The Devil is not invited | Translation

El diablo no está invitado con tilde

The Devil is not invited | Translation


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Translated by MC Editorial

[Hay Festival Pre-Roll]

[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.


[HJCK Station Journalist 1]: The First World Congress of Sorcery

[HJCK Station Journalist 2]: From August 24 to 28, Bogotá will be host to the First World Congress of Sorcery.

[HJCK Station Journalist 1]: Leading experts in this science from all over the world will attend. And it is estimated that the influx of tourists for this occasion will be quite large.

[Daniel]: What you just heard is from a Colombian radio program that aired in 1975 and that, as you heard, announced this great event.


[HJCK Station Journalist 2]:  In addition to the lectures to be held on the subject, the presence of groups from Brazil, Venezuela and Haiti who will do the practical part of this unusual congress has been confirmed.

[HJCK Station Journalist 1]:  To tell us about the preparations that are being made in the organization of this event, we spoke with Mrs. Josefina del Valle, manager of La Rana Travel Agency and coordinator of the event.

[HJCK Station Journalist 2]: Who from abroad has confirmed their attendance at this congress?

[Josefina del Valle]: Look, as part of the list of confirmed guests, we have Dr. Thelma Moss. She is a specialist in psychotronics and she is going to bring to Colombia the machine . . . eh . . . Kirlian which is the one that takes photographs of the aura. We also have Clarice Lispector from Brazil, Libio Vinardi from Argentina, Brenio Oneto from Chile, we have a famous seer from the United States, Mery Neskik.

[Daniel]: And the list went on…

[Josefina]: There are quite a few—and in different fields of parapsychology, alchemy, astrology, witchcraft itself. In short, the whole range…

[Daniel]: The coordinator explained that the event would be divided into three aspects: the scientific, based on lectures; an exhibition hall including visual arts related to magic; and, lastly, a more experiential one…

[Josefina]: We are going to do that one with the ritual presentations performed by authentic groups from Brazil, who will be presenting their macumba; the group from Haiti presenting voodoo, we will have a group from Venezuela that reveres María Lionza . . .

[Daniel]: María Lionza, Voodoo, Macumba or Candomblé: all spiritual and belief systems that were born in Latin America and the Caribbean but whose roots are partly in Africa.

[Gloria Valencia de Castaño]: The fact is that we wonder, are people responding to this call? What do people say when they talk about a congress of sorcerers, Simón?

[Simón González]: It’s incredible. At first I was a little afraid of the very word sorcery…

[Daniel]: This is Simón González, the promoter of the congress, in an interview done at that time.

[Simón González]: So we had a lot of discussions. This is going to cause reactions. People will not understand. They are going to confuse it with black magic, with the black mass, with witches on brooms.

[Daniel]: The issue is that in a Catholic and conservative society like Colombia in the mid-70s, having the capital city be the venue of the most important rituals in world sorcery was almost blasphemy. But in that same interview, Simón explained that it was not about summoning up witches on brooms, but about opening the doors to different spiritual experiences.

This idea was synthesized in the slogan of the congress, “In the shadow of what is different, with love and wonder.”

[Simón González]: “In the shadow of what is different, with love and wonder” is about the removing the black magic aspect and giving black magic a spiritual content.

[Daniel]: Magic to do good, never evil, Simón explained. But that would not be so easy to prove. The conference organizers knew they were putting forward a provocative idea. However, whatever he had imagined was nothing compared to what actually happened. The First World Congress of Sorcery would become the focus of the national and international press, and its repercussions would reach unsuspected levels, involving not only the Catholic Church but even the President of the Nation himself.

We’ll be back after a break.


[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Art historian Julián Sánchez González has been researching this story for years. This is Julián:

[Julián Sánchez González]: Simón and Josefina died a few years ago, but there is someone who remembers clearly how it all began.

[Claudia Restrepo]: My name is Claudia Restrepo. However, in Mayan I am Yellow Solar Star.

