Witchcraft, Misterosos, Possession, Cures And Other Miscellaneous Superstitions, Beliefs and Omens
Many Dominicans do believe in witchcraft and other mysterious spiritual occurrences. Many of the beliefs come from religious and spiritual backgrounds and also from their African and Spanish heritage. This mix of a little bit of everything combines to make the Dominican culture so unique, interesting and wonderful.
Witchcraft, Misterosos, Possession and Cures
*Witchcraft is said to cause many illnesses here in Dominican Republic, especially if an illness or disease comes on swiftly or lasts a long time.
*Many illnesses are said to occur when a person hires a brujo/ sorcerer (male witch) or a bruja/ sorceress (female witch) to call upon the spirit of a diseased person to gain vengeance or because they are envious of someone. The end result is the person that used this means of getting even can become sick themselves. This because they became possessed themselves unknowingly. Because of this possession, they become physically or mentally sick.
*This spirit that causes sickness to the unsuspecting human is called the Bacá. This spirit is brought into existence to protect the owner of some property or to make another sick. Any person that the owner of this spirit comes in contact with will become sick or crazy.
*Diseases can be caused by not giving enough attention to the misterios / spirits and making them angry. If you make fun of them, don’t take them seriously, do not believe in them or do not give them the sacrifices they feel are their due. If you cause the wrath of a misterioso they could possess the offending human and cause illness, both physical and mental. If there is no visible cause for these illnesses it is then advisable to get in touch with a brujo so they can tell you how to deal with this problem or to aide in getting rid of this trouble causing misterioso. Also, it is recommended, if you have an angry misterioso possessing you to go on a pilgrimage. Many times this pilgrimage will include, among other things, repenting of the sins and sleeping on the floor in front of an altar.
*Sometimes the healer or Brujo will get possessed by this misterioso himself so he can be spoken through thus knowing by feeling and seeing the illness himself. In this way he can best know how to deal with and cure the problem. These possessions can be complete body and mind possessions where the misterioso enters the Brujo or Bruja. Some just prefer to use Vista Clara/Clairvoyant where they do not have to be possessed, only inspired, by going into a trance. Some say God inspires them others say the misterioso does. After these visions, they can see how best to cure a person or disease. Sometimes by only asking the possessor to go away rids the person, others times it is necessary to prescribe a traditional folk remedy of herbs and natural ingredients or by some specific action. They can use card reading, reading of coffee grounds or read water in a glass with a candle behind.
*There are the ceremonies for expelling evil spirits that have taken possession of someone. Witches and exorcists expel them with rituals and procedures in which they employ various tools, techniques and materials such as trying to persuade them to leave; drawing crosses with garlic on the hands, forehead and back of the possessed person; striking the victim with whips of brooms made of the leaves and branches of certain plants and bushes (e.g. guandule, anamú). The churches also have ceremonies for expelling evil spirits that are led by the minister or an important member qualified to do this ceremony.
*Many times, after a person who has experienced and cleansed themselves of this possession, have themselves become spiritual healers. After a person has overcome a disease or illness caused by these misteriosos, it seems they have, in many cases, gained the special powers to aid others in how to overcome the misteriosos. It is said that the only way a misterioso would permit them to be healed is for them to become Curanderos/ Healers themselves. The Curanderos are usually Brujos, both at the same time. They are considered to be quite powerful.
*Some cures are just the traditional Ensalmar / praying for health. Some are instructed to write their wish on a piece of paper then place it inside or under a magical object, maybe a statue, a candle, or a special stone or trinket. Some cures can include an exorcism, especially when a bad spirit called an Envío possesses the person. The bad spirit can be sent into some living animal or creature.
*There is a bottle that can be used as a trap to put the evil spirit in. There is a trap inside the bottle in which the person spits several times and trap’s the evil spirit.
*A graveyard caretaker or Barón del Cementerio/ Baron of the cemetery can send the evil spirit away. A bath, in a tub, spring or river, can be used with herbs or medicines in the water that one must wash in on the designated days and hours. This bath can wash away evil and also bring good luck as well, all depending on the ingredients and procedures used for this cleansing. There are many different amulets, among them animal teeth. Sometimes an item is burned and the ashes are taken internally or rubbed on the body.
*Many of these healers have learned their trade passed down from their ancestors. Their knowledge of herbs and the mental states of the people make many of their cures really work. The herbal remedies are many of which modern medicines have been derived. I am not sure about some of these healing medicines but many times a sickness can be just in the head and maybe a little superstition to make the sickness go away is all that is needed. If you believe it is gone, it is gone. Also, the herbal healing methods have been used since the beginning of time and many really do work. Some seem to come from Indian traditions and African traditions as well. Many are believed the world over only in slightly varied forms.
