Descended From the Heavens
Picture the scene. It’s 1963, you’re an impoverished farmer from Yerbabuena — a tiny, isolated farming village at the feet of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains — entering a mountainside cave in the dead of night. By the firelight from the torches inside, you can make out the exhausted faces of almost everyone you’ve ever known gathered together. These are the twenty other families from the community, all gathered here to witness the fulfilment of a spectacular promise: a magical goddess is about to arrive, and bless you all with riches.
For months, the entire village has been praying to this pagan idol. On the instructions of her two high priests, the Hernandez brothers, everyone donated a huge percentage of their meagre earnings and possessions, fattened the two prophets up on as much food as they could spare, and engaged in bizarre ritual orgies at their command. All of this to win the favour of the “powerful and exiled Inca gods.”
For centuries there were rumours of gold buried in the Sierra Madre mountains, hidden in one of the hundreds of caves around the area. The Hernandez brothers promised that their old gods would lead the villagers to one of these millionaire-making caches. But when the months wore on with no results, a group of farmers confronted the brothers with an ultimatum: show some results soon, or the party was over.
So the prophets promised to have a chat with the Inca gods to see what they could do. That’s why everyone was gathered here in this muggy cave, late at night. The brothers are back, and they claim that the mother goddess Coatlicue won’t be far behind. All the people had to do was complete the summoning ritual.
To begin with, someone passes round a lovely warm cup of peyote tea and some joints, which start to kick in nicely while the brothers go about draining the blood from a goat for the umpteenth time. Despite having a nice psychedelic buzz on, most of them are still feeling pretty skeptical that this will work But at the same time, they’re completely desperate for a miracle; these Hernandez guys already have all of their stuff and most of their dignity, so they were really holding out for some positive returns.
Once the goat is dead and the chanting over, a third, unfamiliar man in robes approaches the altar. He’s introduced as the high priest of Coatlicue, and in a booming voice he congratulates the villagers: the ritual worked. He chants some spells in a strange language, and everyone jumps back in shock as a flash of light bursts out from the back of the cave, leaving a thick cloud of smoke behind.
The smoke dissipates, along with the last of their skepticism. Because there she is: the goddess Coatlicue, all dolled up in a necklace of bones, Aztec-style garb, and an elaborate ceremonial headdress. All of the terrified villagers drop to their knees in unison to beg this living goddess for salvation.
But with their foreheads pressed against the cold rock of the cave floor, they miss something crucial: a wry smile on the faces of the Hernandez bros. Everything went perfectly according to plan…
The Fact Behind the Fiction
Now, I doubt we have any ancient Incan god worshipers listening, so I can probably safely say this without offending anyone: they’re not real. And keen listeners might have already noticed that, even if they were, they probably wouldn’t be hanging out in Mexico (the Incans came from Peru — it’s the Aztecs the Hernandez brothers were thinking of, and who Coatlicue belonged to).
That should hardly be a surprise though, because it’s pretty obvious that nothing about the Hernandez sex cult was authentic. Santos and Cayetano rocked up to Yerbabuena in late 1962, and after realising how financially desperate the poorly educated villagers were, they sensed an opportunity.
Up until now, the two conmen had made a meagre living by hopping from town to town, pulling off a string of minor scams. But now their appetites for deception were growing. With no school, police station, or church in town, Yerbabuena gave them a free license to pull off their most ambitious con yet.
On the morning of their arrival, Santos and Cayetano gathered the residents in the middle of the ramshackle village, and proclaimed themselves prophets of the old gods, who would soon return to punish the heretics. True believers, however, would be rewarded for their devotion with incredible wealth. Given the myths of ancient treasure hidden in the mountains, this played into the villagers’ fondness for folklore.
The brothers then used a bunch of cheap sleight-of-hand tricks to convince the people that they possessed supernatural powers. Us enlightened modern minds might feel like turning our noses up at these rural farmers for falling for it so easily, but just look at how many everyday people are drawn in by Nigerian prince and cryptocurrency scams each year. The common denominator is desperation.
Seeing this as their only chance to escape extreme poverty, the 50 or so villagers that called Yernabuena home donated what little they had to the cause. This admittedly wasn’t very much, as their main source of income was selling whatever small amounts of corn and beans were left over from their harvests.
Underwhelmed with the material gains, the brothers soon demanded that the women and young girls of the village act as their sexual slaves. When they got bored of that, they included the men as well. One source even claims the Hernandez brothers sold teenaged girls to human traffickers from the border towns after abusing them. Such was their power over the village, that the people continued to comply.
Every few days, the community would all gather in the caves filled with cannabis smoke and ritual incense, for the aforementioned animal sacrifices and orgies. God knows how they managed to stay in the mood — I always find it a major turn off when a woman kicks a romantic evening off by slitting the throat of a goat. And after suffering three months of these perverse rituals, those stingy Incan gods hadn’t given up a single piece of gold. The villagers were understandably feeling short changed.
So that’s when the brothers promised to bring their complaints to upper management. Lesser conmen would have just cut their losses and run, but Santos and Cayetano were committed to the grift. They promised the people a goddess, and they were damn well going to deliver one.
