Many thanks to this blog for linking to one of my articles on Maria Lionza, the nationalist syncretic cult of Venezuela. And thanks to its further research, I found two more links to be taken into consideration regarding this phenomenon:
Both center on the bloody happenings at Sorte Mountain, the legendary home of the indigenous mother goddess, Maria Lionza. The most fascinating thing I learned was concerning the strangest group in the pantheon of this modern religion: the Viking Court. Apparently, there was a Viking-oriented television show in Venezuela in the 1970’s, and in a sort of cargo-cult transformation, these Vikings, including Erik the Red, regularly take possession of mediums to cure people and expel their demons. (This is somewhat similar to the possession of mediums by Pancho Villa in northern Mexico in the 1950’s, who would regularly expel demons by shouting obscenities at them.) The cult to the Vikings is by far the most bloody, resembling the painful bloody rituals of Voudoun and of various holy places of India. It is also indicative of my positing of the divine as completely contingent. “Incarnation” is not the Ideal manifesting itself in the contingency of history, but the means by which the contingent becomes the Ideal. In this process, a head of garlic, a statue of the Grim Reaper, a card game, or a television program can become the center of the sacred; the embodiment of god itself. More on that a little later.
This phemomenon also indicates is the future of modern religiosity, if only seen in the Latin American microcosm. In Latin America, I would contend that the days of institutional Catholicism’s influence are numbered. On the purely Christian side, evangelical Protestantism, particularly that of the Pentecostal-type, will eat its lunch. One Venezuelan anthropologist in one of the above essays states that the Maria Lionza cult is not growing nearly as quickly as many say because of evangelical influence. I believe him, but I think it is the other side of the religious coin. Pentecostalism is the more modern, more decent version of such things as the cult of Maria Lionza, often with the same therapeutic concerns of the blood-spattered mediums. If anything, from a purely modern confessional perspective, Catholicism’s only future will be amongst the “Opus Dei” inspired middle class (God save us from them!), or will be the “official” religion of those who are spiritist on the side (baring a revival of liberation theology, but don’t count on it). “Official” Catholicism has too much institutional and doctrinal overhead (a celibate clergy, a modernizing liturgy, a morality mismatched to modern society) to have any real future.
On the other hand, all of this clearly indicates that Tradition has its roots not in history, but in eternity, or rather, in the eternal return. How is it that anthropolgists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. believe in a trance-based religion, summoning spirits sacred to the national myth? How is it that pop culture can turn into displays of bloody religious atavism within a couple of decades? How is it that religious tendencies suppressed by decent, phallocentric monotheism for centuries suddenly come out in the open, pushed undoubtedly by forces from the outside, but nonetheless speaking to tendencies latent in the human psyche? All religion if it is real religion is cyclical, and absurdly so. Monotheistic religions try to break that circle with the entrance of time (eschatology) into human thinking, but that timeline is always broken apart, reformed, and repeated over and over again. Catholicism, if it is anything, is the uneasy adaptation of the central, desacralizing monotheistic impulse to concrete manifestations of the eternal return. It is my opinion that in the last century or so, this adaptation has slowly been breaking down, though I wouldn’t totally count it out yet.
Really, the future of religion lies either in the ecstatic and often bloody rituals of Maria Lionza, or the freewheeling and institutionally loose (if equally ecstatic) structure of Pentecostalism. Catholicism will only be successful insofar as it can mimic those two tendencies. The future of historically hegemonic Catholicism aside from that is quite grim in my opinion.