowed me to witness some really interesting native magic and rituals, but I had never witnessed firsthand the hybrid folk religions of Central America. I also try to live by the motto that if an opportunity for adventure gets put in my path, I should take it. This is a way of living that has gotten me in a few bad situations but it also got me a wife and lots of stories.
The day of the ritual arrived and we returned to the botanica. We were ushered into the back by the woman and her son, who was carrying a chicken in a cage covered by a blanket. We were directed to go into the basement, and I noticed as we started down the basement steps that there was a heavy iron chain across the threshold of the basement door, and another chain across the bottom of the stairs.
When we got to the basement it was almost like we had gone into another world, or at least another part of the world. There were idols and alters all along one wall, and spell circles drawn in chalk all around the walls. There were also several large stains of what looked like dried blood on the walls, some drawn in patterns, and some in random sprays. We were told to sit in some chairs surrounded along one wall surrounded by a heavy chain on the floor while the old woman and and her son moved into what looked like a giant cage iron with chains across the threshold where they began the ceremony. Like I said before, I was pretty familiar with native rituals, but as soon as I went into that basement it just felt wrong and twisted.
The curse began with a large spell circle drawn on the floor, segmented into six pieces by lines with tridents on both ends, with strange symbols drawn onto each of the pieces. The old woman came to us and smudged us with sage, and then moved into the spell circle and began singing and chanting in what sounded like Spanish but with words mixed in that I had never heard before. She lit a cigar, took a large bottle of vodka in her hand and proceeded around the room, speaking to each of the altars before blowing smoke on it and then taking a mouthful of liquor and spraying it on the altar. After she completed this ritual on all of the altars, she then moved to the center of the spell circle, took the chicken in her hands and began to speak softly to it. She went around the room with the chicken, speaking softly and presenting the chicken to each of the altars. She came back to the spell circle, passed the chicken to her son and picked up her cigar and vodka. She blew smoke into the chicken’s face, and sprayed it with vodka and began chanting louder. From the floor beside her she picked up a knife, and drew the back of it slowly over the chickens head and neck, while continuing to chant. She suddenly stopped chanting, grabbed the chicken by the head and sliced its throat open. She collected the blood in a bowl, and when the dripping had slowed, she used the knife to completely decapitate the chicken.
She left the head in the center of the circle, and took the body around the room with the bowl of blood, pouring it out on the altars and flicking the body to spray blood against the walls. When she returned to the center of the room, she threw the remaining blood from the bowl into the center of a spell circle on the wall, packed up the head and the chicken, and came to talk to Norma. The conversation was hurried and in Spanish, so I did not catch much of it, and then we were ushered out of the basement, and then back onto the street.
We got in the car with the boxed up remains of the chicken, and Norma told us that she had been instructed to take the head to the woods, throw it over her shoulder and not look where it had landed. The body had to be taken to a graveyard and left in front of a headstone. We did as instructed, and when we were finished, we went out for lunch, but I could not shake the feeling that we had done something very wrong and evil for a couple weeks, and I never went back to that botanica.