New film on Venezuelan spiritism

31 08 2010

You can watch the whole film in Spanish starting with the above video.

When watching this, I cannot help but think that the surge of spiritism in Latin America, tied in intimately with the emergence of “folk saints”, has to do with the growth of secularism in the discourse of civil society. Practices and attitudes that always existed in the Catholic framework detach themselves and become “separate religions”. In most places, the hegemony of the Church was challenged with the independence movements in the 19th century. By the 20th century, the elites were often secular positivists or even spiritists in one form or another (Allan Kardec making spiritism seem to be a “science of the soul”). The first president during the Mexican Revolution, Francisco Madero, was a devout spiritist.

The syncretism seen above often is the result of these beliefs trickling down to the “lower classes”. Catholic figures and symbols, being part of the communal and national consciousness, are effortlessly grafted onto spiritist beliefs, and vice versa. With the invasion of other sects and forms of religiosity, it is easier for these tendencies to identify themselves as other religions altogether separate from “official” Catholicism. Curanderos become priests, “superstitions” become dogma, and religious identity becomes less complex for some people, while more complicated for others.


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3 responses

1 09 2010
Jared B.

I can’t understand Spanish so I can’t really appreciate the video, but I’ve read generally somewhat on the phenomena, and I think what Arturo (and others) have pointed out is that we’re mostly looking at practices that aren’t new, but changes within and around the Church are shifting practitioners from mostly identifying themselves as Catholics, to being identified (by others and/or themselves) as outside the Church. I’m sure they can duke it out whether they left the Church behind or the other way around…

1 09 2010
+Wulfila

I’m really behind on research at the moment and so have not had a chance to watch this yet, but is it common for practitioners to refer to themselves as a religion distinct from Catholicism, as opposed to Catholics? And is this pattern of self-naming relatively uniform (most practitioners calling themselves one thing or another), or fairly scatterpoint, with different practitioners handling self-identification differently? I’m not certain I trust any of the online sites I’ve found thus far for matters that require the ability to meaningfully interpret ambiguous data, rather than rehearse simple ethnographic facts.

31 08 2010
Jared B.

Kinda puts things in perspective when a local Catholic apologetics group (or sometimes even a bishop) freaks out about Catholics practicing Yoga or the “centering prayer” or using the Enneagram.

As a convert from neo-paganism / Wicca, the situation is so totally different. Most of those groups are rabidly anti-Christian and always on guard against Judeo-Christian influences — possibly even more than many Christian Evangelicals (and Catholics who talk & think like Evangelicals) are ‘on guard’ against pagan syncretism!! 😮 There were plenty of hybrid books on the shelves of the New Age bookshops, and most self-proclaimed neo-pagans sneered at the “angel guide” and “Hebrew goddess” books as stuff for the weak-minded who couldn’t handle a total rejection of Christianity. I think here in the U.S., ‘spiritism’ never really trickled down from the level of Kardec and Yeats’ celto-pagan revival, it just mellowed out into something more consumable to the suburban middle class.

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