Witchcraft and Welfare

[ Latin American Studies ]

Witchcraft and Welfare

Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico

By Raquel Romberg

A masterful ethnography of Puerto Rican brujos, who advise their clients not only in consultation with the spirits but also in compliance with state laws and new economic opportunities.



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6 x 9 | 335 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-77126-0

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.

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Ritual Alchemy
  • Part I. Shifting Faces
    • Chapter One. Gatekeepers and Heretics: Disputing Sacred Territories
    • Chapter Two. Nation Building and the Secularization of Spirituality
    • Chapter Three. Spiritual Laissez-Faire and the Commodification of Faith
  • Part II. The Technologies of Cosmic and Worldly Success
    • Chapter Four. Brujos, Saints or Brokers?
    • Chapter Five. Spiritual Assets and the Entanglements of Power
    • Chapter Six. The Global Bazaar of Spiritual Enterprise
    • Chapter Seven. The Moral Economy of Bureaucratic Providence
    • Chapter Eight. Advocates and Lawyers of Another Order
  • Epilogue: The Halloween Extravaganza
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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As I began my research in Puerto Rico in May 1995, I immediately sensed a predicament: how was I to explain my research interests to people both in and outside academic circles? I found myself using all kinds of circumlocutions, as my topic is problematic in a predominantly Catholic society. Neutral terms such as religión popular (popular religion) and catolicismo popular (folk Catholicism) soon became my linguistic saviors and, through trial and error, drove me to what seemed a more successful if yet ambiguous way to name my topic, espiritismo (Spiritism), a word that gradually became a key that opened many doors. In the archives, in the streets, and at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, people would react immediately to my inquiries, directing me to written sources or volunteering their personal experiences and secondhand stories that involved their neighbors or family members. I noticed that sometimes when I mentioned religión popular it prompted people to recall some sensational or out-of-the-ordinary event usually related to Santería. Santería is a religion based and heavily dependent on a hierarchical system of initiation, and—as part of its foundational belief in the reciprocal exchange of cosmological energies—it includes animal sacrifice. In the public domain Santería is construed as a foreign, often dangerous religion brought to Puerto Rico after Castro's revolution by Cuban exiles who were initiated in the religion as santeros and babalawos (high-ranking priests). For the initiated, it was as if Puerto Ricans, by the mere fact of being Catholic—even in the most anticlerical ways—practice a form of religiosity that is "normal" or uneventful, certainly not "weird" or foreign enough to be the object of anthropological study.

To my relief, these linguistic strategies—tiptoeing between religión popular and espiritismo—finally came to an end, thanks to Sara, one of my neighbors in Old San Juan. Because I passed by her open bay window every day on my way to and from the Archivo Nacional, we began exchanging hellos. This is one of the advantages or disadvantages of living on the ground level of a rowhouse apartment in the colonial quarter of a tropical country such as Puerto Rico, where windows are kept open throughout the day and the sidewalks are so narrow that it is almost impossible for a passerby not to see what is going on inside. I soon found myself initiating conversations with Sara, who, having retired from the government several years earlier, would customarily sit by her partially shuttered window, enjoying the breeze and conversing casually with her neighbors. I found myself using these conversations to get closer to her window so I could peek inside her small apartment and see more of the four-foot-tall wooden figure of Archangel Michael hanging on the wall to the left. After my landlord told me that Sara was a well-known, rough, hot-tempered santera, I became even more curious about her unusual sculpture.

Every morning on my way to the archives and every evening returning, I would stop to chat with her for an hour or so, and on the occasions when I was invited in, we would have a cup of coffee or a snack together. I learned that she was not only a Catholic and a santera but an espiritista as well. Actually, she saw herself as an espiritista who had to undergo initiation in Santería as a result of a sacred message given to her in divination during a bembé, a drum and dance festival for the orishas, or deities, that asserted it was essential for her health to do so. Many espiritistas also undergo initiation in Santería, and even those who do not, incorporate some Santería elements in their worship and spiritual work—except, of course, animal sacrifice. Depending on who is speaking, the latter practice is labeled respectfully or half mockingly "santerismo." But Sara never used this term. After listening to my painfully lengthy explanations about my dissertation plans, Sara became my teacher, instructing me to recognize the nuances of Spiritist mediumship. "There are some [mediums] who learn to control their trances in Scientific Spiritism centers," she told me early on. "In these schools they learn to receive the spirits in more refined, less coarse ways. But there are others who enter a trance in more expressive 'uneducated' ways." Jokingly, I exclaimed, "Then I'm more interested in those 'uneducated' ways!" With relief, Sara responded, "Oh, so you are going to do a doctorate in brujería!"

In retrospect, I realize that this was one of the most important lessons I learned at the beginning of my research, one that would enable me to feel like an insider from that moment on. What Sara was telling me was that brujos are espiritistas, powerful enough to have mastered communication not only with "enlightened" spirits but also with those "evil," "dissatisfied," "wild" ones. I had been introduced into the lingo used by insiders. For them, brujería is a legitimate term that indexes not only their ability to heal and solve spiritual problems (as I would learn afterward) but also their pride—even arrogance—in their trade, a far cry from the dread and shame of the past. Conscious that the negative stereotypes of brujería stem from a long history of persecution (paralleling that of European witchcraft), brujos, or witch-healers, today seem to take pleasure in deliberately using the word brujería—a word that hitherto would have sent them to the stake—to label what they do. I have learned from Sara that openly mentioning brujería actually indexes the pride and empowerment of brujos now that alternative healing practices are "in" and the legacy of the Inquisition is "out." After all, their trade has survived centuries of public vilification. Surviving attacks for being rooted in so-called evil, primitive, and superstitious beliefs, their trade is still thriving in a postcapitalist urban society.

For practitioners, that I—a Jewish-born Argentinean university woman—stated publicly my interest in studying brujería was a gesture that made clear my willingness to hear and write about what they had to say in the manner they chose to communicate it—without hiding behind euphemisms. I think it was my way of honoring their pride in what they do. What follows is inspired by this basic attitude, which enabled me to establish a personal relationship with several brujos, especially Haydée, a woman who from the outset defined herself as La Bruja de Villas de Loíza (the Witch-Healer of Villas de Loíza) and with whom I formed an intimate, long-term friendship. As part of her mission—helping people with her "gifts," as she put it—she wanted to divulge what brujería really is. Curiously and contrary to classical anthropological fieldwork entry stories, I did not have to do much to enter into her life and work. She did it for me.


