Maria Lionza and the future of religion

15 12 2010

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:

A Blood-Spattered Interview with a Viking

The Cult of Maria Lionza: Summoning the Spirit of Venezuela

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.
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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.





El Corte Kalé

25 04 2010

For my Spanish-speaking readers, a documentary found on-line about the popular canonization of Robin Hood-like thugs in modern Venezuela:

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More “liturgically incorrect” music

12 03 2010

…that won’t make all of you snobs gag.





More Maria Lionza

16 12 2009




Thug (after)life!

29 07 2009

corte-malandra1

from Time Magazine, July 2nd, 2008

Judith Escalona visits the General Cemetery in southern Caracas at least once a month. At the tomb of Ismaelito, she pours the dead man a drink and lights him cigarette after cigarette. Ismaelito was no relative, however. He is the king of the santos malandros — the holy thugs. The purpose of Escalona’s tribute, including the prayers she offers to Ismaelito, is protection. Almost 50 people die from criminal violence in any given week in Caracas. Escalona’s store has been burgled several times, but she is grateful that no one has been killed — and she hopes Ismaelito will keep it that way.
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More on the Cult of Maria Lionza

19 04 2009




Don Juan del Dinero: A Folk Saint for Our Times

16 03 2009

estampa20don20juan

Well, not really a folk saint. More like a benevolent spirit in the cult of Maria Lionza in Venezuela. Here is his “prayer”, in case you are remotely interested:

Yo (diga su nombre) invoco a la sublime influencia del Santo Nombre de Dios Todopoderoso y de Don Juan del Dinero para que me brindes protección y ayuda, para que me libres de la pobreza y la estrechez, me proveas de abundancia y felicidad, que brille para mí la estrella de la buena suerte y la fortuna y el éxito me acompañe en todo lo que emprenda, bajo tu amparo me acojo. Don Juan del Dinero, no me dejes en el olvido y siempre estés junto a mí. Amen.

I (name) invoke the sublime influence of the Holy Name of Almighty God and Don Juan del Dinero so that you may offer me protection and help, so that you may free me from poverty and need, that you provide me with abundance and happiness, that the star of good luck shine for me and may fortune and success accompany me in all that I set out to do, under your patronage I place myself. Don Juan del Dinero, do not leave me in forgetfulness and always be by my side. Amen.

Just thought I’d share, in case you want to have a “folk saint” bailout of your own,





Maria Lionza

5 12 2008