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A War Of Witches

Review by Flo Ariessohn

A Journey into the Underworld of the
Contemporary Aztecs

On a recent trip to Cuetazlan to visit their annual Feria (Festival), which features the voladores (flying dancers), I also happened to meet an anthropologist, Dr. Timothy Knab, author of A War of Witches: A Journey into the Underworld of the Contemorary Aztecs.

The book is an incredibly readable account of how Knab started out to do a scientific sociological study of the political/social struggles of the curanderos (medicine men/women) of the area and ended up becoming the pupil of acurandero . As he slowly wins the trust of the locals, Knab is drawn into a generations-long feud among the "witches" of the area involving alleged poisonings and spells which have terrorized the community.

In order to demonstrate that he is ready to become a curandero himself, Knab takes hallucinogenic drugs and spends a night alone in a sacred cave. During this ordeal he has a vision in which he learns the identity of the "witch" who started the whole thing. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the feud among the curanderos arises out of a broader political struggle over land and power which reflects tensions that exist throughout the region. It reads more like a novel than nonfiction.

Professor Knab told me that the book was actually written about the Cuetzalan area, but it had to be disguised so that he didn't get in too much trouble with the locals!

This is an outstanding book that I've used in teaching culture classes. It is now out in paperback.

Highly recommended.

Feria at Cuetzalan with voladore
(flying dancers)

Reader's Letter

A War Of Witches
©1972-2000 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens
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