I remember the day I met Haydée, "La Bruja Número Uno de Villas de Loíza" (the Number One Witch-Healer of Villas de Loíza). Tonio, an old, well-known brujo I met by chance in Loíza Aldea, had sent me to her because "she's a positive medium—she has a beautiful, clean cuadro [spiritual power]." As he had only her address, no telephone number, I would have to go without first setting up an appointment if I wanted to meet her. I was quite apprehensive about doing this, but I felt the urge to meet her right away. Following his directions, I arrived by car without once having lost my way through highways, roads, and paths. It seemed to me that the house looked exactly like the others in the area, except for the yellow window trim and columns. Like the other houses, Haydée's had an iron fence in front of the garden and the driveway, but it also had an entirely enclosed, attached garage. There was no bell to ring. I felt intimidated and discouraged at finding all the entryways—the iron gate and the main and garage doors—closed and no way to communicate that I was there to see her. It was already midday, and the temperature had risen into the nineties. The street was deserted. I called out a timid "Hello?" No response. Seeing all the shades down, I ventured several more, less timid hellos, all unanswered. I was about to leave when a black woman opened the front door and, without approaching, asked me in a raised voice what I wanted. I uttered the first thing that came stumbling to mind, "I was sent by Tonio to see Haydee," unsure whether she in fact was Haydée. Without a word, she turned and went back inside. When she returned a few minutes later, she told me that Haydée was not working that day because she was ill and suggested that I come back "in a couple of days." I insisted that I had not come to consult with her but just to talk. "I am from Philadelphia," I said, "from the University of Pennsyl. . ." Again, she left abruptly. When a few minutes later I heard the sound of keys turning, I was relieved. The woman finally opened the iron gate. When we were at the door she said simply, "Pase" (Come in), and silently steered me inside, to Haydée's bedroom.


In a comforting air-conditioned, dimly lit room, I distinguish a woman lying on a twin bed between white satin sheets and lace pillows, her lips painted bright red, her hair up in rollers and neatly covered by a net. She smiles at me. As I begin introducing myself and telling her about my interest in espiritismo, she takes over my explanation as if she already knows my intentions. I feel relieved. I will not have to struggle to articulate my reasons for doing research on such a topic, reasons I still had not figured out myself. Haydée conducts the content and pace of this, our first encounter.

"I'm not feeling well today, you know?" she says. "Spiritual work has its own risks. After days of work from dawn til dusk, this is what happens to me. I always feel ill afterward. So . . . Tonio, El Brujo Número Uno de Loíza sent you to me—La Bruja Número Uno de Villas de Loíza? He's the greatest. He's my spiritual father. My own father used to come to his veladas [nighttime spiritual gatherings open to the public]; and I remember, as a kid, coming with my father at 5:00 A.M. to his altar [altar room], which was already packed with people who had come from every corner of the island.

"But now Tonio's very old. He begged me to take over his altar, but I can't. I don't have enough time for my people. You see me now; I have to rest after so many consultations. They drain me—my matter, I mean. So then I come to my room, turn on my air conditioner, and tell Nina not to let anyone in. But I let you come see me because Tonio has sent you and you say that you want just to talk to me, to make an interview about me." At this point I find myself asking that always dreaded question: "Would you mind if I use my tape recorder?"

"Sure, anything you want. I want people to know what espiritismo is, what brujería really is. You said you're from which university? I could come with you and tell them what espiritismo really is, as I practice it, nice and clean. But the life of a bruja is not easy, as you see. I suffer a lot. This is why I have my Bible here by my bed. I read, I pray, I cry; this is how I cleanse myself. But I'm happy. I don't have to eat, I just need my spiritual bread.

"Usted tiene un cuadro de Gitana" (You have the cuadro of a Gypsy woman), she tells me as I am about to leave and without asking if I can, instructs me to come back tomorrow early in the morning to begin my work with her: "Nina will open the gates for you." My spiritual apprenticeship had begun.


Calling me "mi reportera" (my reporter), Haydée would make sure that I documented each and every aspect of her trade, and I recorded every prayer, divination session, and healing ritual. Haydée also allowed me to take unlimited, uncensored photographs of any part of her work and life. From the outset, my role as researcher had been redefined by Haydée as a two-way exchange, whereby she had as much to say as I did. Responding to her wish to record every aspect of her spiritual work, I followed her cues, shooting sometimes frame after frame as if not to lose any important detail. Whereas I initially planned to use these photographs mainly as mnemonic ethnographic devices, I realize now that it was as if she wished to leave a testimony to posterity, like "writing" her own ethnography in picture format. This resulted in two large collections of photographs and tapes: one for her and one for me. Every morning we would go over the new photographs and she would show me the new albums she filled with them.

As an anthropology student I knew how powerful photographs might be in magical manipulations, how people often avoided being photographed for fear that sorcerers would steal their images. But now I am also reminded by Michael Taussig's (1993b) masterful relational account of mimesis and alterity, of the fascination of the white man with the fascination of "natives" being photographed and recorded, and I cannot avoid reflecting on my own fascination with Haydée's fascination, not fear, of being photographed and recorded. Here I was not just allowed but encouraged to play a part in a "mimetological theatre" (Taussig 1993b:191) as a reportera, where I was entrusted with the image and voice of the main character played by Haydée because of her own mimetic self-awareness. She knew that being famous means being photographed. This mimetic excess—the result of "second contact," in Taussig's (1993b:247) term—engulfed me, as a reportera, in the magic of what may be a "third contact." Shooting more pictures than I could ever reproduce, I nonetheless took them. And as with any surplus, I am still puzzled by their secret power as I glance through them, pondering about which will be published and which not. As I would later learn, Haydée's reputation as a bruja increased in direct proportion to, among other things, the thousand or so photographs I took of her and the nearly one-hundred-ninety-minute cassette recordings I made of her consultations right up to my last day on the island, December 20, 1996.


This book responds to the agenda of brujos who, like Haydée, see their work as socially positive and based on personal sacrifice and are eager to be recognized in the public sphere as legitimate healers and spiritual leaders.12 Indeed, against the expectations of some readers, this book does not exoticize or ethnicize their work. Further, unlike in other parts of Latin America, in Puerto Rico these vernacular religious practices, as I like to call them, do not defy capitalism or the American way of life. Quite the contrary.

In my attempt to represent as nearly as possible the different faces of brujería in their complexity, I have drawn on several disciplines and scholarly traditions. I also ended up unintentionally producing—in the words of a friend—a work of quite baroque narrative style. I therefore ask the reader to go along with my layered, often discontinuous form of presentation and actively partake in reconnecting the past with the present as it is being laid out bit by bit in each chapter. I am aware that this is quite demanding. Not only do I combine very distinct perspectives—historical and ethnographic-experiential (each with its own disciplinary orders)—I also shift from extremely general depictions to painstakingly minute transcriptions of divination rituals (for example), in which every word and expression is meaningful and in which my emotional reactions might also be intertwined. Furthermore, I allow myself to drift into disparate theoretical ruminations on topics such as nationalism, consumerism, the welfare state, syncretism, magic, and authenticity. I can only promise that, like the topic I examine here—brujería under consumerism and the welfare state—even when not immediately evident, the connections are indeed there.

