Notes on Zizek’s Christianity

13 01 2011

When Christian commentators get excited about Slavoj Zizek’s dialogue with Christianity, it seems to be sort of like the biggest high school nerd getting excited because the head cheerleader casually said hi to him in the hallway. As one of my mentors told me some time ago, for anyone to get excited about intellectual developments in Christianity in the last fifty years is a little like becoming obsessed with the politics of a kindergarten sand box. It goes without saying that we are on the defensive. It should go without saying that even the most militant Christian ideologue doesn’t believe in half the words that come out of his mouth. As Zizek would point out, most fundamentalists say and do absurd things precisely because they don’t really believe, not because they do.
Read the rest of this entry »

On superstition – part II

20 09 2010

“Your grandmother was superstitious,” my mother told me when describing my paternal grandmother’s veneration of la Santa Muerte. “She said that if she prayed to her, she wouldn’t come to take her in the night.”

This from my mother, who could seamlessly weave faith and folklore, old wisdom and wives’ tales into her exhortations to close the door when I left the house or not put too much salt in my food. Even my mother has standards, even when it seems that I don’t.

Perhaps this was the reason why my mother would only reluctantly tell us how things could really be like back on el rancho in Mexico. It was at a birthday dinner that AG and I took her out for (my mother is out of her element in any restaurant that doesn’t serve hamburgers) that she first told me about the remedies for el mal de ojo, or evil eye. I had known such things existed, of course, as my closest cousin was “cleansed” by his grandmother of the fright sickness. This type of stuff was just background noise for a pocho kid growing up in rural central California. By the sheepish way that my mother recounted this particular story, she probably already heard the “half way catechized” Catholic naysayers telling her that this was just superstition. “Here, have another scapular.”
Read the rest of this entry »

More movie moments with la Pelona

21 07 2010

I had another strange eoncounter with la Santa Muerte recently. AG and I went to eat dim sum with friends this past weekend. As usual, so much social activity was too much for us, so we returned home and switched on the T.V. As usual, we had two hundred channels of nothing to watch, but out of sheer nostalgia, I paused at the Spanish-language station when I saw they were showing an India María movie. For those who are rusty in regards to their Mexican popular culture of the last four decades, la India María was a comedic character created by María Elena Velasco that embodies the Mexican equivalent of “black face”, though the veiled racisim here is a little more innocuous. María is just a poor Indian woman confused with urban life and the newfangled ways of the people she encounters in the city. But she proves to be more cunning than everyone else, and manages to save the day in spite of herself. I can’t tell you how many times as a child growing up in the 1980’s I was forced to attend movies or watch on T.V. Velasco’s slapstick antics.

Well, serendipity struck twice, since the above scene was the one I encountered when I turned the channel to the Spanish station. It is a macabre scene in the 1976 film, El miedo no anda en burro (literally, “Fear does not ride a donkey”). She encounters a man playing the organ with, of all things, a picture of la Santa Muerte over the keyboard. Not much explanation is given regarding the placement of the picture. Nor does the picture seem to be more than a personification of death in the context of the movie. But the image is very much the one that is venerated by her devotees. Just another interesting piece of my armchair urban anthropology on a Saturday afternoon.

On the margins of theology -IX

10 06 2010

Notes on holy criminals and sacred banditry

…et nos quidem iuste nam digna factis recipimus hic vero nihil mali gessit et dicebat ad Iesum Domine memento mei cum veneris in regnum tuum et dixit illi Iesus amen dico tibi hodie mecum eris in paradiso

Above is a video about a French man executed in Chile. Unlike some other examples of the veneration of executed figures in the Catholic world, the murderer Emile Dubois showed no signs of repentance when he was executed in early 20th century Valparaiso, Chile. Another example, a little more recent, also in Chile, was that of the “Jackal of Nahueltoro” , who was executed for the crime of killing a woman and her daughter in cold blood. Though showing real signs of reform, he was executed in accordance with the death sentence handed down to him. In the latter case, at least, people felt that the man’s crime was a product of the corrupt social order where education and opportunity for self-improvement were not offered to the man until it was too late. With Dubois, however, not only was he a cold-hearted murder, but he refused to repent at the gallows, rebuffing the priest by saying: “I will confess to God Himself, not one of His representatives”.
Read the rest of this entry »

Santa Muerte video

28 03 2010

Featuring some of my old haunts

Judica me, Deus…

28 01 2010

Sometimes the real life friends I have chosen to make say the darndest things. I had a half-Mexican friend who, after many twists and turns in life, had decided to finally embrace Protestantism. One time, we went out for pizza. While talking about modern Christianity, the conversation turned to how modern Christians tend to regard God as some plush toy they display prominently in a curio cabinet. God loves you, He’s not going to get mad at you. He is perfectly harmless. To this total lack of seriousness, the failure to take seriously the vengeful God of the Bible, he said:

“God is Santa Muerte.”
Read the rest of this entry »

On the margins of theology – 2.5

1 10 2009


The lodestone cultus in Mexico

The men in Mexico still carry lodestones to give them success and great virility. They regard the stone as a living being, every Friday placing it in water, then in the Sun, and giving it iron filings to “eat”. However, they also believe that this stone has a devil inside and will not enter a church with it. Another belief is that if a lodestone is rubbed on a knife blade, anyone wounded by that blade will die of the poison left there.