*Many Dominicans do believe in witches. They go to a Bruja when they really want to win the lottery or when they feel wronged by someone. A wife who knows her husband is cheating will go to the bruja to get a spell to make her husband impotent. Witches are also called to make medical remedies for the sick. They know how to use herbs and all the natural remedies. Brujas will use herbs, animals, chanting, singing, dancing, small idols, card reading and smoke in their consults among other things.
*The places that sell these remedies, candles and other items are called Brujarias. These stores and shops can be found in many places throughout the country. They have all sorts of candles and items from luck charms to an item that can be used to inflict curses.
*A baka is an evil spirit sent to occupy the body of an animal. Be it a goat, cow, dog, cat or chicken this baka is used to protect and to bring harm to anyone trying to hurt its owner. If you hear a knocking at the door late at night do not open it as it could be a baka looking for its next victim.
*A piece of red cloth tied to an item, even tied onto a human wrist or ankle, is said to protect from the witch and her evil eye. The red draws the attention of the bad being thus sparing whatever it is tied to.
*I’ve heard if someone has placed an evil voodoo spell on you the only way for you to break that spell is to throw a stone and hit the witch right on the forehead. It must bleed. If it doesn’t bleed, then the spell won’t go away.
More information about brujas in the myths and legends section
Some Personal Experiences
*Once I saw an owl flying by. I was talking to a friend in the park about it. He told me that it was a bruja and to be very careful.
*Another time I was joking with a man that I was a witch and to be careful not to make me angry. Every time I saw him in the next year or so he would run up to me and greet me like I was his old friend. Once I acted a little angry when he did not greet me right away. He was apologizing with such fervor, acting like he was afraid. After I heard him telling his friends that I was a very powerful bruja. I then knew that he really did think I had the power. I had to explain to him that I was just joking, I was not a witch. Now, when I see him, he waves but does not make the big fuss over me like he used to.
Miscellaneous Superstitions, Beliefs and Omens
*If a fighting rooster sees himself early in the morning when his head is still under his wing, he should not fight that day because he will lose.
*Don’t cross your eyes while a rooster is crowing.
*If one has an itch in the right hand they will receive money, but if it is in the left hand they will lose money.
*Tuesday the 13th is the equivalent to Friday the 13th in the USA. No matter how you look at it, it is bad luck. There is a saying for this day “Ni te cases ni te embarques ni de tu familia te apartes”/ Do not get married, do not sail and do not be away from your family. It sounds better in Spanish and it rhymes.
*If you lose something burn a velon / candle in offering to San Antonio and you will find what you lost.
*Never work with wet cement after 4 PM or you will get the infamous “gripe”/ flu.
*There are ciguapas who live in caves, often near a river, who have backward feet. When pursued, their tracks lead the hunters to where they have been. (more on Ciguapas)
*There are the speedy zanganos, who are able to travel amazing distances in a very short time.
*There are the resguardos / amulets that are worn for protection against enemies that are purchased from suppliers. The most effective, they say (and you know who THEY are), is a bag with a small cross attached that contains a special prayer. Others include the tooth of a cow, a fragment of burro bone, and a black coral cross.
*Beware of Coats or also known as Bilín. He can become a burro or other animals as he desires. People here have a lot of respect for Bilín.”
*During the 30 years that Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic, many countrymen were arrested for violating various laws. For example, if you weren’t farming at least 10 tareas (about 1.5 acres), the soldiers marched you off to jail. Some of these men were able to avoid arrest by making themselves invisible whenever soldiers were in the area; others turned themselves into stumps or rocks, or at least that is what you saw when you looked at them. A few men could escape from the soldiers by changing into eels and disappearing under the water when they crossed a river or stream on the way to jail.
*You are never to work or do anything of great effort on Corpus Christi Day. That is a “cosa mala”/ “bad thing” (which, for Dominicans, is one of those things that nobody really knows why is offensive to God, just that it is offensive).
*Having sex on a Good Friday (Easter Friday) is a bad thing. People who do, supposedly, will be stuck the rest of the day in whatever position they were in.
*You must always say God willing (“Si Dios quiere”, “si díos lo permite”, “con díos delante”), if you are talking about seeing someone tomorrow or if you are going into town (A man told his family that he was going to town and left out the important phrase. He walked, and walked and walked but he never ever made it to town!!)
*Never pick up coins from the ground. They might have evil spells, and if you pick them up, that spell will fall on you.
*If someone is calling your name don’t turn around on the first call. You must wait for the third call because it might be a zombie calling you to steal your soul.
*If the first transaction of the day for a salesman is on credit the salesman will have problems with the clients for the entire day.
*To mention Christopher Columbus’s name is very unlucky. Instead of using his name, Dominicans call him “The Admiral.”