[Julián]: As you can guess, Claudia has a close history with mysticism. In fact, there is a rumor in her circle that she may have been a sort of witch for many years. But the good kind. She grew up in a family where her grandmother and her great-aunt read the tarot and used plants for healing purposes.

Claudia was working as a communications advisor for the Presidency of the Nation when she met Simón. As soon as she saw him, she was fascinated. There was something about the expression on his face that she found very interesting. And soon they started to date.

[Claudia]: We played sports together, we scuba-dived a lot, we also did a lot of horseback riding, and well, we did a lot of fun and nice activities.

[Julián]: Although Simón was 12 years older than she was, the age difference was not a problem for Claudia, and they decided to get married just two years later, in the early 1970s.

[Claudia]: It was a very nice wedding, very spiritual and very beautiful.

[Julián]: They shared that: an interest in the spiritual. Like Claudia, Simón also had a family history close to the mystical. He had grown up in an artistic, intellectual household. His father was Fernando González, a well-known writer, whom many called “the sorcerer” and who was the main inspiration behind Nadaísmo, a Colombian literary and philosophical movement of the 1960s. Nadaísmo sought to end the country’s conservative culture by means of scandals, opinion, and a lot of art. The Catholic Church was a target of their criticism, and they always tried to live on the edge, with experiences that were mystical, unusual, irrational, banal, and impossible.

Nadaísmo brought together many artists, philosophers and writers, and among the latter was Jotamario Arbeláez, a man from Cali who is now 81 years old.

[Jotamario Arbeláez]: We were looking to make ourselves known through scandal, that is, headlines in the press: “Four Nadaists Caught at Midnight Making Love in Metropolitan Cemetery,” or “Nadaists Sabotage Congress of Catholic Notaries.” Imagine those headlines. Back then we became pretty much rejected by the sensible people of the community. We also became heroes to the rebellious youngsters.

[Julián]: And although he had studied engineering and business management in the United States and France, at age 44, Simón was still an eccentric at heart and a man of many faces. He had worked in the private sector. By the time he married Claudia he was about to found the travel agency La Rana and was the director of the Colombian Management Institute, where he gave seminars on management. His office there looked like something out of a movie.

Jotamario visited that office once.

[Jotamario]: It was a sort of jungle. Instead of plants, what he had were practically trees. Instead of rugs he had grass. Sometimes he would even bring an ocelot that he had in his farm, and he would tie it up in a corner while he attended to the managers.

[Julián]: That office was one of the places where the plan to create the First World Congress of Sorcery would be put into motion. Simón had a Colombian-German friend named Klaus Vollert, who has also passed away. In mid-1974, Klaus was about to host, in Bogotá, a group of German businessmen who wanted to invest in Colombia. He asked Simón to help him think about what to do with the Germans. Simón turned to his wife…

[Claudia]: Simón said to me, “Since you are such an original person and you come up with strange ideas and everything, what do you think we should do for the Germans who are coming?

[Julián]: Claudia thought immediately of a friend: Beatriz Caro. 

[Claudia]: And she was a clairvoyant. She read the cards. So it occurred to me, well, this is something fun, strange for the Germans. Why don’t we take them there so they can each have a card reading?

[Julián]: Her friend Beatriz’s house was in a very particular place—near a cemetery in Bogotá. After entering, visitors continued into a small study where they could find all kinds of artifacts for readings and rituals, including some cards and a crystal ball.

[Claudia]: And for sure there are ghosts and everything… and suddenly they may bring interesting information…

[Julián]: Simón and Klaus thought it was a good plan. So when the German delegation arrived, they were taken to Beatriz’s house and, one by one, they went into the room where she was.

[Claudia]: Well, the Germans came out feeling ecstatic. To them that was the best thing ever, just the best.

[Julián]: Later, when they all went together for dinner at Simón and Claudia’s house, the Germans couldn’t stop talking about the experience they had just had. 