They travelled to the town of Monterrey — base camp of their sex trafficker associates — to find a suitable accomplice. There they met a pimp named Eleazor Solis, who knew a woman perfect for the role: his sister, Magdelina Solis. The 18-year-old had been working under her brother as a prostitute since the age of twelve, forced into the job out of poverty. Not much is known about her backstory, but safe to say it must be pretty damn tragic.
What we do know is that Magdelina was no stranger to a good supernatural scam — she supplemented her income by working as a medium and fortune teller. Her specialty was channeling the spirits of dead bruja (witches). After years spent pretending to summon satanic spirits, playing a literal goddess reborn would only take a little bit of adjustment. So she and her brother rode back to Yerbabuena with the Hernandez bros, ready to take their con to the next level.
The night of her big debut in the cave, it was the pimp Eleazor playing the high priest. And the magical puff of smoke? Just a bit of flash powder, ignited by the conmen. They had all the production values of a zero-budget B movie, but it was more than enough to keep the hopes of the villagers alive.
However, there was one thing that the conmen hadn’t planned for; getting into character was easy for Magdelina — it was getting out that was the problem. As she stepped through the smoke and assumed the role of the goddess Coatlicue that night, she started down a slippery slope of religious psychosis. High on her first ever taste of power (and an endless supply of peyote and weed) she started believing that she actually was the Incan mother goddess after all.
That might not have been a problem, but as you might know, Aztec gods aren’t exactly the love and forgiveness type…
Hard to be a God
Perhaps by drawing on her own deep well of trauma, Magdelina soon injected the rituals of the Hernandez cult with her own brand of perversion. Not content to have an entire village as her sexual slaves, the drugged up goddess upped the ante to include bloodletting. In Aztec mythology, human blood is supposed to sustain the gods’ immortality, and prevent the end of days. So at her command, the cultists started slurping down blood like a bunch of degenerate Catholics on Sunday.
Magdelina would cut their skin, drain the blood into a ritual chalice, mix it with peyote, and pass it around. With everyone whipped into a mad religious fervour, Magdelina then commanded them to engage in incest, bestiality, and even pedophilia for her amusement. I could double down on that Catholic joke here, but it might be a bit much.
By now, the goddess herself was the one in control. Even if the Hernandez brothers wanted to stop her, they were powerless to; in the eyes of the villagers she was their master. So things only got darker from there. A few weeks into Coatlicue’s terrible reign, a couple of villagers started voicing concerns about how their quaint little village had become a vision of hell on earth. Plus, still no gold!
The goddess dubbed these two concerned citizens heretics, and ordered the rest of the villagers to lynch them. Terrified of what horrible curse she might dole out, they obeyed, and beat two of their own to death right in front of her.
Pandora’s box was now well and truly open. Over the following weeks, the Hernandez brothers officially integrated these lynchings into the rituals themselves. If the faith of any of the villagers wavered, Magdelina would have them beaten, and carried to the caves. There, each villager took a turn cutting, beating, burning, and dismembering these human sacrifices to please the goddess.
The ceremonies ended with her drinking a cocktail of the victims’ blood, mixed with chicken blood and psychedelics. After drinking her fill, she passed the chalice on to her priests, then the villagers themselves. Every man, woman, and child drank their share of the blood, believing it would grant them magical powers.
Soon not even that was enough for Coatlicue Solis. After sacrificing several followers, the ancient Aztec goddess started to implement the most gruesome aspects of Aztec rituals. With her victim pinned to the altar, she used her ceremonial dagger to cut their beating hearts out of their bodies, while they were still alive…
Sebastian Guerrero and the Temple of Doom
If I’ve got the timeline right, it took Magdalena Solis less than two months to raise the stakes from ritual orgies to amateur open-heart surgery. At this impressive rate, the whole village would soon have been sliced to pieces at her command. But luckily, Magdelina was about to get a major reality check from the law.
It all started with a chance encounter. One evening in May 1963, a 14-year-old boy named Sebastian Guerrero was out wandering alone. When he approached the outskirts of Yerbabuena, he spotted something odd up the mountainside: flickering lights coming out of a cave.
As he walked up to investigate, he heard sounds coming from the mouth — part human, part like the howling of wild animals — and smelled ritual incense in the air. He crept up to the opening, and crouched behind a rock. By the firelight, he saw one of Coatlicue’s late-stage rituals in full swing.
Her highness herself stood at the altar, with a human heart in hand. Her dismembered victim lay lifeless on the stone slab, where some villagers sliced into it with their machetes, and drained the blood into chalices. The rest of them were busy runting away in a massive orgy on the cave floor. If it weren’t for the whole murder thing, the teenager might have stopped to watch for a while, but Guerrero did the smart thing ran down the mountain as fast as he could.
He never stopped or slowed down until he reached the town of Villagrán, a full fifteen miles away. There he found the police station, and tried to explain to the cops what he had seen: a cave full of maniacs, “drinking blood like vampires”. Nobody believed him at first, because it sounds like something a bored teenager would make up as a prank. But the kid was insistent, and visibly shaken. The police offered to send officer Luis Martinez back with him to investigate.
