No Cover Image

Witchcraft and Welfare

RAQUEL ROMBERG
Copyright Date: 2003
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/771239
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Witchcraft and Welfare
    Book Description:

    Persecuted as evil during colonial times, considered charlatans during the nation-building era, Puerto Rican brujos (witch-healers) today have become spiritual entrepreneurs who advise their clients not only in consultation with the spirits but also in compliance with state laws and new economic opportunities. Combining trance, dance, magic, and healing practices with expertise in the workings of the modern welfare state, they help lawyers win custody suits, sick employees resolve labor disability claims, single mothers apply for government housing, or corporation managers maximize their commercial skills.

    Drawing on extensive fieldwork among practicing brujos, this book presents a masterful history and ethnography of Puerto Rican brujería (witch-healing). Raquel Romberg explores how brujería emerged from a blending of popular Catholicism, Afro-Latin religions, French Spiritism, and folk Protestantism and also looks at how it has adapted to changes in state policies and responded to global flows of ideas and commodities. She demonstrates that, far from being an exotic or marginal practice in the modern world, brujería has become an invisible yet active partner of consumerism and welfare capitalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79783-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION: RITUAL ALCHEMY
    (pp. 1-26)

    After centuries of persecution by the Catholic Church in Europe and the Americas and against the predictions of the Enlightenment, brujería has not disappeared withmodernity; it has just changed its face. Long defined by the Catholic Church in theological terms as evil and the result of the workings of the devil, brujería has been continuously under attack in the Americas in various degrees of severity since colonization, its practitioners often persecuted and even punished with death. A very different set of attacks was launched since the nineteenth century by a secular ideology that portrayed brujería as an anachronistic remnant of...

  6. Part I. Shifting Faces
    • CHAPTER ONE GATEKEEPERS AND HERETICS: DISPUTING SACRED TERRITORIES
      (pp. 29-53)

      By what kind of awkward revenge does a witch-healer have a revelatory vision, à la Catholic saint, in an urban consumer society today? Perhaps the usurpation of Catholic signs, gestures, visions, and miracles has left its mark not only on priests and fervent churchgoers but also on witchhealers, so-called heretics. This odd complicity between persecutors and persecuted, originating in the distant past and surviving the Inquisition, seems to be resurfacing now in unexpected ways. Fame and pride replace destitution and shame.

      If the conquest of the Indies had been attained through the sword, colonization was carried out under the auspices...

    • CHAPTER TWO NATION BUILDING AND THE SECULARIZATION OF SPIRITUALITY
      (pp. 54-80)

      Veladas such as these have been extremely popular on the island since the late 1850s, when Kardec’s books on Spiritism were first introduced. One historian writes that the “evocation of spirits was in great vogue at fashionable parties in Puerto Rico as early as 1856” (CruzMonclova 1958:643). In the early years, however, and probably even as late as the first years of the 1900s, veladas seem to have been initiated or conducted not by members of the general public but by physicians, lawyers, journalists, and intellectuals identified with liberal and emancipation ideals who had access to these imported Kardecean texts....

    • CHAPTER THREE SPIRITUAL LAISSEZ-FAIRE AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF FAITH
      (pp. 81-106)

      Only in a world pervaded by the dynamic circulation of commodities does such an array of disparate religious icons and beliefs have the possibility of coming together in one place. Free-flowing international healing and magic beliefs found a fertile space here under laws protecting free trade and freedom of religion. Encouraged by the liberal consumer-capitalist state, practices previously marginalized enter a new phase within the free market enterprise of religious practice and alternative healing systems.

      Ernesto Pichardo, a santero promoting the institutionalization of Santería as a religion in the United States, said to Russell Miller of the New York Times...

  7. Part II. The Technologies of Cosmic and Worldly Success
    • CHAPTER FOUR BRUJOS, SAINTS OR BROKERS?
      (pp. 109-141)

      Having completed her improvised morning prayer, Haydée had officially opened her altar for the day and become “spiritually ready” to begin consulting her clients. She had been ill for a few weeks, and she looked forward to resuming her consultations. As on many other occasions when she explained the sacrifice involved in her mission as a bruja to clients and friends, she expressed it in this prayer, asking for strength and direction from God so as to help those in need. I saw how powerful her words could be, even for occasional clients who might have been invited to attend...

    • CHAPTER FIVE SPIRITUAL ASSETS AND THE ENTANGLEMENTS OF POWER
      (pp. 142-171)

      As I worked with Haydée in her altar on a regular basis, I gradually began to grasp what Tonio had meant when he said that Haydée was a mediumnidad positiva and that she had a beautiful, clean cuadro.

      One’s cuadro, or personal spiritual power, is also one’sdones, spiritual baggage, and it comprises the spirits—the guardian angels—who follow our lives from birth to death.¹ It can simultaneouslypromoteandbe a sign of havingprosperity, luck, love, and respect. Similar to Calvinist belief, prosperity is a sign of being “blessed” (tener bendiciones) by the spirits. But unlike the...

    • CHAPTER SIX THE GLOBAL BAZAAR OF SPIRITUAL ENTERPRISE
      (pp. 172-209)

      As on this occasion, in Spiritist consultation ceremonies and veladas, various elements of Catholic worship are combined with features of Santería. For instance, trabajos intended to restore a husband’s love are made with calabashes and then offered to Changó, king of love. In cleansing rituals, corn and beans, traditional offerings to Changó, are used in conjunction with the smoking of cigars (photo 6.2), associated with indigenous people and reverence of the Indio, exemplifying the merging of African, Creole, and indigenous deities, as well as Catholic saints, that occurs in Spiritist ceremonies such as Carmen’s.

      Likewise, dancing with colored bandannas (each...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN THE MORAL ECONOMY OF BUREAUCRATIC PROVIDENCE
      (pp. 210-235)

      The modern bureaucratic system has been viewed by a number of historical and political sociologists, for example, Max Weber (1983) and Reinhard Bendix (1978), as a positive development that turns away from traditional, irrational forms of governance. Briefly, the modern state, with its functional compartmentalization of bureaucratic organizations, was to be guided instead by rationality and technology. Notwithstanding its Kafkaesque dehumanization, the technical expertise of bureaucratic officials— responding only to the functional orientations of their organizations— would have an equalizing effect on citizens. This, it was assumed, would forestall partisan forms of mediation between individuals and the state. All this...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT ADVOCATES AND LAWYERS OF ANOTHER ORDER
      (pp. 236-254)

      The ultimate law that governs the spiritual sphere, the Law of Love, supersedes all human-made laws. All actions are to be measured against the life and teachings of Jesus, and it is left to the conscience of each person to determine the righteousness of an action. Even when human laws protect one’s actions, it is in the spiritual sphere that these actions will eventually be judged. Given the Spiritist Law of Cause and Effect and Law of Reincarnation, the consequences of one’s actions might reverberate for generations. Thus debts to society are expected to be paid at the spiritual level...

  8. EPILOGUE: THE HALLOWEEN EXTRAVAGANZA
    (pp. 255-270)

    At Halloween I was somewhat shocked to see how a “real,” professional Puerto Rican bruja—the one I had been working with for nearly a year— transformed herself into a pop culture, black-bonneted “witch.” In preparation for this Anglo festivity, Haydée had decorated her altar and house with plastic posters of caricatures of Halloween witches (pointed chins, crooked noses) flying on brooms. She also proudly exhibited a portrait by a nine-year-old girl depicting her bruja neighbor—according to another stereotypical image of witches—as a frightening old gypsy with big red lips and covered with jewelry. As part of this...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 271-288)
  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 289-304)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 305-315)