Portrait of a Mexican farmer intervened with red thread (by the photographer) in the style used for many Mexican rituals. Witchcraft and wizardry are divided into many kinds and in many forms of use, either to get those people who do not let you progress, to take your enemies out of your way, to be happy with the person you love, to kill your opponent, etc. Mexico, 2015. (Lujan Agusti)
Ever since I was 19, when my mother died, I’ve been fascinated by the different ways people grapple with spiritual questions about life, death and faith. But I was especially captivated by the parts of Mexico where Catholicism has fused with indigenous, pre-Hispanic beliefs — and where notions about the afterlife feature prominently in people’s daily lives. Here, locals worship the Virgin of Guadalupe (a dark-skinned, 16th-century apparition of the Virgin Mary) and the Pachamama (the earth mother) in the same rituals. The figure of Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, has millions of Catholic devotees as well, even though the church rejects her as a saint.
Cover of Lujan Agusti’s notebook, “Salva Tu Alma.” (Lujan Agusti)
In 2015, I traveled from my home in Argentina to several Mexican states to photograph practices that professed to include magic, sorcery, shamans, santeras and people who said they’d encountered the devil. In Mexico City, my landlady’s aunt, María del Rosario, said she could communicate with the dead. Three months after I left, she called me to say that she’d spoken during the night to my deceased mother, describing her correctly as an “elegant, tall, thin white woman with tied brown hair.” She wasn’t looking for money or anything else; she simply told me my mother was on Earth, protecting me.
I am godless and unbelieving. When syncretist Mexicans told me about their experiences, I was skeptical. But for the first time in my life, this tale weakened the confidence of my beliefs. I began to have nightmares. I had come to chronicle other people’s outlooks, but suddenly my own cosmology was wavering. And I found my photography changing, too: My project had become a record of my uncertainty and fear. The pictures were no longer documentary and anthropological; they were also autobiographical — an effort to transcribe my confusion, to capture images seeking to describe that which has no words, to search for an answer that will never come.
— Lujan Agusti
Woman holding her figure of Santa Muerte (Holy Death). The Santa Muerte is a female folk saint venerated in Mexico. A personification of death, associated with healing, protection and safe delivery to the afterlife by her devotees. The worship of Santa Muerte is condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico as invalid, but it is firmly entrenched in Mexican culture. Mexico, 2015. (Lujan Agusti) Portrait of a “Santera” who does cleanings and other spells mostly related to love and money. (Lujan Agusti) Portrait of a Mexican girl holding the Catholic cross. Carrying a cross is a very common practice during processions. A procession is an organized body of people walking in a formal or ceremonial manner. Processions have among all peoples and at all times been a natural form of public celebration, as forming an orderly and impressive ceremony. Coatepec, Veracruz, 2015. (Lujan Agusti) Detail of dead hummingbird. The selling of dead hummingbirds is very common in the witchcraft markets as they are used for ties of love. A tie of love is a kind of spell that according to some magical and folkloric traditions is able to generate in the person who receives it feelings of love for the person who performs it. Mexico, 2015. (Lujan Agusti) Woman shows her tattoo, a promise to the Santa Muerte (Holy Death). Many devotees of Santa Muerte make tattoos of it as promises, after their requests are fulfilled. Santa Muerte generally appears as a skeletal female figure, clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scythe and a globe. Oaxaca, 2015. (Lujan Agusti) Photo of a wizard in his cave where he does spells. Catemaco, Veracruz, 2015. (Lujan Agusti) Portrait of a woman during a procession in honor of “Santa Muerte.” Oaxaca, 2015. (Lujan Agusti)
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