On March 21, 2000, Haydée died suddenly of a heart attack while on a personal pilgrimage to Santo Domingo—the land of powerful brujos, as she used to say. I now remember what she said to me the first time we met: "Yo nací bruja y bruja moriré; brujería es mi comida. En mi entierro que haya brujos como yo" (I was born a witch-healer, and as a witch-healer I'll die. Witch-healing is my food. At my burial I want witch-healers, as myself, to come). Inspired by Haydée's mission and pride in being a bruja in life and in keeping with her desire to let the world know what brujos really do, I dedicate this book to her and to those goals.

Elkins Park January 31, 2002

After centuries of persecution by the Catholic Church in Europe and the Americas and against the predictions of the Enlightenment, brujería has not disappeared with modernity; 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 a premodern era. This secular ideology, adopted by most postemancipation Latin American states in the process of state building, advocated the creation of a new world guided by reason, not religion and "superstition" (Borges 2001; Ortiz 1906; Salvatore and Aguirre 2001). As formulated by seventeenth-century philosophers, it proposed to harness what they considered dangerous, negative "passions" through a new "interest"-driven world that would be steered by science, rationality, and technology (Hirschman 1977). Because witchcraft and magic were perceived to epitomize the dangers of "passions," erasing them symbolized, in great measure, one of the quests of modernity (see Foucault 1988). Although unsuccessful in this endeavor, the Enlightenment has nonetheless left a still-pervasive legacy of an imagined modern world opposed to an equally imagined traditional world. Symbolizing a premodern world of irrationality and tradition, witchcraft and magic have been easily cast as the villains in narratives of progress and development, in particular, vis-à-vis rational moneymaking systems, since (as one of the Enlightenment plots goes) superstition was to fade into religion and the latter was to be substituted by science in a universal movement away from "error" and toward a modern order of knowledge that would contribute to a more systematic, rational management of society (see Foucault [1966] 1973).

Present-day transformations in most so-called Western modern societies show that this scenario has not been a linear or a totalizing one, to say the least.1 Instead of a remission of mysticism in favor of secularism and reason, there has been an increasing emergence of charismatic movements, spiritual healing, and transcendental practices in highly industrialized and technological environments (Giddens 1991:207).

Rather than be harnessed, Puerto Rican brujería seems to have harnessed any local vestiges of Enlightenment agendas to its own advantage, shifting its faces throughout the long history of repressive attacks during the period of colonial Catholicism and the following nation- and state-building periods. In its tortuous trajectory, brujería has continued to reshape its modus operandi—as if driven by a stubborn disregard of orthodoxy—selectively blending elements of such diverse religious worlds as folk Catholicism, African magic and healing, Kardecean Spiritism, and folk Protestantism. Freed under Puerto Rico's U.S. commonwealth status from the legal and religious constraints of Spanish Catholic rule, brujería has taken full advantage of a free material and religious market. Entering a new propitious unorthodox spiritual laissez-faire space, brujería has also commodified its practices in the last twenty years, becoming an emergent local force that works in conjunction with, rather than in opposition to, consumer capitalism and welfare values (see Miller 1995).

In the spirit of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958), brujería has elevated material acquisitiveness and desire for success to a higher moral and spiritual order of aspiration. Indeed, brujos and their followers see material and spiritual progress as well as the attainment of high social status as not only morally legitimate quests but also visible signs of being "blessed" by the spirits, in addition to being a spiritual "calling" and a godly duty. In this space Puerto Rican brujería has become a form of "spiritualized materialism," which does not imply that it has adapted to a capitalist-invested materialism but rather that profit and success (under capitalism) can become infused with an ultimate moral purpose, once spiritual forces are believed to have intervened in achieving these goals.

This general orientation is not unique to Puerto Rico; it has also permeated the practices of other New World Afro-Latin vernacular forms of spiritual healing and magic, such as Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santería, and Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda. Yet the combination of Afro-Latin forms of religiosity and a pervasively American-based postcapitalist welfare ethos since the late 1970s is what characterizes brujería as a unique Puerto Rican version of spiritualized materialism.

"I don't believe in brujería, but it works"

One might wonder at this point how it is possible for people who participate in and share the values of a modern consumer society to still believe in brujería. On learning that I was investigating brujería, people often asked, "Do you believe in it?" I would like to address these complex questions by drawing on words I overheard spoken by a woman while she was waiting for a consultation with a bruja: "I don't believe in brujería, but it works." It is telling that belief in brujería can be presented as if it were totally disconnected from brujería's efficacy—contrary to what brujos usually claim: Faith is the most important thing. Notably, the former position allows one to maintain contradictory justifications for one's choices, especially on the part of many physicians and churchgoers who secretly consult brujos. Objectifying subjective states is a complex if not impossible task, of course. And although skeptics and believers alike might disagree on the causal explanation of an extraordinary occurrence linked to brujería, they are likely to agree that the contested episode had at least occurred. This might explain another common expression: "I don't believe in brujería, but I respect it,"3 which hints at the mixed wonder and awe such inexplicable events elicit among nonpractitioners, who might—just in case—avoid any contact with these events and recoil in the presence of brujos and people who consult them.

Indeed, the question of belief as it appears in the scholarship on witchcraft and magic and as it is experienced in practices of brujería is a tricky one not only for skeptics and for clients but, as Claude Lévi-Strauss has shown, for practitioners as well. Although brujos define themselves in ways that are not entirely the same as African sorcerers or Asian shamans, the argument Lévi-Strauss makes in "The Sorcerer and His Magic" (1963) is relevant in more than one way to their practices. He relates cases in which sorcerers became famous and expert practitioners regardless of their belief in the system. Clients' satisfaction with their services was enough to build their fame and power. Focusing on the pragmatic aspects of shamanism, which I also recognize in brujería, Lévi-Strauss adds that a great shaman does not necessarily lose his critical faculties in the process of magical healing; he can even interpret his success in psychological terms: “My intervention was successful," he might think, "because [the sick person] believed strongly in his dream about me" (1963:176; my emphasis); that is, in the shaman's power to intervene on his behalf. Is Lévi-Strauss suggesting that from the shaman's perspective the belief in shamanism might be partial, even nonexistent, and yet be effective? Shifting perspectives, Lévi-Strauss provocatively turns his previous suggestion on its head, arguing that a certain shaman "did not become a great shaman because he cured his patients; he cured his patients because he had become a great shaman" (p. 180). It seems that a client's belief in shamanism or in the shaman's power is sufficient for the magic to work. In comparing sorcerers and psychotherapists, Lévi-Strauss concludes that the former, very much like modern therapists, are able to effect their curing by enacting or performing the beliefs and trust of their clients.

