Exorcism in the Andes
By Jaime Saldarriaga
I first learned of exorcist Hermes Cifuentes, better known as “Brother Hermes,” through the local news media. His exorcisms fascinated me, so I decided to find out more. Many people are against what he does, but when I tracked down his phone number and called, he invited me to visit his retreat in La Cumbre, just north of Cali.
Brother Hermes is a very religious man. As we spoke he wore a white tunic and held a crucifix in his hand. His retreat is a farm with a small chapel filled with Catholic icons. The place is very peaceful, with hens, pigeons and rabbits roaming. He tells the people who look to him for help that they shouldn’t believe in him, but rather in the power of God.
It was only after I arrived that he told me he had two exorcisms to perform that same day, and that I could observe. We hiked up to the highest part of the farm, where there were two women dressed in white with their skin painted black, stretched out inside large rings drawn on the ground. The scene affected me deeply.
Hermes began the ritual by praying and sprinkling them with perfume. I felt impotent to be unable to photograph this scene, since from the start I had agreed to just watch my first exorcism without my camera. I couldn’t bear the frustration so I asked Hermes’ assistant for permission. She whispered into his ear, and then approached the relatives of the women being treated, and they gestured permission for me to go ahead.
I cautiously began to photograph as the women held crosses and chicken eggs in their hands, as Hermes prayed and asked the spirits what they were doing in the bodies of others. The women responded in strong voices that didn’t seem to be their own.
I found it frightening, and suddenly one of the women crushed the eggs she was holding in a violent way. I felt something strange and had to take a deep breath before continuing to shoot. Eventually, both women woke up saying that they felt very weak, and began to ask their relatives what had happened. They didn’t remember anything.
Hermes’ assistant took the women to bathe, and I was invited to visit the chapel with their relatives, where they prayed to eliminate any “bad energy.”
I kept in touch with Brother Hermes, and two months later he invited me to witness the exorcism of another woman. This time I was able to talk to her and her husband before the ritual, and they told me she was possessed by a bad spirit.
During the ceremony, Hermes invited me to step into one of the rings with the husband. He set fire to the ring with us inside, to also “cleanse us of the bad energy from the departing spirits.” The ritual ended, but this time the woman awoke saying she felt cleansed of the bad spirits.