25 06 2009

duende altar

Notes on the folk theology of the limbus infantium

In a book about Guatemalan folk saints, I saw a prayer to Don Diego Duende, who is portrayed as a portly man with a red suit and a red hat. Poke around the Internet, and you will find more prayers to him (the difference between these and witchcraft are virtually non-existent). Poke around even more, and you will find many prayers to protect oneself from duendes. Their role seems to be a bit ambiguous, as I quote from one Mexican website that I found, a series of children’s stories that mention duendes:

A pesar de ser tan traviesos, los duendes también acostumbran ayudar a los que se vuelven sus amigos. Los que quieren sus favores hacen un pacto con ellos: van a lo más apartado del monte a llevarles regalos, como elotes, agua, carne… y les rezan la oración del encantado. Algún duende les contesta que está de acuerdo echando tres chifliditos; o responde mandándoles venados y dejando que encuetren los tesoros de las cuevas.

In spite of being mischevious, goblins also are prone to help those who become their friends. Those who seek their favors make a pact with them: they go to the most secluded mountains and take them gifts, like corn, water, and meat… and they pray to them the enchanted prayer. A goblin answers them affirmatively by giving three whistles; or they answer them by sending them deer or leaving them to find treasures in caves.


Here is a description of how to get rid of a duende, this time from Colombia:

We should call the godfather of the girl right now and get together with the rest of the family. All of us need to dress up in red and draw a cross on our foreheads. In front of the house, we should make a fire in which we burn incense and myrrh, throwing in it every so often the hair of identical twins born on Good Friday. We should ask the priest for holy water and while we sprinkle it to the left and to the right, and we should say the magnet prayer.

The magnet prayer?

Yes, that’s what it’s called. There are many prayers to fix the harm caused by goblins. The words of St. Cyprian, of St. Helen, of Albertus Magnus,. And many people know them. But the most powerful is that of the magnet.


Granted, these are taken from children’s tales, but they are interesting nonetheless. So the duende can be anything in Spain or Latin America from a fairy, to a child-stealing goblin, to a Neoplatonic daemon (as in Frederico Garcia Lorca). Where, however, do duendes come from? As in many Catholic cultures, the most common idea of the origin of the duende is that it is a soul of an unbaptized infant that wanders the earth causing mischief and even bodily harm, but sometimes also helping people. (There is another theory of the origin of duendes as being the same as the neutral angels, but that is the subject of another post.)

Such ideas also existed throughout Europe, and among the Cajuns of Louisiana. In the latter case, such beings were called feux follets who would torment travellers as they wandered about in the dark. According to one source, the way you protected yourself from them was to stick a three-bladed knife into a tree. In other parts of the Catholic world, similar legends were told of how the souls of unbaptized children would become fairys or other morally ambiguous beings. Some thought the natural phenomenon of “will-o-the-wisp” was really the souls of unbaptized infants appearing in the night. Again, our cosmology of “black and white” was not something that our ancestors knew very much about. For them, they could have miscellaneous beings hanging out in God’s creation, and they didn’t think much about it.

Notice how no one instantly canonized such souls as many try to do today, saying that the soul of an unbaptized infant instantly goes to Heaven due to the faith of the parents or the community. While this is a sensitive issue, and one would not want to step on too many people’s toes, I point out here that even the uneducated, “uncatechized”, “superstitious”, masses took the Lord’s words seriously enough to believe that he who is not born again in water and the Spirit cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That is why the first trip of the newborn outside the house was for baptism. That is why midwives would baptize newborn infants in extremis. They took the Word of God seriously, even if their solutions to such a delicate theological question were “unorthodox” by today’s standards. Many theologians could learn from such an attitude that takes the concrete realities of grace and sin seriously.



10 responses

9 12 2012

why do duendes follow people?

9 12 2012

How do duendes go away plz tell me

24 07 2012

I jerked in my sleep for an hour last nite..I haven’t seen it I can just feel its presence. I just don’t want it bothering my family or anyone else.

24 07 2012

Did you ever figure out how to make them leave I’m 21 and my gf and I are having the same problem.I need help on how to make it leave,someone email me at dino_987@yahoo.com….

31 05 2012

Well they say that duendes follow women alot they love human women and thats probably why it follows you but you should bring in a priest to help with the solution he can pray for you and try to vanish the duende

2 02 2012

I’m being followed by two black duendes. This is not a joke! I’m really seeking out for help! One nite I happen to see something hiding in the bushes n it seemed like a face with a wicked smile.. I thought I ws goin crazy but the fact tht I wasn’t alone n my friend pointed it out first convinced me tht I’m not crazy. A lot of horrible things hav happened to me n my boyfriend. This thing pushes me away from home it even touches me n jst last nite it bit me. We do have pictures and a video of it. This thing even followed me to vegas! Like I said we hav pictures. Wenever I’m home whthe if its alone or with family I can hear a whistling like 24/. I dnt kno how to get rid of it. At times it seems like it goes away but wenever my bf comes to see me things start to act up again n den things get worst wen he leaves n I’m home. I’m 19 years old.. I really neeed help!! Its kinda stupid tht I. Can’t even be in my own room for a minute. Please if anyone knows of a solution please let me kno!!

21 12 2011
Haley guzman

Well for my information duendes are small people that live deep in the mountains nut they come down grom them amd live with people. Like me I am followed by one laughs at my mistakes and hides my stuff.I havent seen one but at night I put out winr and cookies and the next morning it was gone. They dont hurt you they just folloe you.so if you are being followed by one dont be acared

27 04 2010

my sister have a duende in her apmnt n her husband saw it too ??????????????????????????????????????? we want too knw how to get rid of it she didnt call him so how did he came to her n da kids

25 06 2009

Regarding the spiritual ambiguity of duendes, the case of Dr. Eugenio Torralba and his familiar spirit Zequiel comes to mind. According to legend, the duende appeared to the doctor as a kind of handsome Mephistopheles: “…en forma de joven gallardo y blanco de color, vestido de rojo y negro y le dijo ‘yo seré tu servidor mientras viva.’ Desde entonces le visitaba con frecuencia y le hablaba en latín o en italiano y, como espíritu de bien, jamás le aconsejaba cosa contra la fe cristiana ni la moral.” (Duendes, Guía de los seres mágicos de España,” Carlos Canales y Jesús Callejo).

The pseudo-Hebrew of the name “Zequiel” suggests to me that it was lifted from the name of spirit in some unofficial litany of angels or maybe a magical manual.

25 06 2009

Belief in duendes is also very common here in the Philippines. Some of my aunts believe in it just as much as they do the Immaculate Conception. I know of one case where a high-profile judge was disbarred because he admitted to consulting duendes on important cases. Here, though, there is a belief in different species of duendes. A white duende is said to bring good luck, and is known to play occasional tricks on people. A black duende, however, is often irascible and is said to live in the ground, so that if you step above its chosen patch of land, it is sure to bring the duende’s ire on you. This is why many old Filipinos still say “tabi-tabi po” (just passing through) when they see a huge mound in the ground, because the black duendes are supposedly capable of bringing the offender to limbo, there to stay for all eternity. I’m not sure, though, if the belief that they are the souls of the unbaptized is prevalent here, since that place is held by a ‘tiyanak’, a demon baby which is also said to be the aborted fetus come back to life to claim vengeance on its mother, and cause terror in general.

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