Can witches really fly? Well yes, but rarely on broomsticks. The broomstick is often associated with witches for many reasons (including the simple fact that historical witches didn’t have vacuums, but brooms were always at hand). The modern portrayals of witches flying, such as in The Wizard of Oz or the Harry Potter movies, has proven to be entertaining to millions of people; that said, brooms are not very effective flying machines. They lack any kind of propulsion system or comfortable seating.
In my experience there are two ways that witches actually do fly: by way of ointments and ingestion of plant entheogens, and a technique that I call dream trance or dreaming awake. My latest book, The Flying Witches of Veracruz: A Shaman’s True Story of Indigenous Witchcraft, Devil’s Weed, and Trance Healing in Aztec Brujeria, recounts my experiences learning both of these techniques of flying on the wings of perception from present day witches in rural areas of Mexico (mostly in the Tuxtlas mountain region of Veracruz state that is historically famous for its witches).
That mysticism, magic, and witchcraft pervades the area of the Tuxtlas is hardly surprising given its past history. The prehistoric and mysterious Olmec civilization, famous for their colossal stone heads, inhabited the region from approximately 1500 BCE to CE 300, after which the Teotihuacan people thrived in the area of Matacapan and later built the massive pyramids and magical city of Teotihuacan to the northwest of the Tuxtlas. The Pyramid of the Sun, built by the Teotihuacans, is one of the largest in the world. The Aztecs conquered the area next and reigned until the time of the Spaniards.
All of the pre-Columbian civilizations had at their core what modern people would refer to as magical or supernatural practices and beliefs. Even after Cortez and the Spanish missionaries decimated the native population, the magical systems continued, albeit covertly, and were gradually mixed with the magic-religious practices of the African slaves introduced to the area in the early 1500s. Today, the rural spiritualism of the area is a combination of Aztec brujeria, African-Haitian Voudon, Cuban Santería, and Christianity. Complementing and enhancing the mystical spiritualism of the area is the natural ambiance: Mist-shrouded extinct and dormant volcanoes, waterfalls, lagoons, and coastal sand dunes make the rain forest of the Tuxtlas region the perfect natural backdrop for witchcraft and magic.
My first encounter with the flying witches occurred when I was drawn to the annual Congreso Internacional de Brujeria (the International Conference of Witchcraft) in the "witch capital of Mexico," the city of Catemaco. On this first occasion I was poisoned by a malicious and jealous local male witch who spiked my margarita with the seeds of the datura plant. This caused me to "fly" to the cave of the dead, where I was found by a well-known curandero/brujo, who subsequently healed me and became my teacher of witchcraft and healing.
This amazing man also introduced me to the women witches, one of whom was my teacher in flying (through the use of various species of datura plants through ingestion and applying a specially-brewed ointment to mucous membranes). For humor and the sheer fun of poking at ancient stereotypes, my teacher once brought forth a miniature broomstick that she stirred the bubbling cauldron of datura with and that we then used to apply the ointment. From these "flights" I learned to fly to alternate states of reality, where my spirit allies taught me how to facilitate healing and diffuse evil spells cast by witches of mal intent. The spirits of helping animals acquired during these flights in the dream trance (mine include condor, a female and male wolf, cougar, snake, and even the ancient dwarf king from the pyramids of Uxmal) are an integral part of working with both good and evil witchcraft, hexing and curing.
The concept and reality of a person being both a curandero and a brujo comes from both a practical and cultural perspective of the people of the Tuxtlas; there are good witches and evil witches, and even witches that are both. I am simply using the terms witch and witchcraft to describe the people and events in The Flying Witches of Veracruz because they are the best English words I have to use. Brujeria is the Spanish word that most closely translates to witchcraft in English. However, like the English term witchcraft, the Spanish word brujeria is most commonly used to describe the evil or negative aspects and functions of the craft (even though most people with interest in this topic would agree that there are both good witches and bad witches, ergo good brujos and bad brujos).