Finding myself employing both of the above perspectives during my research, I often struggled to uphold contradictory types of explanations for my belief in brujería—a struggle often noticed and commented on by my brujo friends, who would say something like "Raquel, you constantly shift [your attitude]" or "Sometimes you analyze and ask too much, and then you just experience the spiritual work as it is." They were right. At times analytic, at times experiential, both modes of explanation alternated throughout my research. Initially during my fieldwork, I did not take belief in brujería as a precondition to studying it, as I could see its effects on others and thus could understand those who did believe in it. When I experienced it myself—albeit vicariously—I realized that there is another form of understanding, which is left out in most scholarly explanations. It is a form of understanding that Edith Turner (1992) and Paul Stoller (1997), among others, have explored and which can be described as a form of feeling, of knowing through the senses rather than through rational thought. Whenever, for instance, I would feel goosebumps, cry, or engage in some sort of "flow" experience (to use a symbolic interactionist term) along with the other participants, I "knew"—even if I could not account for it analytically—that I had "understood" experientially what was going on. The following vignette from my fieldnotes addresses my own very personal experience with the question of belief.


As usual, I arrive at Haydée's house at 8:00 A.M. Nina [the housekeeper] opens the gate for me without hesitation, since I have already become part of Haydée's inner circle. But Haydée is not in the house; she went to a doctor's appointment. Nina tells me she'll be back in a while. I see the waiting room full with clients. At about nine o'clock a controller of the local water company calls out from the sidewalk and asks to speak with the owner. He came to turn off the water, he says, because payments had not been made for a few months and warning notices had not been answered. Since Haydée was not home, I decide to go outside to speak to him. I plead with him to wait until Haydée comes home to clarify what seemed a bureaucratic mishandling and to give Haydée a chance to settle the problem. The temperature is over ninety degrees, and thus the prospect of not having water is devastating. I beg him not to cut off the water supply: "You can't leave us without water on such a scorching day." He refuses to leave and is already setting himself to open the street lid of the water meter. Very politely, though unwaveringly, he suggests we start collecting water in the bathtub. I implore him to wait a little longer til Haydée comes back. Seeing that my pleas are unsuccessful, I go to the kitchen and bring him a cold glass of water. As I offer him the glass of water, he looks at me puzzled, almost frightened and rejects it, as if suspecting my sudden hospitality. He refuses even to hold the glass. Smiling, I insist. He then seizes the courage to ask, "Why do you want me to drink this?" "It's a burning day," I respond naturally, "and I thought you might be thirsty." He insists, "What's in it?" As I am about to answer—"water"—I suddenly realize where this unusual question is coming from. He must have guessed, by peeping at the waiting room, that this was an unusual house, the house of a bruja, and thus must have feared that the glass of water I was offering him was tainted with some magical manipulations. An inexplicable pleasure takes over as I see the fear on his face and his refusal to even touch the glass. When I get back to the house, Nina—who had heard Haydée on several occasions say that unless I too were a bruja, I would not be so attracted to her work—tells me, "Raquel, you really are a bruja! Look, he's folding his instruments and is about to leave. You did it, Raquel!"


Although I had not "believed" in brujería or done anything that would suggest I did, I saw its effect, the "respect" it elicits, contrived though it might have been. Realizing the tangential congruence with the effects of what "real" brujos do, I "felt" nonetheless as if I were a bruja, "empowered" by having "spooked" the controller, making him flee. Had I asked this state employee if he believed in brujería, he might have responded with a resounding "No!" and, feeling almost insulted, dismissed the legitimacy of the question altogether. Early on I had learned never to ask this question. Since a direct answer to what people really believe is accessible only through what they say, what they do—and experience—often has no direct relation to what they believe or say they believe.

Aware of the analytic, methodological, and ethical traps of an inquiry into beliefs—those of the past and in particular those concerned with supernatural forces—I suggest a pragmatic and historical rephrasing of the problem as a viable (albeit partial) way out. Understanding brujería as a set of strategic choices in a particular time and space assumes, following Pierre Bourdieu's (1980) notion of "practice," that such choices are not only the result of individual, subjective perceptions of reality but also are constrained by specific social and institutional alternatives for action—already enmeshed in dynamics of power and inequality—that delimit the possible choices that can be made. In this light, agency is constrained by historically structured social relations and forms of feeling. As Michel de Certeau (1984:xiii) notes, subversion of Spanish religious laws and symbols in the colonial context was often accomplished by native peoples in the New World "not by rejecting or altering them, but by using them with respect to ends and references foreign to the system they had no choice but to accept." In problematizing the nature of beliefs as historically determined, the ambiguity that subverts from within the imposition of one culture on another arises as part of the problem under study. Brujería thus could be imagined, improving Raymond Williams's (1980:40) notion of "residual" culture, as a form of vernacular culture emerging out of the sum of strategic, individual defiant moves made through time in response to imposed official religious laws and symbols. Its intimate relation to official culture, then, would be almost its defining quality. In looking at the practices of brujería in the present, must we still relegate them to the primitive and exotic, or necessarily fear their effects as subversive?

Our Religion, Their Magic

The distinction between religion and magic has forever vexed anthropologists attempting cross-cultural definitions. Even if by now laypeople have become accustomed to purchasing diversity and students of culture have even relativized anthropological relativism, the term "religion" is still infused with legitimacy in opposition to "sect," "magic," "sorcery," "witchcraft," and "shamanism." Apparently vestiges of modernity theories persist in this linguistic usage, presupposing, among other things, the matter-of-fact break between traditional and modern societies in terms of a basic shift from particularistic-magical to universalistic-rational reasoning (just to mention two of these pairs).

If I wished to draw a distinction, it would be based on whether the beliefs and rituals are institutionalized, regardless of which kind of transcendental forces become the objects of worship or manipulation or the types of reasoning behind them. Weber's (1969a:416-417) distinction between religion and sorcery based on their relative systematization and organization is useful. Priests and sorcerers differ, he says, because the first depend for their legitimation on a "fixed doctrine," are equipped with "vocational qualifications," and belong to a hierarchical organization; they are full-time specialists and learn their trade through formal systems of instruction. Sorcerers, in contrast, exert their influence by virtue of often inherited "personal gifts (charisma) made manifest in miracle and revelation," might improve their trade through secret associations, and are self-employed more likely on a part-time basis.