[Claudia]: “What a delight, what a delight this meeting was. Wow… This was something unique. She told us wonderful things.” They were absolutely delighted. So at that moment it occurred to me. And I told them, “So why not, why not fund an event, and bring a lot of people from various parts of the world with talents and capabilities like the ones Beatriz has, or something similar?”

[Julián]: The Germans thought it was a wonderful idea.

[Claudia]: They said, “Well, perfect. Let’s do it.” It will be the First Congress of Sorcerers. They gave it that name because if you call it the First Congress of Clairvoyants, First Congress of Yogis, it does not attract attention, but if they added the mysterious and scary part, then it would draw people’s attention.

[Julián]: The First World Congress of Sorcery was underway.

Simón set up his center of operations at the headquarters of La Rana Travel Agency. The first thing he needed was to define the agenda for the congress: He wanted to bring the best exponents in the world, and he didn’t lack connections. On the one hand, being close to some members of Nadaísmo, he knew several people who could help him undertake this feat. And furthermore, he was the grandson of former President Carlos Eugenio Restrepo. This meant that he had influential people everywhere, from artists to politicians to businessmen.

Simón was counting on the investment of the Germans, but he was also planning to ask his business friends to support him with his idea. He sold it to them as a unique event. He told them that a congress of this type had never been held before, anywhere in the world. And that could mean good business. Here is Jotamario again:

[Jotamario]: You know, there are always magicians, witches, women who have a clientele of desperate people who come to them for personal problems. But in this case it was also like a search to… to know what such witchcraft consisted of, how wide its influence was in the world and in the spirits of people.

[Julián]: Soon he had enough resources to spare no expense. He could pay for air travel for more than 20 exhibitors from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States—sorcerers, clairvoyants, psychics, parapsychologists, astrologers, tarot readers… And, as we heard at the beginning, several important personalities, from Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector to Israeli illusionist Uri Geller, as well as anthropologists and artists. That’s how diverse the event would be.

But also present would be several Colombian personalities, of course. Simón invited brothers Manuel and Delia Zapata Olivella, pioneers of Afro-Colombian studies, and Ronald Williams, also known as El Brujo Pepa. Pepa lived in the archipelago of San Andrés and Providence. He was consulted by visitors and residents of the islands for his knowledge of botany.

[Jotamario]: He had a great power of spiritual mastery, we might call it, in the archipelago. With a special smile that gave him even more credibility with people.

[Julián]: Pepa would attend the congress with his calypso and reggae band called Black Dynamite. And there would also be art exhibitions, cinema, theater, and a great sorcery fair with stands selling a variety of different products.

As soon as he confirmed the agenda, Simón began to promote the event for real. They designed a poster. It was yellow, purple, and black. It had the slogan and two scenes: one of a woman flying with a goat on a full moon night, and another of a pregnant woman with a veil, holding a pair of horns in front of a bull. Simón began to confirm the lectures and created a program with titles like “Visions of Satan,” “Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis,” and “Medicine and Witchcraft,” among others.

He began to give interviews on television and radio, and it was on a television channel, while promoting the event, that he met the Brazilian artist Aurea Oliveira Santos. Right then it occurred to him to invite her to the congress to exhibit her work, a series of jewels made of resin.

I spoke with Aurea and she remembers well what she thought of Simón when he told her about his plan:

[Aurea Oliveira Santos]: He was an innovator—very daring to hold a World Congress on Sorcery.

[Julián]: Aurea had seen the Candomblé rituals of Salvador de Bahía: people dressed in white singing to Yemanyá, the goddess of water, love and femininity. And although she didn’t believe in such things, she had found it had an impact, so Simon’s invitation made her curious and she said yes, with all pleasure.

Simon explained why he did it:

[Aurea]: He said that he wanted to break that paradigm of this Roman Catholic Apostolic Colombia, and show that there were other spiritual and religious currents, and show the diversity that Colombia has, right?

