A Journey into the Underworld of the Contemporary Aztecs
Timothy J. Knab
Westview Press, 1995
Oh yes, if I were a movie producer I would buy the screen rights to A War of the Witches and I would release it October 1 for the Halloween market. The Library of Congress has filed this book under Anthropology, but anthropologist Knab has written an entertaining blend of magical realism, murder, Aztec vs. Catholic beliefs, lucid dream accounts, and small town politics. As an outsider Knab works like any worthy practicing anthropologist and professor to become a trusted member worthy of learning secrets. It is only slowly he learns he is being befriended as well as duped by the town witches (I mean healers) who are competitors, collaborators, keepers of each other’s old secrets and perhaps old lovers. Meet the slightly threatening Don Inocente and the grandmotherly Rubia.
Knab makes it his mission to immerse himself in the beliefs of the village and by that effort he comes to play an active part in the small town where history has a secret he only very slowly unravels. Believing himself safe from their manipulation of him he relies on his collection of college education diplomas as he makes note of symbology and introduces the reader to the folkways he collects.
With slowly growing story tension he describes the doors of the Aztec underworld, its layout and what he is taught of the power and purpose of the east, south, west, and north. Again the story steps up as the confident anthropologist becomes more knowledgeable and curious after an intriguing dream of his own. Using techniques of lucid dreaming and trying to fulfill the requests and demands of his two teachers Professor Knab becomes a participant who is beginning to feel trapped and a little over his head in an underworld every bit as complicated and rich as anything Dante ever wrote.
Of course! It’s time for the fiction writer, I mean the scholarly Knab, to bring his readers back to the world they understand. So back we are plunged to the outskirt slums of Mexico City where thousands live without comfort, in dire poverty, and where a young girl is slowly dying. Back we are thrown to small town rumor, politics, and fights over land and how to make a living.
But wait! What about that secret history that started this War of the Witches, this old quarrel littered with deaths that still keeps old Inocente and Rubia, the collaborators, lovers, and enemies silent? Ah, Aztec meets Catholic in grand, theatrical, deadly style.