As the days wore on with no news from either of them, the officers started to think the young boy’s mad ramblings might have been true…
The End Times
The cops in Villagrán contacted their superiors at the state capital, Ciudad Victoria. They launched a preliminary investigation into the disappearance, and started to hear some worrying rumours about what went on in the caverns surrounding Yerbabuena. Now they began discussing the serious possibility of a devil-worshipping cult in the mountains.
The cops enlisted the help of soldiers based in the state capital to march on this satanic little enclave. So towards the end of the month, a large force of police and army drove to Yerbabuena to find the two missing men. La policia stormed through town and kicked down the door of the farmhouse where Magdelina Solis and her brother were holed up.
Inside, the two of them lay stoned out of their nuts on cannabis and peyote, making the arrest a fairly laidback affair. Santos Hernandez put up more of a fight — he ran out of a back door and tried to make a break for the mountains, firing back at the officers as he went. The cops shot him dead.
This sent the villagers into a panic; they probably assumed their all-powerful goddess could just transform all the invaders into snakes or something, but there she was getting dragged out of her house in handcuffs, barely able to stand. So those who could turned and ran for the mountains, seeking refuge in the sacred caves.
The army ran up the slopes after them, but were met with gunfire when they approached the barricaded entrance to the main shrine. A shootout ensued, but the villagers were hopelessly outgunned. Dozens died. Those that didn’t were forced to walk out with their hands up in surrender. And so, the entire surviving population of Yerbabuena were loaded into army trucks, and carted off to jail.
When the dust settled, the cops started searching for their missing man, and the teenaged witness. But it was too late to save them. They found Martinez and Guerrero in a room at the Solis farmhouse, dead and dismembered. The goddess and her priests had cut the policeman’s heart out of his chest.
Near the cave itself were the bodies of six more victims: the two lynched men, and four more sacrificed over the last two months. They also found the other Hernandez brother, Cayetano. At first the officers thought he had been killed in the crossfire during the skirmish, but it turned out he was murdered by one of his own followers.
Back when the cop and witness were killed, the villagers probably knew that trouble would follow. Tensions must have been running higher than ever, and it seems like the high priests might have lost some control in the panic. At some point, one of the cultists grew wise to the scam, and demanded a priestly title for himself. Cayetano Hernandez refused to oblige, and was promptly shot dead.
With the two conmen dead, their goddess and high priest in chains, and all of their followers either shot down or arrested, the story of the short-lived but terrible Hernandez cult was at an end.
Or really, it should have been called the Solis cult — while the two brothers might have founded it, it was Magdelina who really made the case one for the dark history books. For their part in the whole thing, she and her brother Eleazar were sentenced to fifty years behind bars on two counts of homicide.
These were the deaths of Officer Guerrero and the young boy Martinez. As for the other bodies, prosecutors couldn’t prove that the diabolical duo were directly to blame for their deaths. That’s because not a single one of the cultists were willing to testify against their goddess — no Judases here.
I mean, if you genuinely believed she was an ancient, powerful deity, you probably wouldn’t snitch either. But why stick by her even once it was proven that she had no magical powers? My guess is that, once half of your family and mates are dead, the sunk cost fallacy kicks in pretty hard. Better to just stay the course, and hope the Aztec gods break you out of jail, than admit you were swindled into becoming an incestuous murder-vampire.
As a result, every one of the cultists shared in the blame for the crimes. The fact that they were a largely illiterate, isolated community preyed on by manipulative conmen was a mitigating factor, but that’s not quite a Get Out of Jail Free card. Each of them was sentenced to 30 years for “group or gang murder, or lynching.”
It would be years before any of them would speak openly about their experiences in the cult. Their belated — and potentially untrustworthy — testimony is why some sources speculate that, despite the fact only eight bodies were found, the actual number of murders might be as much as double that. Perhaps some other unlucky travellers stumbled across the village in those dark months, and weren’t able to escape. We’ll never know for sure.
To wrap up, I’d like to point out that one of the maddest things about this case is that it sounds like something from hundreds of years ago, but it happened in the middle of the 20th century. I guess that it’s always been true and always will be: wherever there’s desperation, there’ll always be people willing to prey on the desperate with fantasies of massive wealth.
On a completely unrelated note, let me remind you that all that ancient Aztec gold is still up in those mountains. It just so happens that I possess the only map in existence, inherited from my uncle — the crown prince of Ghana. If you send me like, 2 or 3 Bitcoin, I’ll fax it over ASAP.
Look forward to doing business with you.
- If you look at the legends behind the Aztec gods, Magdelina’s Coatlicue impersonation was actually pretty pitch perfect. In their creation myth, the mother goddess gives birth to 400 gods and goddesses, who turn on her while she’s pregnant with the 401st. They behead Coatlicue, whose blood spurts out as two snakes. Then she posthumously gives birth to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. The fully-grown newborn comes out armed, slays dozens of his siblings, and tosses one of their heads into the sky (which becomes the moon). Surely the most metal religion in history.