[Julián]: Aurea was impressed by what Simón had set out to do, and apparently he was achieving it. Suddenly, the press in Colombia was talking non-stop about witchcraft, magic and parapsychology. Jotamario remembers it very well: 

[Jotamario]: For the newspapers it was brilliant news, much better than political or economic stories. 

[Julián]: And he is not exaggerating. It is as if Congress had given journalists permission to deal with a previously taboo subject. Important newspapers like El Espectador and El Tiempo were suddenly publishing texts about sorcerers and cults. And well, others went further… Cromos magazine published stories like “Brotherhood of shadows finds the skeleton of Satan” and “This is the altar of the black mass!

The press wanted to know what some of the most influential people in the country thought of the congress. One of the first critics to speak out was Alberto Lleras Camargo, the former president of Colombia years earlier. In a letter published in the newspaper El Tiempo, he had no qualms about saying that the congress was, and I quote, “a way of exalting human stupidity.” The phrase was so striking that it was even repeated by a Washington radio station.

Soon the news reached other world media:

Planeta magazine, Brazil: “Congresso de Bruxas: Entramos na era do poder mental” 

The New York Times, United States: Moonlight Dance Opens a Congress of Sorcery” 

Le Monde, France: La première assemblée mondiale des ‘sorciers’

[Julián]: But, unsurprisingly, the biggest opposition Simón had to face was from the Catholic Church. 

[Jotamario]: They came to consider the event as a sacrilege or as a general disrespect for the Church and the spirituality of the people… because they thought this was… this was an endorsement of the enemy of Christianity, namely Satan, since sorcerers or witches were supposed to be the devoted worshipers of his butt.

[Julián]: Several priests went out to publish their messages in the press. They described the congress as “blasphemy” and religious childishness.” One cardinal said the organizers were “entrepreneurs of superstition,” and the Colombian Episcopal Conference spoke of the Church being “opposed to sorcery” and that the congress was “a setback in religious and civilized life.”

But not only that. The Church asked Simón to at least change the name of the congress, to remove the word “sorcery” and replace it with a less scandalous term. But he refused, feeling that it was necessary to transform the use of the word “sorcerer” to recognize the spiritual leaders of different communities. This is what he said in an interview:


[Simón González]: The sorcerer is someone in love. He is the image of the power of everything that is not materialistic, but of the spirit.

[Julián]: Their work as doctors, healers, and social and political leaders was also very important to Simón. And, far from being intimidated, he took advantage of the onslaught from the Church to insist to the press that the devil was not invited to the congress. Quite the contrary. Here is Claudia again:

[Claudia]: It was not as if they had meant to say, “We are going to bring the most evil and wicked enchanters.” No, no, no, that was not the idea.

[Julián]: Simón’s idea, rather, was to link sorcery with love and bring together different types of spirituality. But he could not convince the representatives of the Church, who were indignant at him. Jotamario remembers:

[Jotamario]: Well, of course there was a… a great controversy and a lot of ecclesiastical opposition. I even heard that Simón González had been excommunicated by the Church.

[Julián]: That was the rumor, that the Church was going to excommunicate him. I asked Claudia whether she remembered any of this, but she said she didn’t. By that time, she had separated from Simón and she was not involved in the organization of the congress, although it had been her idea. Be that as it may, along with the criticism, the congress was also beginning to receive support: dozens of letters from people fascinated with the initiative.

And then the long-awaited day arrived. On August 24, 1975, thousands of people—including politicians, ambassadors, businessmen, advertisers, and artists—gathered in front of a ten-meter monument of a pre-Columbian figure at the Bogotá International Fairgrounds, a space reserved for massive events. There were words from Simón and from a mamo, an indigenous spiritual leader from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and then they called for a “witch hug” to unite all the participants.

[Daniel]: And thus, in the midst of criticism and support, surrounded by smoke, lights, music, and tropical cocktails, the First World Congress of Sorcery began.

We’ll be back after a break. 


[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Julián continues the story.

