CATEMACO, Mexico -- The witchcraft business is thriving like never before in this town in southeastern Mexico, as Internet marketing and media-savvy shamans hitch centuries-old tradition to modern commercialism.
As the traditional March witching season beings, visitors from across the country are descending on Catemaco to find "brujos" -- witches -- to help them secure lovers, bring down enemies and even cement pacts with the devil.
The first Friday in March marks the most potent day of the year for performing black and white magic. Though the reasoning is a little fuzzy, the date may be related to the arrival of spring, said anthropologist Felix Baez.
This week, clients filled the office of professional witch doctor Luis Mathen and spilled out on the sidewalk in this lakeside town 275 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Ricardo Aguiles, 34, said he felt at peace after Marthen freed him from evil that he blamed for the failure of his computer repair shop.
Maria Garcia, 33, said she believed the witch could help her control her wayward husband, while her father, Jose Garcia, was seeking alleviation from aches and pains.
"This is called science," Marthen said while preparing the potions, amulets and accessories for a day of witchcraft. "Faith and science."
Witchcraft has inhabited Catemaco for centuries, according to Baez. The tradition is rooted in medieval practices brought by the Spanish that were mixed with indigenous customs and influenced by black slaves who worked in the area's sugar cane plantations.
Media interest since the 1980s has fed the town's fame, turning it into a veritable capital of spellcasting.
In less than a generation, the number of witches in Catemaco has risen from a handful to well over 100, and townspeople say it is still rising.
Today young men on bicycles accost visitors immediately when they get here, eager to lead arrivals to a witch and earn a commission.
Witches trade accusations of charlatanism, and Baez said it is not easy to separate the pretenders from the witches who genuinely believe they have supernatural powers. All of them use elements of theater and trickery, and there is no one official style.
Pedro Gueixpal maintains a Web site and is the most overtly commercial, donning a white satin tunic embroidered with Chinese dragons for a simulated cleansing before journalists' cameras.
His annual predictions for next year's events are a fixture in the regional press.
Marthen is more traditional, but no less dramatic.
He puts on a black cape and hood when required to undo somebody else's black magic and shows off scars he says he received when he almost lost control of the devil.
Rafael Aguirre attends to his patients in a bright white, air-conditioned room, wearing a three-piece white suit with a tie and breast pocket handkerchief -- his celestial aura augmented by piped music.
Aguirre acknowledges that much of his gift has nothing to do with devils or saints and boils down to a talent at psychological manipulation. But he insists the work is for the good of his patients.
"All the acting is part of the cure," he says. "You have to give people what they want, and what they want is to find evil behind things."
Outside Aguirre's consultation room, Elio Garcia, 59, sat for hours waiting for his turn. He first went to see Aguirre's father 40 years ago to cure his impotence, and his entire family now comes every year seeking help with a whole range of life's problems.
"I can't explain where his power come from, those are his secrets," the grandfather said. "But he is a great doctor. A great man."