Traditionally studied in relation to the evolution and function of the primitive mind and society (Malinowski 1948), witchcraft and magic also have been intimately tied to family relations and communal societies on the margins of the technological world (Douglas 1970; Evans-Pritchard 1937; Favret-Saada [1977] 1980; Gluckman 1959; Mauss 1972). For example, Evans-Pritchard's influential work on Azande witchcraft and magic answered the intriguing question for a Western reader about the logic underlying witchcraft, comparing it to the rationalist and empiricist logic of the West. He showed that witchcraft was invoked as a feasible explanation for sudden and random health, work, and family misfortunes—uncertainties the West has been trying to control by means of less than satisfactory statistical models of probability theories. Certainty is what witchcraft supplies to questions such as why me? why now?—after empirical explanations for mishaps have been carefully examined.

But besides showing the "rationality" behind witchcraft and magic, Evans-Pritchard—like other British anthropologists—has shown that their flexibility allows for a vast area of ambiguity in the process of determining who is a witch and when to find a certain witch guilty, for example, that is intimately connected to the tensions arising from Azande's social structure and as such are collective representations guiding everyday life actions. A major contribution of British anthropology to the study of witchcraft and magic rests on the assumption that witchcraft and magic are collective representations that relate to social institutions.

Jeanne Favret-Saada (1980:9), adding a linguistic approach à la Roman Jakobson, claims that in the French peasant community of Bocage witchcraft actually boils down to "words," as it does not depend solely on the ability to cause evil to someone but on creating a "misunderstanding about who it is that desires the misfortune of the bewitched." Everyone in this community, even the researcher, becomes entangled, because "nobody talks about witchcraft to gain knowledge, but to gain power"; that is, in order to appear as a subject who is "able" (to bewitch or lift bewitchments) and not as "unable" (a potential victim or bewitched person) (p. 11). As part of the collective deception, people talked in front of the ethnographer about witchcraft as a "childish, preposterous and ridiculous set of beliefs," of course setting themselves "apart from it" (p. 16). Intimately related to any claim of bewitchment was the notion of "secrecy," automatically setting the victim apart from "official theories of misfortune" (of the school, the church, and the medical association) and in the realm of "superstition" and "backwardness" (p. 15).

These otherwise tenable propositions—that witchcraft is a collective representation, a social code intimately related to the social structure, and a form of exchange that mediates interpersonal conflicts that might arise from it—are hardly applicable to a modern urban context in their totality, in which individuals might share more than one set of collective representations and might be at the center of nonoverlapping social institutions. In fact, the limits of anthropological studies that have looked at witchcraft in relatively small face-to-face communities for the study of contemporary urban realities are evident. In stressing the functional role of witchcraft among small groups through the trope of the "pressure valve," for instance, Evans-Pritchard not only asserted its homeostatic role, but also its disconnection—temporally and spatially—from modern Western realities and influences. Although synchronic explanations of witchcraft and magic in small groups have elucidated basic sociocultural mechanisms, they cannot account for more complex, heterogeneous social spaces, such as the ones discussed in this book.

In relating Puerto Rican Spiritism to large-scale urban societies, previous research (conducted mostly on the mainland) has presupposed the inherent marginality of mediums from mainstream society while portraying their (ethnically fashioned) practices as viable, positive parallels to mainstream psychiatry. Informed essentially by functionalist theories and advancing a mentalist and universalistic approach, most of this research has equated the therapeutic role of the modern psychiatrist with that of the Spiritist medium (Lewis-Fernández 1986; Núñez Molina 1987), insofar as both promote their clients' well-being and adaptive behavior. Yet most of it has portrayed the move of mediums from espiritismo to brujería as dysfunctional and doomed to disintegrate their social relations. Although striking in their own ways, these frameworks cannot adequately encompass the complex world in which vernacular religions in general (Orsi 1999) and unorthodox forms of Spiritism, santerismo and brujería, in particular operate today. This is a world in which distant peoples, commodities, and desires circulate through new communication and technological systems. As Arjun Appadurai (1990, 1996) claims, social relations in today's urban settings are no longer confined to the nuclear or extended family or dominated solely by face-to-face encounters but rather are swayed by complex, long-distance networks of mediated relations and desires. Brujería practices are a part of this world.

Recent anthropological studies of witchcraft and magic in Europe, Latin America, and Africa have suggested their linkage to modernity. In this tradition, historical anthropologists studying contemporary decolonized societies reinsert witchcraft and magic in discourses of modernity, mainly as local practices that have arisen typically as forms of resistance to Western colonial and modernization processes.

In a relational account of terror and healing, Taussig (1987) challenges the view of witchcraft and magic as closed, timeless systems of belief, showing that they have emerged as a result of a joint venture tying the imaginings and fictions of the colonizers to those of the colonized. Indeed, for Taussig, Evans-Pritchard's attempt to offer Western ears a clear-cut rationalization of witchcraft as a closed system is comforting but misleading. "Doubtless this 'it' we call magic, like calling into an echoing abyss, existed in third-world countries before European colonization. But surely this 'it' from that point on contained as a constitutive force the power of colonial differentiation such that magic became a gathering point of Otherness in a series of racial and class differentiations embedded in the distinctions made between Church and magic, and science and magic" (Taussig 1987:465). In this line of inquiry, Joan Dayan (1995) and Sidney Mintz and Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1995) have examined the turbulence of Haitian political history as inseparable from the tribulations of Vodou, its wars, gods, and fictions. Some studies suggest that the feared Haitian "zombie" and West Indian Obeah-man are Creole creations that owe more to the nightmares of slavery than to the survival of African beliefs in the Caribbean (e.g., Fernández Olmos and Paravisini-Gebert 1996).

Indigenous forms of witchcraft and magic are depicted as Creole forms of empowerment that not only have emerged out of relations of inequality in colonial times (Mintz and Price 1976) but also have been mobilized in sustaining the elusive spirit-power of postindependence states (Taussig 1997). In other works, witchcraft appears as a cultural idiom intrinsically tied to colonial systems of inequality that has the potential to destabilize the political and economic orders of decolonized nations at the local and regional levels (e.g., Comaroff and Comaroff 1993). Peter Geschiere ([1995] 1997, 1998) has noted that on the African continent, for instance, economic and political powers under modernity are inherently connected to local witchcraft practices. "Witchcraft . . . continues to be a key element in discourses of power, despite modern processes of change (or perhaps because of them), thereby creating new forms of domination and resistance" (Geschiere [1995] 1997:7-8). Here witchcraft appears to be a form of political action—a predominantly subversive local idiom that engages in a contestation of colonial and postcolonial forces.7 Also, Adeline Masquelier (1993) shows that witchcraft has become a local form of resistance to nonindigenous forms of trade relations in a community; and Mark Auslander (1993) argues that witchcraft accusations reflect the lack of equitable forms of integration of members of a community into a market economy.