[Julián]: Over 160 correspondents from the national media and 138 from the international media gathered to cover the First World Sorcery Congress. One of them was Fernando Cano, at the time a novice photographer for the newspaper El Espectador. This is Fernando:

[Fernando Cano]: I think I had mixed emotions, because it was one of my first outings as a photographer and also because of the subject matter.

[Julián]: Fernando was studying philosophy at the university at the time, and it seemed fascinating to him to go see what this talk of sorcerers was all about.

[Fernando]: And this phenomenon of parapsychology, well, it was floating around in my head…

[Julián]: The work schedules were crazy, and he was at the congress until late at night.

[Fernando]: But I was very much into it at the time, so… Nothing really mattered.

[Julián]: But he wasn’t the only one who was into it. The congress would last five days, and as it proceeded, the word spread:

[Fernando]: People did not want to miss out on what others had already seen. “Hey, this is happening in Bogotá, have you been?” I think it was the curiosity that got us all out of bed and out of our huddling up and boredom.

[Julián]: According to press estimates, around 5,000 people came on the day the congress was inaugurated. Fernando was fascinated by everything he saw:

[Fernando]: I had heard of voodoo and had seen things published in National Geographic. Or things like that. But it’s not the same as witnessing it. Then they went into, I don’t know how to say it, a paroxysm, a… They were kind of transported.

[Julián]: And he also saw something else that blew his mind:

[Fernando]: And I remember a man who took a glass and began to bite it and eat the glass without anything happening to him at all. 

[Julián]: The most successful was the Israeli illusionist Uri Geller, a type of “sorcerer” who claimed he was able to bend metals with the power of his mind. This presentation was so very popular that radio and television broadcast it live throughout the country.

But this person had a privileged viewing spot:

[Mary Josephine Smith]: Well, my name is Mary Josephine Smith. That’s how I was baptized.

[Julián]: However, everyone calls her Mary Jo. Mary Jo was 16 years old when the Congress took place. On her mother’s recommendation, another Nadaist writer, nicknamed Rosa Girasol, was assigned as the bilingual guide for the illusionist during the days of the event. Dressed in colored robes, she was part of a group of 116 guides who would be in charge of receiving the waves of participants arriving from abroad.

[Mary Josephine]: It made me very curious. Everyone was very curious!

[Julián]: As Uri made his presentation, Mary Jo couldn’t take her eyes off him…

[Mary Josephine]: He would pick up the spoon, let’s say, from the end of the handle, right? And he began to rub it with his fingers around the middle of the handle, and then he removed his fingers and that spoon “wuaaa,” went down. Awesome. As if he… as if he melted metal.

[Julián]: Mary Jo asked to touch the spoon…

[Mary Josephine]: It wasn’t hot. 

[Julián]: Neither Mary Jo nor anyone else could explain how he did it. Mary Jo also participated in another of the most successful activities of the congress. She took a picture of her aura with her mom and her brother Michael. It was something that was very much in vogue at the time. It was called the Kirlian method. It was a machine with large conducting tubes connected to a small sensor that was used to photograph the electromagnetic energy of living beings.

[Mary Josephine]: That was spectacular to see, because it was like a Polaroid in the sense that it came out, the photo came out. And we took a picture, and their auras were sort of orange and they were together, and mine was purple and I was next to them.

[Julián]: To Mary Jo, that showed something very clearly.

[Mary Josephine]: There was more compatibility between them than there was between my mom and me. 

[Julián]: This machine was so sought-after that even the President himself asked that it be taken to the presidential house, a few days before the congress began. So a delegation from the World Congress of Sorcery arrived with the machine in tow. There, Simón and his entourage visited then-President Alfonso López Michelsen and his wife Cecilia Caballero Blanco. In a hall of the Palace they prepared everything to take a Kirlian photograph of the First Lady, who was anxious to know what her aura would bring. 

The next day, a newspaper reported that Cecilia had been subjected to a discharge of, and I quote, “half a million volts” in “high frequency,” resulting in a “high energy” reading. And Cromos magazine revealed that the reading had revealed circulatory and gastrointestinal problems, as well as other personal issues, and I quote, it would not be “ethical to make them public knowledge.” 

