“I Am Nobody to Break a Vow Made to God”

22 04 2009


By Bob McPhail

Three young men in their early teens are walking toward a bus stop in downtown Tijuana. Despite the mid-afternoon sun, each of them is dressed in a monk’s habit fashioned from heavy, brown cloth. But they are too young to be monks, and their demeanor is that of school kids on their way home.

“Oh,” says a priest when asked about what these boys might be up to, “they are probably doing a manda.” Las Mandas are a tradition of Mexican piety dating back to the Spanish Conquest, according to Father Jorge Echegoyen, a diocesan priest in Tijuana. “Mandas are a traditional belief in Mexico that are a mixture between faith and superstition. People in Mexico, especially in the south, have rituals and rites that are both pagan and Christian. Among these are mandas. They come from a view of the world that we are always sinners and we need to sacrifice. We need to be reminded how far away we are from the holy.”
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Russian Prison Tattoos

22 04 2009

Recently, I watched the documentary film, The Mark of Cain, on the tattoos and life in Russia’s harshest prisons. It was interesting to see how symbols of Orthodox Christianity were used by criminals to symbolize their biography of crime. Cupolas on a church, for example, symbolize how many crimes they have committed in their criminal history. A Golgotha scene represents murder, while thieves have their own symbols, and so forth. I highly recommend this documentary, but it is not for the faint of heart.

It reminded me quite a bit of the phenomena in Mexico of criminals tattooing Santa Muerte on themselves as a promise to her, though the tattoos of the Russian inmates seemed to be far less significant in terms of their religious interpretation.