Aztec history is filled with tales of human sacrifice. And while the jury is out over just how often these bloody ceremonies occurred in Mesoamerica, the details of the are clear: A victim was laid upon a stone, where a high priest would slice open the abdomen, tear out the still-beating heart, and raise it as an offering to Huitzilopochtli, the deity of the sun.
Fast forward a few millennia and you find a 20th century High Priestess of Blood from Mexico. Her name was Magdalena Solís, and she sacrificed her followers as part of a dark quest for power.
Solís was born into poverty in Monterrey, Mexico sometime between 1930 and 1940. She became a prostitute early in life; her pimp was none other than her brother, Eleazar. It’s very possible Magdalena would have worked as a prostitute for her entire life, but once she met Santos and Cayetano Hernandez, everything changed.
Santos and Cayetano were brothers and scam artists, working their way through Mexico in the early ’60s. By late 1962, they reached the village of Yerba Buena with a scheme to dupe the local townspeople.
The con was simple: The brothers told the villagers they were prophets of exiled Incan gods. They promised prosperity in return for unquestioning devotion.
Of course, the Incan empire flourished many miles south, in modern-day Peru. But the impoverished and illiterate villagers of Yerba Buena knew no better. They bought the story hook, line, and sinker.
The conniving Hernandez brothers led their new followers into the nearby mountains, where they celebrated with forced orgies. Men and women were kept as sex slaves in caves, all in honor of the supposed gods.
The con worked for a while. But the villagers grew impatient. They wanted to meet the wealthy deities for whom their sexual slavery was performed.
So the Hernandez brothers traveled to Monterrey for help. There, they met the Solís siblings and quickly recruited them to pose as the long-awaited Incan gods.
Together, the four scam artists traveled back to Yerba Buena, and prepared a dramatic entrance. Once at the caves, the Hernandez brothers entered and began a ritual in worship of their gods. While the villagers’ attention was diverted, Magdalena emerged from behind a smoke screen.
The Hernandez brothers made a dramatic display of awe and claimed Magdalena was the reincarnation of a mysterious Incan goddess.
The villagers were transfixed; this had to be true. And for the first time, the young, poor prostitute from Monterrey felt the rush of absolute power.
It wasn’t long before she took over the cult completely, with Eleazar and the Hernandez brothers as her subordinate holy men. When two villagers attempted to leave, they were brought before the goddess. She sentenced them both to death. The defectors were lynched in full view of her terrified followers.
Sacrifice, Magdalena learned, was an excellent way to maintain power. She established a “blood ritual” which was enforced whenever someone questioned her authority. Dissenters were beaten, maimed, and set on fire by believers. With the victim barely breathing, the bloodletting would begin.
The blood was collected into a chalice and mixed with chicken blood, as well as marijuana or peyote. The concoction was then presented to the goddess and her holy men. Magdalena told the cult that consuming human blood allowed her to live forever; it was the nectar of the gods.
The grisly rituals continued for roughly six weeks. By the end, the leaders were dissecting the beating hearts of their freshly butchered victims. Magdalena proclaimed herself the reincarnation of Aztec goddess Coatlicue, mother of the sun, stars, and moon.
In the spring of 1963, a local teen named Sebastian Guerrero happened upon the cult’s caves. He watched in horror from behind a rock as they performed their blood rituals.
The adolescent ran over 15 miles to the nearest police station. But authorities laughed off the boy’s silly tale of vampires gulping blood in the mountains. Officer Luis Martinez agreed to escort young Guerrero back to Yerba Buena. On their way back, Guerrero convinced the officer to make one last visit to the caves.
The pair was never seen alive again.
When Martinez failed to return, authorities realized something terrible had happened. On May 31, 1963, police descended upon Yerba Buena – with the Mexican army in tow.
A heavy shootout commenced outside the caves. Multiple cult members were gunned down in the fire fight, including Santos Hernandez.
Magdalena and her brother were captured alive on a nearby farm. The bodies of Guerrero and Martinez were also found here. Martinez’s heart had been torn out from his chest in the grisly sacrificial style of the Aztecs.
Solís was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the deaths of Guerrero and Martinez. Authorities suspected her of killing many more, but surviving cult members refused to testify against her.
It would be years before ex-members finally broke free from the spell of the High Priestess of Blood.
[ed: An earlier version of this story featured a purported photo of Magdalena Solís used by other sites.]
Photos: Pedro Vasquez Colmenares / Flickr; Mike Tungate / Flickr; Angi English / Flickr; Rob Sheridan / Flickr