The delegation that visited the Palace included another of the VIP guests of the congress, Clarice Lispector. As one of the most prominent guests, she received the most attention and interest from the presidential couple and the press. Her participation as scheduled in the congress was for her to read one of her latest short stories, a mystical and mysterious story entitled “The Egg and the Chicken.”

President López Michelsen’s welcoming the delegation was a reflection of the curiosity and amazement that the Sorcery Congress aroused. The place where the most important political decisions in the country took place made room, from the beginning, for the presence of Simón and his “sorcerers.” 

The congress continued to attract many people, and on the penultimate day something unexpected happened. In the midst of the crowd, and the sessions on hypnosis, telepathy and ritual, Monsignor Rafael Gómez Hoyos, one of the highest authorities of the curia in Colombia, walked in the main door. Dressed in civilian clothes, with a black coat and pants to avoid attracting too much attention, Monsignor began to walk around the place. 

As soon as he recognized him, red flags went up for Fernando, the photographer from El Espectador. He began to elbow the rest of his colleagues so as not to lose sight of the priest. No doubt his presence was news: What would come after the Church declared war on the congress?

Anyway, Fernando needed to get a picture of the priest attending this event. So he was super-focused on following Monsignor’s every move. We must remember one thing: we are talking about a time when cameras were analog and there were rolls of 24 or 36 photographs. Fernando could not shoot, as he would now, about 800 times and then erase 799 images to keep only one.

[Fernando]: There you took two or three, and if it was in focus, “blessed be the Lord,” as they said, because you had achieved it; otherwise, it was a disaster.

[Julián]: If he didn’t get the shot, but it appeared on rival newspapers the next day, he was going to be in serious trouble.

The priest was touring the art exhibits and meeting some of the exhibitors who were scheduled for that day. When suddenly, the unthinkable happened: Simón appeared out of the crowd, and Monsignor Gómez Hoyos approached and extended his hand in a cordial gesture. Simon stepped forward, bowed, and received the greeting with obvious interest. Fernando captured that precise moment.

The Catholic Church had been thinking for over a decade about how to be more relevant in the face of social differences, and that recent mandate from Rome was being tested at the congress in Colombia,. For this reason, Monsignor, as well as a more liberal part of the Colombian clergy, had allowed themselves to be be captivated by Simón’s appeal in the press. He had insisted on the benevolence of the spiritual practices of the congress, and Monsignor Gómez Hoyos wanted to see with his own eyes what the meeting of sorcerers was all about.

[Fernando]: We might say that the Church tried to get closer, so he would go to the congress, you know, and not be seen, like, with so much mystery; it’s like what they were doing was not a sacrilege, but rather it was the possibility for people to… to broaden the view of their minds and see other possibilities for understanding life, right?

[Julián]: Fernando’s photograph appeared on the front page of the newspaper El Espectador the following day, with the title “Magic Encounter.” That handshake somehow symbolized the meeting of two worlds that until then seemed to be irreconcilable.

That a high authority of the Catholic Church came to the congress to shake hands with the organizer was something unthinkable just a week before.

And although the idea of uniting spiritualities had been a success, the plan was for the congress to also be good business. But that… didn’t turn out quite like that. When it was about to end, a new scandal broke out.

On the last day, a group of Mexican demonstrators staged a protest in front of the congress building. They carried giant signs that read “Simon’s Fraud,” with the S spelled out as a dollar sign. They complained because not all the presentations announced in the program had been given. The police had to intervene to remove the signs and end the demonstration.

The press also began to report the financial disaster of the event. They said it had lost the equivalent of about 300,000 in today’s dollars, and no one understood what had happened. Here’s Claudia:

[Claudia]: I don’t understand why they did poorly financially. I honestly don’t understand, because it was so successful. There were many, many people, many participants. So I don’t understand why they mishandled that part.

