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Brujas, Bultos y Brasas by Nasario García

Review by Jeanne Englert

Regional History – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Brujas, Bultos y Brasas: Tales of Witchcraft and the Supernatural in the Pecos Valley
by Nasario García
ISBN 1-889921-03-3

WHETHER YOU BELIEVE in witches or not, you’ll be enchanted by this little gem of a book about northern New Mexico brujas, bultos, and brasas, a collection of stories told by viejos in the Upper Pecos Valley who live in hamlets strung along New Mexico Hwy 3 between I-25 and Villenueva, New Mexico — hamlets so small they don’t even appear in my Rand McNally road atlas. Originally told in the storytellers’ regional Spanish dialect, its collector/editor Nasario García has translated them into exquisite idiomatic English.

One of the delights of this book is that the Spanish renditions appear on the left side of each page, flanked by the English translation on the right. Even I, with my limited command of Spanish — having forgotten virtually everything I learned in school — enjoyed reading the stories in both languages. Photos of the narradores are included as well as a glossary explaining the differences between their regional dialect and standard Spanish. The inhabitants of El Valle, as they call the upper Pecos Valley, have virtually eliminated the “d” in Spanish. For instance, “Colorado” becomes “Colorao.”

Some of the tales told about witches (brujas) and ghosts (bultos) are whimsical, such as the one about flying goats. (Devotees of John Nichols’s Milagro Beanfield War can see how he came up with stories like Onofrio’s missing arm.) Others incorporate moral admonitions, like the one about an indiscrete newlywed, a gadabout, who changes his ways and becomes contrite after an encounter with diabolic creatures.

Others, as García wrote in his introduction to the book — recounting similar bedtime stories his grandmother would tell — “scared the dickens out of us.” Of particularly shivery delight is “I Saw What Looked Like Ghosts,” a story whose narrador, Valerio García, was born in the San José hamlet in 1923. Valerio relates that coming back from Ribera to San José about 11 o’clock at night, “I saw in front of me what looked like ghosts (bultos). “They moved one moment and then stood still and they looked like they went up and down.” He continues, “I stood still, waiting until I saw it get closer and closer; it didn’t resemble either a cow or a horse.”

Fearful, Valerio nevertheless stood his ground rather than return to his sister’s house in Ribera lest she call him a coward. Then IT hit his body.

“And all it was,” he said, “was tumbleweeds.” (The reader can almost hear his rueful chuckle in retelling the tale.)

The brasas referred to in the book’s title are mysterious lights, sparks seen emanating from chimneys of long-abandoned, crumbling adobe houses, fireballs, and mysterious lights in the sky, the last seeming to be endemic still in New Mexico and the San Luis Valley. Some of the narradores refer to herbalist cures (though I’m not sure I care to injest Mrs. Stewart’s bluing to cure indigestion). And some stories relate tales of the mal de ojo, the evil eye, and a compilation of childhood superstitions.

Some echo universal superstitions embraced equally by Anglos, such as wearing a copper bracelet to ward off rheumatism. And then there’s, “No comas carne de marrono pa le cena o was oyer las marranos en la cama toa la noche — don’t eat pork for supper or you’ll hear pig’s noises in bed all night long.” And perhaps physicists at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque are spending lots of federal dollars to research nuclear bombs to handle this possibility: “A falling star will destroy the earth if it hits the ground.”

As for me… Well, what can I say? I can’t totally discount the stories about the hootowls being a bad omen, a harbinger of death, having my own tecolote story to tell. The night before I got word that a friend of mine had succumbed to ovarian cancer, I heard them hooting in the trees along Coal Creek near where I live. I had never heard the hootowls before; and have never heard them since. ¿Qui sabe?

— Jeanne Englert