Interestingly, historians of European witchcraft have traditionally related witchcraft and magic to the modern world in a diachronic mode, stressing the connection of witch-hunts to larger and more complex political and economic realities, such as the state and the church. Yet, equipped with economic and political models, historians have portrayed witchcraft and magic as basically class- and gender-motivated practices that subvert the modern state. Thus, although asserting a temporal connection between modernity and the practices of witchcraft and magic rectified the otherwise misleading perception that the latter belonged exclusively to the world of the "primitive," it also diminished them by foregrounding mainly their subversive character. Witchcraft and magic were portrayed as antithetical to the social order.

Is it possible, instead, to envision brujería not only as destabilizing or contesting modernity but also as boosting, albeit unexpectedly and inconspicuously, postcapitalist societies characterized—in the case of Puerto Rico—as modern colonies or by welfare, consumer, and transnational relations? In this book I show that while spatial- and temporal-distancing assumptions are still directing much of today's scholarly and lay perceptions, witchcraft and magic are not as absent from modern economic circuits and political developments as assumed. The existence of plural modernities suggests that "interests" do not necessarily harness "passions" (cf. Hirschman 1977) and that interests and passions are not necessarily irreconcilable. The assumed rationality and homogenization necessary for the birth of modern systems of government and economic development has not hindered the formation of hybrid forms of political economy and culture. For instance, feudal societies might operate under capitalist systems, and preindustrial societies might be involved in late-modern urbanization processes. Likewise, rural-based vernacular religious practices such as Vodou might adapt their myths and rituals to fit the transnational urban lifestyles of Haitians living in megacities such as New York (see K. M. Brown 1991, 1995b, 1999).

Indeed, brujería as practiced in urban Puerto Rico shows the vernacular co-optation of discourses of interest and passions, of consumerism and spirituality, commodity fetishism and morality, and welfare capitalism and magic. Rather than contest the state or the social order, brujería practices help to reproduce it, not only through holistic and individualized types of intervention, but also by endorsing mainstream social values in redirecting their clients' actions. Further, brujería might even be helping to prevent social discontent, deviance, and unrest and be working as an off-the-record branch of the welfare system (see chaps. 7, 8).

Neither a purely surrogate psychological treatment nor a form of resistance, Puerto Rican brujería has become an invisible yet active partner of consumerism and welfare, speaking in their idiom as well as engaging with them. In response to interlacing global flows of ideas and commodities and by way of strategic and unorthodox elaborations, brujos articulate capitalist and welfare values with the ethos of the world of spirits in order to promote their clients' prosperity. In this sense, brujos, far from being an endangered species or subversive, are active participants in a postcapitalist world—a world guided not only by capitalist modes of production but also by the sensuous insatiable consumption of lifestyles and self-images.

Acquisitiveness and Self-Identity

How can brujería live and thrive in a consumer society that is mediated by globalization or social relations characterized by "time–space distanciation" (Giddens 1991:21)? The choices of lifestyle offered by consumerism in conditions of "high modernity" offer a more or less integral set of practices that an individual "is forced" to embrace, "not only because such practices fulfill utilitarian needs, but because they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity" (Giddens 1991:81).

Acquisitiveness as an endless process of materialization satisfies at one and the same time the possibility of enhancing and renewing one's self according to ever-changing narratives of self-identity and lifestyles. The materiality of these lifestyles acquires yet an added value within brujería. If achieved, material success becomes a marker of one's bendiciones, or spiritual powers; and if it is yet to be achieved, it becomes an endless motivational force that guides personal and social choices. Taussig (1993a:217), reflecting on the materiality and ghostliness of state fetishism, suggests, "Fetishism elucidates a certain quality of ghostliness in objects in the modern world and an uncertain fluctuation between thinghood and spirit" (see also Taussig 1992). If both self and commodities become entangled in fetishist relations, one's personal power becomes materialized and desired objects become spiritualized. Having acquiring and at the same time confounded their assumed qualities, the need to perceive one's personal power materialized in objects destabilizes both the self and the objects that are meant to embody it.

Brujería thereby operates in a murky ground, articulating the desires and frustrations akin to high modernity by foregrounding the centrality of material consumption simultaneously as proof, reflection, and anticipation of one's personal power. And yet bendiciones of the thinghood sort can be targeted and reached separate from the spiritual sort. For witch-healers are in an advantageous position: they are the masters of correspondences. Comaroff and Comaroff (1993:xxix) recognize this, arguing that "[w]itches . . . embody all the contradictions of the experience of modernity itself, of its inescapable enticements, its self-consuming passions, its discriminatory tactics, its devastating social costs." This wedding of the rhetoric of commerce and magic makes sense. Occult magical and other wealth systems have accumulated around the "marketplace" over a long period. Witches, like traders, prosper best not in the bush but in centers of commerce where the surplus of productive energies can be exchanged between people and the spirits. Just as the trader has by tradition maneuvered open and hidden agendas, so too have witches. Their trade partners include clients, followers, protective spirits, and the dead; and their forms of exchange resemble commercial transactions in which goods and information are paid for with propitiatory rituals and prayers.

But competition and desire for money and luxury items do not fully explain the belief in spirits or the elaborate rituals created to communicate and plead with them. Taussig's (1993a:232) convincing proposition of the fetish as "spiritually material" and "materialistically spiritual" fits well with the idea of bendiciones, since the double bind of bendiciones, their materiality and spirituality, allows for a form of "being blessed" that depends on concrete physicality and yet could well exist outside any concrete form as a potential force ready to be materialized at any time—like the Golem. But if the potential for materialization is forgotten in the frenzy of acquisitiveness, instead of being a manifestation of spiritual power, it can be mistaken for what it is supposed to index. When the representation of bendiciones or the materialization of bendiciones takes over that which it supposes to be a sign of, "[t]he representation acquires not just the power of the represented but power over it as well" (Taussig 1993a:235).

While consumerism is essential in giving material form to the particular narrative of self-identity defined in no small measure by the idea of bendiciones, the negative effects or vices of consumerism—as envisioned by critical theorists of consumerism and the culture of modernity—do not necessarily carry over to the practices of brujería. Strangely, against the tropes of loss and spiritual maelstrom projected by critics of the culture industry and capitalist consumption, brujería cannot be characterized by the "disembedding" of social relations and a disregard for social responsibility (Giddens 1991). Intimately associated with being blessed by the spirits, consumerism fits rather into a morally grounded personal and civil local ethos. As a result of specific circumstances that I examine later, this morally grounded consumerist ethos constitutes material and spiritual well-being as interdependent and as such does not create—in cultural critique lingo—an "alienated individuation." On the contrary, the ability to consume newer lifestyles in the present is perceived as a reward, as the fruit of having enjoyed propitious worldly and otherworldly relationships. Herein lies also the explanation for the lack of overt antiestablishment and apparently uncritical market ideology driving brujería practices.

