Religion and revolution

8 06 2011

I recently saw a report from the BBC a couple of years ago on a shrine dedicated to St. Lazarus in Cuba. The report brings up again the rumor that many of the people who fought in the revolution were also believers in santeria. That is not surprising, as even in the films of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, one of the fathers of Cuban cinema, one often sees portrayals of popular and African religiosity, as in the montage above from his last film, Guantanamera.
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On the arcana

6 06 2011

Or two posts in one

About a year ago, I took a personal field trip to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to investigate the phenomenon of the treaters, or traiteurs. The more I read or hear about these folk healers, the more I realize that people’s attitudes towards certain things “back in the day” were quite different from our own. For one thing, I cannot find many instances of people actually writing down the prayers used by the folk healers in their cures. These were supposed to be secret, and only to be passed down to a member of the opposite sex. (As I have found out, this passing to the opposite sex was also the case for Appalachian folk healing.) If a healer could not find someone willing to learn the prayers, he or she took them to the grave. My wife’s great-grandfather was a treater, and the prayers died with him.

Why they were so secretive about these prayers is an object of speculation among anthropologists. One researcher has stated that the secrecy comes from the time of slavery. A slave who had managed to bring the healing arts with him from Africa did not want to reveal this to his master, since this would mean that he would be pressed into practicing them, and if unsuccessful, blamed for their failure, or possibly worse, of killing with black magic. This was perhaps to the point that the arts would die with them if for some reason they could not be passed down to someone reliable. The key seems to be that the power to heal was not seen as something belonging to the treater. Unlike curanderos in Latin America, they were not perceived to have el don or a particular power to heal. The prayers were what was important, and they were communal property, in that a treater could never charge for his or her services.
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St. Expedite

26 05 2011

More on the saint via the Lonely Goth blog:

“In the same family, you can find a Chinese Taoist, an Indian Muslim, a metropolitan Catholic, an African witch doctor and a Tamil Hindu,” I was told by a Tamil Catholic priest. “It all makes a lot of work for the priesthood: we are continually having to explain to our parishioners what is and is not Christianity.”…

In 1931 a box of sacred relics arrived from the Vatican. Somewhere in transit the label detailing the saint’s name had been lost, and the only indication as to its contents was a stamp on the side reading, in Italian, “ESPEDITO” (expedited). So began the cult of St Expedit, whose popularity grew year by year, until what had started as a clerical error ended with St Expedit becoming Réunion’s unofficial patron saint, a saint whose unwritten biography has come to crystallise the most profound hopes and fears of the island’s multiple ethnicities.

There are now about 350 shrines on Réunion dedicated to St Expedit. They sit beside every road junction, crown every hilltop, lie deep in the bottom of the island’s wildest ravines.

The local Catholic Church has given the saint the trappings of an early Christian martyr, with a silver breastplate and a red tunic. Hindus treat St Expedit as an unofficial incarnation of Vishnu; those wanting children come to his shrine and tie saffron cloths to the grilles.

More exotic still, some of the island’s sorcerers have given the cult a slightly sinister aspect by decapitating the saint’s image, either to neutralise his power or to use the head in their own incantations. According to Loulou, the sorcerer at Ilet des Trois Salazes had a small oratory in which he kept several heads of St Expedit.

“He used them to cast spells,” said Loulou. “We were all terrified of him: everyone believed he had very strong powers. But in the end the people kicked him out because he began to demand bribes not to cast spells on us all.”

“Weren’t you frightened that he would take revenge on you?”

“We took precautions,” replied Loulou. “We used stronger magic. We sent someone to the grave of La Sitarane in Saint-Pierre. It is the most powerful grave on the island. With La Sitarane on your side, no one can harm you at all.”