In Spanish the word curandera or curandero (female and male, respectively) refers to a folk healer that "cures." In this context there is no negative connotation associated with these practitioners. But in my experiences with the healers (good witches) it became apparent that in order to be proficient at their work the healers needed to be versed in the art of evil hexing caused by bad witches. So, quite naturally their knowledge and experience necessarily included both spectrums of the craft. The Nahuatl word that most accurately describes the practitioners that became my teachers is tetlachihuic. However, it must be noted that the Aztec language of Nahuatl contains some forty different words that translate into various specialties of witches, sorcerers, and spiritual healers, such is the range and depth of their knowledge of the supernatural. The tetlachihuics can be described as women or men with supernatural abilities to either induce or cure illness; manipulate people’s consciousness for either good or bad; alter or influence events and circumstances through incantations, prayers, rites, ceremonies, and the use of amulets, talismans, and effigies; and are skilled in the use of plants and animals.
The "master" witches I encountered in the Tuxtlas, and that ended up being my teachers, had all of the abilities of the tetlachihuic, plus many more. Specifically, they are also specialists in what I call conscious dreaming or dream trance. This is a state of consciousness that allows the witch to consciously "fly" into the realm of the spirit underworld and "bring back" into everyday life information on illness and curing (especially having to do with soul loss or spirit possession). My teachers of witchcraft are so highly skilled at manipulating consciousness via the dream trance that they can even manipulate the dream trance of others. Throughout my latest book you will have the opportunity to see exactly what I experienced and how I learned through their teachings.
In the beginning of my instruction, I was given various species of the datura plant (devil's weed) to facilitate the dream trance state. Once I had experienced the dream trance state via the datura sufficiently to alter my "everyday" or "normal" consciousness, the datura was no longer necessary, although it was still employed on some occasions during extreme circumstances.
The usage of datura leads to a deviation in practicality with this latest book. I do not advise anyone to ingest datura. I was thrown into the world of datura without my consent, and I am lucky to be alive and relatively sane. Datura usage is included in this book simply because it was a major factor and central part of my lessons with this specific class of witches. However, the main crux of the knowledge shared with me by my teachers and what I want to share with you, is the dream trance and positive applications of working with the spirits of the underworld. Witchcraft in the Tuxtlas is fundamentally about spirit possession and/or soul loss. It is not necessary to experience or work in the realms of spirits and souls with datura. That’s just what happened to me when I went to Veracruz.
Practically speaking, I would make at least three separate contexts for spirit possession as I was introduced to it in the Tuxtlas. First, and most rarely, are people afflicted involuntarily by a spirit. Second are those that voluntarily are possessed, such as witches, shamans, sorcerers, etc. Third are those possessed involuntarily by a spirit not acting entirely of its own volition but rather at the bidding of someone controlling it (such as a witch or shaman).
With soul loss there are two main categories: the first is involuntary soul loss through extreme personal events, or the soul being taken by a witch or shaman. The second is voluntary soul loss by witches and shamans that send their souls flying into other worlds.
The concepts and experiences of working with spirits and souls during the flight of the dream trance is the central form of witchcraft that I experienced with the witches of Catemaco and the Tuxtlas mountain region. The flying witches also taught me that there are four main types of witches: the "little witches" that dabble in love potions and giving people bad luck, the "black witches" whose main intent is to harm and are effective from any distance, the "witches of death" who kill and suck the juices of their victims, and the many levels of curanderos involved in healing in the community.
My teachers put me through arduous trials and tests in order to experience all four types of witchcraft. In The Flying Witches of Veracruz I write about passing through these rights of initiation and with the help of my spirit allies become an experienced curandero/brujo, a tetlachihuic, in the ancient traditions of the indigenous people of the amazing Tuxtlas. From love potions to stealing souls through murderous acts, beautiful and amazing trips flying on the wings of perception to soul possession by malevolent spirits, the tetlachihuic works with many different circumstances and levels of awareness, perception, time, and reality.
Although, many of the experiences I share may be disturbing to some people, as they were to me, ultimately the healing knowledge acquired from these experiences I feel was worth the price and merits sharing. And boy was it a wild ride. The witches of Veracruz most certainly can fly...