I agree with Peter Beyer's (1990:373) view of the new role of religion in a globalizing society—that contrary to the secularization and privatization thesis inherent in theories of modernity, the privatization of religion can provide "a fertile ground for the renewed public influence of religion" and become a source for collective obligation. Beyer's thesis incorporates the idea that under globalization religion will eventually become more involved in the public sphere by gaining access to public and private services, as do individual health professionals, business experts, and political leaders.

Through a conflation of spiritual and social responsibility to others, Puerto Rican brujería does answer to this agenda, but it does so outside an institutional setting. Stemming from—what I will persistently argue—its unique, noninstitutional way of operating, it offers an unorthodox, individualistic form of spiritual guidance and religiosity in a plural society in which choices are strongly constrained by some form of organized system. Guided by the Spiritist ethos, which foregrounds personal civic responsibility, among other things, and the preeminence of spiritual laws and justice, brujos manage to muster—for a modest fee of $10 to $20 per consultation, compared to $60 to $120 charged by physicians, lawyers, and psychologists—diverse functions commonly held by public and private institutions in addressing their clients' practical and moral problems.

Extending the area of influence and control beyond the management of spirits and saints, brujos develop their expertise so as to encompass those areas of social life that hitherto had been under the control of state and commercial agents. Knowledge and control over the transcendental world is now complemented with knowledge and control of market and civic forces. As a result, brujos have become spiritual entrepreneurs, expanding their services to include those traditionally assigned not only to psychologists and social workers but also to officials of the labor, justice, and public health systems. Taking advantage of new economic opportunities and welfare regulations, brujos can answer the emotional, economic, and spiritual needs of their clients and at times even become adjudicators between man-made laws and Spiritist ethics. In essential ways they redefine the meaning of material acquisitiveness and success, reinterpret the written law, and co-opt bureaucratic systems. And yet brujos do not subvert these systems. Operating within and at the same time without, they irreverently poach the liberal and religious professions, state and commercial agencies, with their own visions and envisionings.

Taussig (1999:107) reminds us that "the labor of the negative" is essential to the "magical power that converts the negative into being." The power of negation, especially as it has shaped the practices of brujos in opposition to church and state, is still relevant today. But another important ever mentioned aspect of their labor lies in positive action, when key mainstream values and the gestures of powerful agents of society are irreverently incorporated and adapted to their rituals and goals.

Ritual Alchemy, History, Mimesis, and Globalization

The idea that the defining quality of ritual stems from its fixed, structured, and repetitive nature has been challenged by scholars such as Stanley J. Tambiah (1970, 1985) and John D. Kelly and Martha Kaplan (1990), who stress its pragmatic and innovative qualities. Rather than ask what specific rituals mean for the observer, I propose to ask what they do, or, in Talal Asad's (1983) terms, to look at their instrumentality. In this book I examine brujería rituals as a set of ongoing processes of continuity and transformation, fusing official and vernacular forms of worship, the past and the present, economic and transcendental notions of success and progress, and so forth. Moreover, as unfolding social dramas, its rituals both reflect and index past and current processes in society—their structure, gestures, values, and contradictions.

Along this line, Comaroff and Comaroff (1993:xxii) portray ritual experts as creative figures who, along with prophets and poets, manipulate, change, and recombine signs through the positioning, contrast, redundancy, and figurative play of images, or draw on the "metaforces" of poetic forms—in Michael Silverstein's apt coinage (cited in Comaroff and Comaroff 1993:xxi). Looking more closely at the nature of the metaforces of ritual innovation, it is mainly through mimesis that this creativity comes to life. It is by means of the mechanism of imitation or "creative imitation" (Abrahams n.d.) that vernacular religious practices speak both to and within global discourses. In this context mimesis loses some of its commonly attributed negative aspects, such as lack of spontaneity, charisma, or sincerity, and acquires a magical effect. I argue in chapters 4 and 5, following James Frazer's well-known account of the technologies of magic, that brujos empower their rituals by imitating the symbols and gestures of powerful others (see also Romberg 1999a, 1999c). Essential to the dynamics of ritual change, then, is the recognition of powerful others and the appropriation of their symbols (Stoller 1997; Taussig 1987, 1993b, 1997). Embedded in this view is a theory of identity and alterity that explores rituals "as expressions of relations between historically specific selves and others" (Kelly and Kaplan 1990:132).

It is through this framework that I tackle, for instance, an otherwise incongruous practice found in brujería rituals: brujos incorporate the liturgical symbols, words, and paraphernalia of Catholicism and adopt the role and demeanor of priests. This practice suggests, on the one hand, the continual pervasiveness of a Catholic ethos in Puerto Rico; and, on the other, the ambivalent attitude of brujos toward Catholicism. It would be historically naive to gloss over the long-term effect of Catholicism and Christianity in Puerto Rico, as they were used as folk synonyms for personhood and civility. After centuries of persecution by the church and in spite of an essentially antiecclesiastical attitude toward religion, Puerto Rican brujos still find the need to appropriate its symbols and gestures, albeit often for impious purposes. It seems that through the imitation of Catholic gestures and signs they can seize on the transcendental powers embodied in the church and transfer them by means of a "rupture and revenge of signification" (Taussig 1987:5) to their own practices. For example, slaves had not simply become Christians; rather, out of their experience of enslavement in the Americas they fashioned a "Christianity" to fit their own needs (Glazier 1996:422). Brujería has always managed to find ways to bypass the constraints of economic systems or the imposition of a disempowering social order by taking advantage of structural possibilities, such as demographic isolation or the ambiguity of laws or symbols, or by appropriating the very symbols that were meant to marginalize it.

Recent theories of global culture and society provide an array of outlooks and frames for the analysis of these issues. Some theories stress the uniqueness of globalization processes in terms of the pervasive spatial interconnectedness created by world economic systems, the technological revolution, or the creation of a global culture (Featherstone 1990; Featherstone, Lash, and Robertson 1995; Hinkson 1990). Other theories stress the temporal continuity and cumulative effects of globalization on local sociocultural structures as they were constituted by colonial encounters and deployed by postcolonial displacements (Bhabha 1990; Clifford 1994; Hall and du Gay 1996).

