Sunday, December 4, 2011


"El Santisimo".  My belief is that the centre of the central cross represents the communion wafer and therefore the body of Christ. This was what gives it power.

Pilgirms being blesssed as they enter the church.

Let me begin this post with apologies to Catholics.  I am sure I do not fully understand your traditions but I am struggling in that direction.   I was overwhelmed when I learned that the Catholic church had a problem with Mary, mother of Jesus.  We all know the story about Mary being a virgin (in some sense of that word), but it goes further.  At some point the church realized it was unacceptable to have Mary, the mother of god, herself born as the result of normal human sexual contact and thus being just another human.  As a human she would be subject to the normal temptations and vices.  Her image was cleaned up by creating the belief that Mary’s mother had conceived in the regular way but that God had interfered after this conception to provide divine grace -  in effect allowing us to erase the memory of that sexual contact, she was freed of original sin and her soul made immaculate.  This is magical thinking on a grand scale.

Examples of this type of magic occur daily.   People talk or sing to the virgin; they make promises to the virgin; they thank the virgin when they believe she has helped them, they dance for the Virgin, and on and on.  During the celebration of Guadalupe priests bless (sprinkle water on) all of the cars, taxis, buses and trucks in the parade and then later blesses all of the people who walk by the Virgin in the church.  On another day people take their pets to be blessed.  What do people believe about this water?  People pin milagros (little metal pieces representing a part of the body) in the church or as close to the Virgin as is allowed.  People touch the garments of the Virgin.  People take their baby Jesus figure to the church to be blessed before they put it in their nacimiento ( manger) on Christmas Eve.  In some communities a doll (taken to be a representation of Jesus) is carried through the streets by the most prestigious dancers (often the negritos).  Indeed some of these baby Jesus figures actually have god parents who are responsible for looking after them. In May, workers (and often others) make beautiful crosses, carry them to the top of the nearby hill where there is a larger cross and a priest who blesses all of the crosses.  These crosses are then returned to the work place and assumed to protect the house and its workers - thus no need for hard hats.  Some touch an image of the Virgin with flowers and then place the flowers in the house.  What are the beliefs behind this? One final example:  during a large competition of dancers with about 1000 observers, I learned that the dance costumes had been blessed by the priest the day prior to the event.  At the end of the competition we witnessed one of the dance groups enter the church and dance before the virgin. 

This following example amazes me but again I am a stranger to these traditions.  When there is a procession the priest or religious figures are almost always preceded by what I believe to be called “el santisimo” (the holy, the sacred).  In one village where people had created a tapete (a form of carpet) of flowers that stretched for more than one kilometer.  The priest was to walk down this tapete later (I am not sure if there was a religious image as well).    The priest was preceded by el santisimo and this simple act transformed the space and the priest.  The priest was no longer an ordinary human.  When the relics of Pope John Paul II passed through the pueblo here his vehicle was preceded by el santisimo.   Again, this simple act transforms everything.   When the Virgin of Health (Nuestra Señora Virgen de la Salud) is taken through the streets of Patzcuaro she is preceded by el santisimo and this act makes the space different than it was before.    One final example.  A young Mexican woman described her grandmother;s beliefs around Good Friday.  It is assumed that Jesus died at 10:00 AM and for the next 24 hours the small hole in the sky that allowed communication with God was closed.  For this reason her grandmother did absolutely nothing during those hours.   The young woman herself seemed to find the words to express this belief and the idea of a hole was the only description available.

Some will see this as a little harsh and perhaps naive and it may be all of these as I am a newcomer to all of this.  However, there are equally strange beliefs held by non-religious people.   Think of the beliefs many hold about the economy:  giving money to the wealthy will trickle down and “raise all boats”.  Low taxes will stimulate growth.  Acting in a communal way to provide health care or other necessities is a version of communism and thus dangerous to our liberties.  Democracies can be imposed on traditional societies.  Capitalism makes people happier than do hunting and gathering societies (often called primitive societies).   The rich have worked hard (harder than others) for their rewards.   When you eat fat it turn to fat on the body.  By not including the number 13 in an apartment tower the 13th floor somehow disappears.

We are all caught in a web of magical thinking of one kind or another.  It is only when in the midst of a quite different magical perspective that we are forced to think about our own perspective.

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