Into the Mexican Revolution:
Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual
By C.M. Mayo
(Dancing Chiva, 2014)
I. MADERO'S SECRET BOOK
When Halley's comet, that star
with the quetzal's tail, flared across Mexican skies in 1910,
it heralded not only the centennial of Independence, but a deeply
transformative episode, the Revolution launched by Francisco
I. Madero on November 20, what Javier Garciadiego calls "the
true beginning of a process, the birth of the modern Mexican
state." The great chorus of Mexican historians agrees. And
yet, almost unknown and curious as it may sound, a vital taproot
of this revolution lies in the Burned-Over District of New York
As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I have learned to
appreciate that fact can be stranger than anything one might
imagine. Before returning to the Burned-Over District, a word
about Francisco I. Madero and how I came upon his Manual espírita,
this until now obscure and yet profoundly illuminating bookat
the very least for understanding Madero himself, why and how
he led Mexico's 1910 Revolution, and the seething contempt of
those behind the overthrow of his government and his assassination.
Madero was a Coahuilan rancher and businessman without whose
daring and passion the Revolution might not have begun when it
did, and without whom modern Mexico might not have been able
to rightly call itself a republic. Francisco I. Madero was none
other than Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy," who rejected
a stolen election and took up arms to bring down Porfirio Díaz,
the military strongman who had ruled Mexico directly and indirectly
for more than three decades. When Díaz fled to Paris in
1911, Madero did not seat himself upon the presidential throne;
with an interim government in place, he once again campaigned
throughout the country to become Mexico's democratically elected
President, and only after unequivocally winning that election
did he take office later that year. In 1913, but fifteen months
into his term, Madero was overthrown in a coup d'état
engineered by a cabal of conservatives (and the influence of
a meddling U.S. ambassador) and then, with shocking casualness,
executed. The Mexican Revolution then exploded into a new and
more violent phase, churning on until 1920 with Alvaro Obregón's
presidency or, as some historians argue, the end of the Cristero
Rebellion in 1929.
Popular imagery of the Mexican Revolution usually features rustic
characters in bandoliers and washtub-sized sombreros, such as
smoldering-eyed Emiliano Zapata, with his handlebar mustache
and skin-tight trousers, or Pancho Villa, who always seems to
wear the smirk of having just quaffed a beer (though he was a
teetotaler; more likely it was a strawberry soda). Less often
are we shown Don Francisco, handsomely-dressed scion of one of
Mexico's wealthiest familiesusually bareheaded, occasionally
in a top hatfor he was and remains a confounding figure.
He was a Spiritist, and what the devil is that? I had no idea.
And until 2008, it had not occurred to me to wonder.
I had just finished writing The
Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, a novel based on several
years of original archival research into an episode during Mexico's
French Intervention of the 1860s, the so-called Second Empire
under Maximilian von Habsburg. I mean to say, spending an afternoon
delving into an archive, I am happier than a cat after mice.
At that time, my husband was in Mexico's Ministry of Finance,
which has a number of archives, among them, Francisco I. Madero's.
His archive is available to the public, but thanks to my husband's
invitation, I had the immense privilege of viewing it in private
with the archivist, Martha López Castillo.
When we arrived, she had arranged a selection of the most outstanding
items on a table that spanned nearly the width of the room: Madero's
masonic regalia; photographs; documents. We went down the table,
as she explained the importance of each piece.
Years earlier, on a tour of the National Palace, in one of its
parade of ornately decorated rooms (I couldn't have told you
which) I had seen the bureau that still bore the bullet hole
from the shoot-out between General Victoriano Huerta's men and
the presidential guard that ended with President Madero and Vice
President, Pino Suárez, taken prisoner. If I knew anything
about Madero it was because I had been living in Mexico on and
off for two decades, and in Mexico, Madero has a stature comparable
to Abraham Lincoln's-in the political-historical sense, not the
physical, for Madero was short, with a balding pate and a neatly
trimmed triangle of a beard. In portraits, Madero appears kindly
yet dignifiedone can easily imagine him managing a prosperous
complex of farms and factories (as he did). The few moving pictures
of him reveal a theatrical, embracing energy. Madero was also
distantly related to my husband's family: a paternal uncle had
married a great niece of Madero. In sum, what I knew then about
Madero amounted to little more than the barest gloss over the
story Mexican schoolchildren learn, but certainly I was vividly
aware of his transcendent and deeply respected role in Mexican
Not halfway through this presentation, my gaze fell on a little
book, Manual espírita by "Bhima."
"Who was Bhima?" I asked.
"Madero himself," the archivist answered.
I had picked it up and was already leafing through it... Los
invisibles, Chrishná, Mosés, La doctrina secreta...
it seemed a farrago of the Bible, Madame Blavatsky, and Hindu
"Really?" I said. "Bhima was Francisco Madero?"
I knew, instantly and absolutely, that I had to translate this
book into English. Had it been translated?
"Are you sure?" This, too, seemed too extraordinary.
"I assure you, it has never been translated."
Within the week, I had received a xerox copy of this strange
little book, and I began my self-appointed taskwhich turned
out to be a Mount Everest more than I imagined.