While academic and lay interest in globalization may seem novel, not so its effects since ancient times, as Eric Wolf has shown in his Europe and the People without History (1982). Taking this wide definition of globalization in temporal and spatial terms, I show how the practices of brujería in Puerto Rico have been affected not only by waves of globalizing discourses and ideas such as Catholicism and consumerism but also by actual global movements of people and goods from Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe since colonial times.

Catholicism and slavery were the initial globalizing forces to affect the island. But the totalizing worlds that these institutions had aimed to create from the very beginning of colonization proved in the end to be failed projects. Instead, the island—a "sociedad cimarrona" (Quintero Rivera 1995)—produced its own forms of social and cultural maroonage that shaped indigenous versions of vernacular Catholicism and social systems of feeling and behaving. Ramón Grosfoguel, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, and Chloe Georas (1997:30-31) aptly use the folk term jaibería (astuteness) to denote a wide range of popular practices of resistance to and negotiation with colonialism, "of taking dominant discourse literally in order to subvert it for one's purpose, of doing whatever one sees fit not as a head-on collision . . . but a bit under the table." Demographic and ideational in nature, these local responses of jaibería to globalizing forces succeeded in hindering the formation of a homogeneous Catholic society and a passive, acculturated slave and free-labor peasantry (see chap. 1).

By the mid-nineteenth century a second wave of globalizing discourses made its appearance on the island. This time it was the Creole elite who chose to embrace these new cosmopolitan, nationalist discourses, appropriating and transforming them in a way that would fit their anti-Spanish, pro-independence agendas. In this context, Kardecean Spiritism was embraced by the elite in fashioning new progressive national and civic identities against Spanish hegemony (see chap. 2).13 A third set of globalizing ideas that would resonate among the local, progressive elite was introduced with the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898 (also discussed in chap. 2), transforming into what could be best characterized as the "megarhetoric of developmental modernization" (Appadurai 1996:10). Regardless of their differences in political affiliation, the prospect of rationalizing and democratizing the state apparatus was appealing to a group of Puerto Rican intellectuals and professionals who from the early 1920s took an active role in the "Americanization" process (see Flores 1993). Yet Americanization, as a comprehensive transformation of Puerto Rican society and culture, which included in its initial phases the adoption of English as the sole language of instruction, failed. As Jan Nederveen Pieterse (1995) has suggested, globalization is in fact a process of hybridization. Indeed, American images of democracy, freedom, and welfare and capitalist forms of production and consumption were translated and reinterpreted by local institutions and interest groups. Appadurai (1996:10) aptly terms such processes "vernacular globalization." At one side of this process, brujería became a symbol of the past—a past this Creole professional elite as well as the U.S. colonial government had tried to erase—and thus it became the locus for a more general attack against tradition. At the other side, brujos reacted to American-based discourses indirectly, by confronting the political elites' attack on their practices, and directly, by incorporating, not before they "punctuated, interrogated, and domesticated" (Appadurai 1996:10), the American ethos in their healing and magic techniques.

A fourth global wave that shaped the practices of brujería began roughly in the 1980s and was essentially economic (see chaps. 3, 6). Aided by a global market, the circulation of ritual goods from the Caribbean, Latin America, the United States, and Asia has increased considerably what is available in botánicas (stores that sell religious paraphernalia, medicinal and magical herbs, and flowers) on the island. Indeed, the intense intra-Caribbean circulation of ritual specialists—especially from Castro's Cuba in the 1960s and more recently from the Dominican Republic—and the availability of ritual commodities by large mainland distribution companies have contributed visibly to the internal dynamism of Puerto Rican brujería, which has become more and more a form of transnational vernacular religious practice.

The practices of brujería have also been affected by an increasing flow of Caribbean immigrants and a "commuter migration" between the island and the U.S. mainland. Further, the influx of international immigrants to major mainland cities has facilitated the encounter of Puerto Rican ritual specialists with specialists from other parts of the world, yielding incomparable opportunities for mutual learning and exchange (see Chambers 1994). The phenomenon of an increasing number of Haitian, Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and other Caribbean immigrants living in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and other urban centers in the United States and Canada has given a more cosmopolitan, transethnic dimension to Afro-Latin religions (Cornelius 1992; Laguerre 1987). In his work on the adaptation of Haitians to life in the United States, Michel S. Laguerre (1984) mentions the "cross-fertilization" and syncretism between Mesa Blanca, Santería, and Vodou in New York City. He shows, on the one hand, that Haitians in New York introduce Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican acquaintances to Vodou healers, and, on the other, that some Haitians consult Spanish-speaking healers (1984:131).

The current transnational circulation of people and commodification of religious goods has exponentially enlarged the already transnational nature of Puerto Rico's Spanish colonial past and commonwealth status since 1952. Specifically in regard to the development of brujería practices in the last century, especially since the early 1900s, the uncommon marriage between Spanish Catholicism and North American Protestantism has yielded a complex set of values and attitudes. Indeed, adding the Protestant and political individualist ethos to the equation widened, albeit unwillingly, the space for vernacular religious choice and creativity. A laissez-faire orientation—in particular, the value embedded in free choice, both in economic and in cultural terms—helped to legitimate in the eyes of some Puerto Ricans those vernacular practices that were hitherto marginalized by the Catholic and Protestant churches (see chap. 6). Apparently, the will to widen one's spiritual choices, in keeping with the high value attached to individualism, was greater than the residual fears that lingered from the Catholic past and those more recently instilled by Protestant churches.


Raquel Romberg is currently a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Temple University. She taught previously at Swarthmore College and was a Mellon Scholar in the Institute for Global Stdies in Culture, Power and History at Johns Hopkins University.

"Witchcraft and Welfare is a delightful and insightful book, evocative and well-written, which unpacks the multilayered history of Puerto Rican folk beliefs and practices convincingly showing not only how brujería makes sense in people's everyday lives, but also how it is becoming institutionalised as an integral part of official Puerto Rican society, and indeed how beliefs and practices of this kind can be complementary, not opposed, to bureaucratic rationality."


"Overall, Witchcraft and Welfare is an excellent analysis of Puerto Rican Brujería and other African diasporic religions. This book, however, is not only useful for students and scholars of Puerto Rican or Caribbean culture and religion. It is also, through its ingenious analysis of the influences of 21st century globalization on the processes of syncretization, a window on the macrocosm of future trends in world religion."

The Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"This book makes an important addition to the literature on magic and spirits in the modern world. . . . In comparison with other well-known anthropological works on magic and modernity, this stands out on account of its skill at evocation, at getting inside people and events and not merely using them as examples or 'case studies.'"

—Michael Taussig, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

Finalist/Best First Book in the History and Comparison of Religion Book Award
American Academy of Religion