[Julián]: Perhaps it was in part because the ticket prices were not at all accessible. The congress was, without a doubt, something designed by and for a privileged sector. While the minimum wage in Colombia at that time was close to 115 dollars today, the prices to participate in the formal talks were as high as about 150.

What was more accessible to the general public was the sorcery fair. You could get in for about 4 of today’s dollars. That in a way explains the exorbitant attendance numbers at the congress. There were stands in the fair that sold things that had little or nothing to do with the theme of the event. This is Aurea, the Brazilian artist we heard from before: 

[Aurea]: Maybe the congress tried to cover too much, so the one thing that didn’t add up to me was why I was seeing some home appliances, and I said, “well, that looks like sales of contraband.”

[Julián]: Refrigerators, stoves, liquors, rugs, cleaning supplies, and even cars were being sold in the middle of an event that promoted the connection with nature, mysticism, magic, and the difference in beliefs. It didn’t seem to be very consistent.

At the time, Simón justified the bankruptcy saying it was the bad publicity the congress received in the press. For him, it was the reactionary positions of the Church and some Colombian politicians that explained why the congress did not reach even higher attendance goals.

The economic scandal would curb the interest that the delegations from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and the United States had in holding a second version of the congress in their countries. The one in Bogotá has so far been the first and only event of its kind.

And it was so attractive that they even talked about this topic on El Chavo del 8:


[Chavo]: But anyhow, the witch isn’t home…

[Don Ramón]: She isn’t back from Bogotá?  Now that you mention it, there was a witch congress there recently. Well, by that I don’t mean to say that Miss Clotilde is a witch, far from it.

[Julián]: Doing this almost five decades ago was a risk. And the issue is that although many people practiced this type of thing at the time, most did it behind closed doors, for fear of being judged. The consequences back then could be dire, ranging from malicious gossip to social rejection.

And perhaps, in Jotamario’s somewhat optimistic words, the greatest legacy the congress has had to do with that.

[Jotamario]: Because since then, there have been no further aggressions against this type of practices. The show was truly superb; it was wonderful—the characters that participated in it, but also the public that became part of the… the show itself.

[Julián]: Hippies. Workers. Businessmen. Afro-descendants. Bourgeois ladies. Natives. Teenagers. Farmers. The congress was an experiment that brought together a kaleidoscope of cultures under one roof.

And for me, the mere fact that such diverse people in Colombia, a country so conservative that it has even been called “the country of the Sacred Heart,” came together in an event that took place almost fifty years ago… That was by itself an achievement.

[Daniel]: In the 1980s and 1990s, Simón was appointed Intendant and later elected Governor of the San Andrés and Providencia archipelago. His work as a politician, much like what happened with the congress, was loved and hated. His imprint, however, is indelible. The figure of Brujo Simón is still remembered by many in Colombia.

Julián Sánchez González is a doctoral candidate in art history at Columbia University and a researcher at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The First World Congress of Sorcery is part of his doctoral thesis on art and spiritualities of the 20th century in the Americas and the Caribbean. He co-produced this story with Aneris Casassus. Aneris is a producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Buenos Aires.

This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Ana Tuirán, with original music by Rémy Lozano and Ana.

Thanks to Jonathan Rivera, Roberto de Zubiria, Daniela Cepeda, Gustavo Bush, María Teresa Guerrero e Irma Bermúdez Davis por su ayuda con esta historia. 

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes  Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Andrés Azpiri, Pablo Argüelles, Diego Corzo, José Díaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa y Luis Fernando Vargas. 

Natalia Sánchez Loayza is our editorial intern.

Selene Mazón is our production intern.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Radio Ambulante is edited on Hindenburg PRO. If you are a podcast creator interested in Hindenburg PRO, go to and get a free 90-day trial.

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.



Julián Sánchez González and Aneris Casassus

Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso and Daniel Alarcón

Bruno Scelza

Ana Tuirán 

Ana Tuirán and Rémy Lozano

Laura Pérez


Episode 7