-found here

Some may discount the above as coming from a disreputable source, or think that it is the result of some bizarre “New Age” thinking influencing the minds of Mexican men. The only problem with such a supposition is that the cult to the lodestone is an established “tradition” in many parts of Mexico, and I have even translated a prayer to it here.

Isabel Kelly, in her book, Folk Practices in North Mexico, has a significant section on the lodestone cultus. Although she speculates that it is a “recent cult” (keep in mind that the field work for this book was done in 1953), she nevertheless goes into quite a bit of detail regarding how it manifested itself in daily life. The “theology” behind it is stricly oral (of course), and oddly based on dubious Christological origins, as was explained to the anthropologist by an herbalist in Torreon:

The [lodestone] is where Christ is kneeling. Have you not seen the picture? A “light” woman [presumably Mary Magdalene. The Libro de San Cipriano twice mentions “the Samaritan woman” in connection with the lodestone] cut a piece of the stone for luck…
Read the rest of this entry »

Botanica moments

22 07 2009


1. I went to a rather scary botanica in east Oakland right before I left California. Saw a lot of interesting stuff, and they had dozens of statues of Santa Muerte. If that had been the first botanica I had ever visited, I would have been really creeped out by it.

In the back, next to the consulting room (botanicas tend to do a lot of that kind of business), there were two twin niches: one to the Virgin of Guadalupe, another to la Santa Muerte, all decked out as if she were a Virgin. If I had a camera, and was permitted to take a picture, I would have. The contrast between the “light Mother” and “dark Mother” was Jungian theory in living, folk Catholic color. They were going to have a “fiesta de Santa Muerte”, but I could not make it, since by then I had left California.

2. Not quite a botanica, but something similar: it was at the New Orleans Spiritual Voudou Temple, which if you go in the entrance, looks like a botanica with a New Age flavor and ridiculously overpriced. Anyway, I took advantage of their offer to go into the “altar room”, though few ceremonies actually take place there. As I entered and exited, I noticed a large doll dressed in white with a mitre on its head.

“Hey,” I thought to myself, “that’s John Paul II.” I was too afraid to ask my guide about the doll, but I was not surprised to see him there. So you know, at least in one place in New Orleans, a Voudou priestess invokes the spirit of the late Pontiff. JP-2, we love u!

There is an actual botanica up the street a bit from downtown, but it mostly deals in candle magic and statues. Plus, it has more of the original, Cuban santeria / palo mayombe flavor to it. It has a particularly impressive statue of St. Lazarus, or Babalu-aye.

3. AG and I went on a tour of the French Quarter that ended at St. Louis No. 1 cemetery and the tomb of Marie Laveau. There is still devotion in the city to the Voudou Queen, and various piles of Mardi Gras beads and trinkets were left at the foot of her free standing grave. But I noticed another offering on the side of the tomb that was a little odd: a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. I hope her devotees will bring her better reading material in the future.

San Miguel y Santa Muerte

15 07 2009

AG was listening to my CD of Crisotbal Morales’ Requiem (see video above), when it hit me that St. Michael is mentioned in the text of the old Requiem Mass, at the Offeretory:

sed signifer sanctus Michæl
repræsentet eas in lucem sanctam,
quam olim Abrahæ promisisti et semini ejus.

but may the sign-bearer, Saint Michael,
lead them into the holy light
which you promised to Abraham and his seed.

Of course, this image also came to mind:

Notice the ancient scales of Maat, signifying judgment over souls. I suppose that is why some people say that it is St. Michael that comes to retrieve souls at the point of death.

Like many traditions, however, this one seems to not have been passed down, except in the garbled, early morning prayers of a priest at Low Mass. So it is no wonder that in Mexico at least, the Angel of Death morphed into this:

No comment:

La nueva narco-religión

23 03 2009

In Culiacan, Sinaloa/ they land with much urgency/ A special operation with maximum power / in the compound of the DEA/ at the in the center of intelligence

They brought in a lieutenant and performed surgery on him/ He ended up looking just like Malverde / anyone would be fooled / Presidential secrets / That’s how the CIA works

A very astute man / he was the best police / and he visited the narcotraffickers just how he looked / They thought he was Malverde and offered up prayers to him.

The impostor asked them: Where do you move your shipments/ to protect your merchandise/ be it through Tijuana or Nogales/ And when they told him / He sent the police after them.

The dudes are astute and soon they realized what was going on / They caught that liar / at the other end of a machine gun / in the neighborhood of Las Quintas, there they evened the score.

The only thing left of the impostor/ are his remains up there on the hill / they say he doesn’t even have a tomb / the dogs gobbled him up / He wanted to pass for Malverde, but Malverde is not a game

This gory ballad is an example of the now infamous narcocorrido, but with a religious twist. The narcocorrido is a Mexican song celebrating the exploits of a drug-related outlaw or kingpin, and is a genre made famous by such popular groups as Los Tigres del Norte. In this one, faith also comes into play, as a rather strange fable is weaved of the government using the superstition of the drug traffickers to catch them in the act of illegal smuggling. The emergence of such “narcosantos” as Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte is not an isolated incident in the popular Mexican religious consciousness, but is rather a sign of escalating violence in Mexican society, the growing importance of the drug trade, and the general decline of the rule of law.
Read the rest of this entry »