Notes on personal religiosity

23 05 2011

There are four tendencies that have influence, which I rank in ascending order of importance:

1. The post-Vatican II church: To tell the truth, I have never taken the modern Catholic church seriously. I mean, “never”. Even as a child, I knew all of it was rubbish. That goes for the modern Mass, the new catechism, any pope after Pius XII, and so on. If I have any affiliation with it whatsoever, it is because of nostalgia and an affinity for things not the modern church. It sometimes still keeps trinkets of the atavistic past (that pull on my heart strings) and it can defend values that I don’t find so bad at this point (tolerance, pluralism, etc.) But as a thing in itself, I find it all completely ridiculous.
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Pancho Sierra

10 05 2011

Short videos on the famous gaucho healer, who would heal with a glass of water and a little faith.





San Genarín

18 04 2011

Probably one of the more unique stories in the Spanish speaking world during Holy Week, this is a procession done on the night of Holy Thursday in commemoration of the tragic death of one of Leon’s most infamous clients of the bars and whorehouses there, Genaro Blanco Blanco, later known as San Genarín. At dawn on Holy Thursday, 1929, while completely drunk, Genaro was hit by the first garbage truck of the day while relieving himself on a wall. A few of his friends (later known as the “Evangelists) deeply appreciative of having known this bon vivant and figure on the bohemian scene of Leon, decided to have their own procession the next Holy Thursday, 1930, in which they went to all of the bars and whorehouses that Genaro once frequented. The legend then grew to include miracles attributed to “San Genarín”, such as a person being cured of a kidney ailment and a miraculous goal for the home team in an important game. The numbers in the annual procession grew until 1957, when it was banned by the fascist authorities, some say because it had more participants than the religious one.

After a twenty year hiatus, the processions began again, and continue to this day. They are complete with torches, statues of the people involved in the historical events, couplets celebrating the life of the “saint”, and offerings at the site of death. It is perhaps the only example that I know of where militant secularists have their own procession to rival the Catholic ones of Holy Week.





The other political side of spiritism

24 03 2011

A medium possessed by Pancho Villa curing people.

Oddly enough, this sort of reminds me of my grandparents (also from the Mexican state of Coahuila) who would drag us to charismatic prayer meetings, where the leader would go into a trance and start speaking in tongues while we were praying the rosary. Not necessarily my cup of tea now, but I don’t see a huge difference between that and what is portrayed above.

E. can step in and tell me if he remembers that.





El mal de ojo – II

1 03 2011

This video is from Ecuador, but it applies to Mexico as well. When I say Catholicism in Latin America is “90% spiritist”, this is sort of what I am getting at. All Mexican and other Latin American families have their own stories concerning this phenomenon.

Here is a link of a short film on the evil eye in the Mexican context.





Latin American Spiritism in context

14 02 2011

One could make the argument that the soul of religiosity in Latin America is ten percent Catholic and ninety percent Spiritist. That is an exaggeration to be sure, but it can go far in explaining the shape of Catholicism as it has developed in the past two hundred years. Raquel Romberg’s book, Witchcraft and Welfare: Spiritual Capital and the Business of Magic in Modern Puerto Rico, concerns the development of modern religious consciousness in the face of an emerging capitalist economy and its accompanying state. Romberg shows how witchcraft, espiritismo, and brujería, have all been grafted into contemporary conditions of life on all socio-economic levels. These practices are both preserving traditional spirituality and transforming themselves to meet the needs of believers in a constantly changing society.
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The sacred for sale

6 01 2011

Again, thanks to Wufila for posting this link to the Wall Street Journal article on the return of hoodoo practice in the Internet age. The article and the video were fascinating. Some random thoughts:

1. An anxiety of influence: I think that there is no doubt that there is some sort of flow of rituals and prayers between Mexico, the Caribbean, and the American South. The rose of Jericho ritual seen here is something that can also be seen in Spanish-speaking botanicas and occult shops. I have even seen before a holy card of High John the Conqueror in Spanish. It would probably be impossible to find out who influenced whom in this case. As in social and economic questions, the United States is inevitably tied to Latin America, and vice versa, at least in its undercurrents.
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