Archives For Mexico

Top Story: I’m very pleased to present, as part of my coverage of the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, an interview with Pagan scholar Michael York. Michael York is Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University College, UK, an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, and author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion”. We discussed the evolving place of modern Paganism at the Parliament, the importance of the Pagan voice in interfaith interactions, and how polytheism promotes democracy.

If you are a Pagan podcaster, or host a Pagan-friendly radio show, you are welcome to download this file to play on your program. Be sure to credit the Pagan Newswire Collective as the audio source. For more Parliament-related audio, check out my discussion with Ed Hubbard, a PNC correspondent, as well as host of MagickTV and Pagans Tonight. There are more scheduled Parliament interviews, so stay tuned to the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest news.

In Other News: William Booth at the Washington Post looks at the oft-misunderstood cult of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. An anthropologist interviewed for the piece makes the argument that this growing, and controversial, faith is a true reflection of contemporary Mexico.

“The authorities have condemned Santa Muerte as a “narco-saint,” worshipped by drug traffickers, cartel assassins and dope slingers. But the worship is more a reflection of contemporary Mexico, says the anthropologist J. Katia Perdigón Castañeda, the author of “La Santa Muerte: Protector of Mankind.” The cult is an urban pop amalgam, New Age meets heavy metal meets Virgin of Guadalupe. It is no accident that it is also cross-cultural — that the centers of worship are the poor, proud heart of Mexico City and the violent frontier lands of Laredo, Juarez and Tijuana. The cult borrows equally from Hollywood and the Aztec underworld. Altars, necklaces and tattoos honoring Santa Muerte also make appearances in Mexican American neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Boston. “The believers may be drug dealers, doctors, carpenters, housewives. The cult accepts all. No matter the social status or age or sexual preference. Even transsexuals. Even criminals. That’s very important, that the cult of Santa Muerte accepts everyone,” Perdigón told me, “because death takes one and all.” Where mainstream Mexican Catholicism promises a better life in the hereafter, “central to the devotion of Santa Muerte is the fact that the believers want a miracle, a favor, in the present, in this life, not when they are dead,” Perdigón said.”

I find it very interesting that while many modern Pagan religions are quite self-conscious of mixing pop-culture with our Paganism, or of modernizing ancient sacred imagery, the followers of Santa Muerte seem to do it instinctively. Focusing more on necessities than proprieties. I wish I could read J. Katia Perdigon Castaneda’s book, but it appears to be only available in Spanish, a language I have not mastered.

I have an update on the case of Ali Sibat, a former Lebanese television presenter who was arrested and sentenced to death for sorcery in Saudi Arabia by the Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia, but I’m afraid it isn’t good news.

“He was condemned to death last month, and the religious court may confirm the sentence as soon as Thursday. The family’s lawyer, May Khansa, has tried desperately to persuade Lebanese politicians to intervene to save Mr Sbatt’s life – the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, and President Michel Sleiman are aware of his case and so is the Sunni Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan – but so far without success. Sheikh Qabalan did, however, say that what Mr Sbatt did on television was merely psychological help for people who have lost hope and did not involve black magic. The family wisely appealed to Sunni prelates for help rather than dignitaries from their own Shia background. Their local member of parliament has been asked to assist – uselessly, it appears – and Ibrahim Najjar, the Minister for Justice, has said he has done “the necessary”, whatever that is.”

Saudi lawyers have asked for a million dollars to make a legal appeal, and it seems only the intervention of King Abdullah could save his life at this point. I’ll have more on this case as it develops, but it looks like another innocent person will soon be killed by a government for alleged supernatural crimes.

Why do white supremacists feel the need to subvert Pagan, Heathen, and Christian faiths? Because their own sad attempts at building a “religion” are so transparently political that federal district court judges have no problem denying them equal treatment in court cases.

“In Conner v. Tilton, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111892 (ND CA, Dec. 2, 2009), in a decision unusually detailed in its analysis for a case brought by a prisoner pro se, a California federal district court held that the White supremacist Creativity Movement is not a “religion” for purposes of the First Amendment or RLUIPA. In the case, an inmate sought the right to practice various aspects of his purported religion in Pelican Bay State Prison. In deciding the case, the court relied on the definition of “religion” articulated by the 3rd Circuit in Africa v. Pennsylvania.”

In short,”what’s good for white people is good” just isn’t a comprehensive world-view that addresses “fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters”. There may be (and are) racist Heathens, Pagans, Muslims, and Christians, but they at least have the fig-leaf of an actual faith-tradition when considering legal matters. This sadly means that racists will continue to distort our faiths for their own ends, but at least the misguided may have some chance of interacting with genuine non-racist permutations of those faiths as they move through life.

In a final note, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, who has been covering the plight of child witches in Nigeria, brings us the news that notorious (and popular) witch-hunting mega-pastor Helen Ukpabio is suing a local activist and witch children charity. Why is she suing them? For making Ukpabio look bad when her followers raided a conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights.

“Helen applied to the Federal High Court in Calabar for the enforcement of her fundamental rights. She claimed, among other things,that the conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights, held on July 29 in Calabar – which her members disrupted- and the arrest of her church members on the said date constituted an infringement on their rights to practice their christian religious belief relating to witchcraft. She asked the court to issue perpetual injunctions restraining me and others – From interfering with their practice of christianity and their deliverance of people with witchcraft spirit … From holding seminars or workshops denouncing the christian religious belief in witchcraft … From arresting her and her church members etc.”

The activist, Leo Igwe, has sent out a press release regarding the lawsuit. Due to oppressive British libel laws, Bartholomew wasn’t able to reprint the entire thing, so I’m making it available here. I’ll try to keep you posted as new developments in this case arise, but I strongly suggest you also read Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion for the latest updates as well.

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne,  and have a great day!

A few stories of note I wanted to share with you, starting with a development that has already been mentioned by a few heavyweights in the Pagan blogosphere, the destruction of altars to Santa Muerte in Mexico. Collatoral damage of the intensifying drug-war in that country.

“Mexican law enforcement won’t say it is targeting the “Santa Muerte.” But last month, army troops accompanied workers who used back hoes to topple and crush more 30 shrines on a roadway in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas. Many were elaborate, one-story, marble-clad constructions with electric lighting and statues of the skeletal Death Saint. The sect’s archbishop, David Romo, denounced the destruction as religious persecution and demanded a meeting with President Felipe Calderon … “Sometimes people look down on us because we believe in her, but my faith is bigger than somebody looking down on me,” said America Melendez, a 24-year-old street vendor marching with a red-robed statue of the saint.”

Because Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is extremely popular among those who live in fear of violent death, it is popular both with drug-dealers and the communities plagued by them (though this recent destruction was supported by some local residents and officials). This psychological slash-and-burn tactic against the drug cartels may backfire on the government, making adherents believe the government isn’t interested in protecting their rights or safety.

I don’t know if you heard, but Easter is coming up this Sunday, and there are plenty of “pagan origins of Easter” stories littering the aggregators. But is Easter really “stolen” from the pagans? Christian History looks at the evidence and finds it lacking.

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Lest you think author Anthony McRoy is using biased sources, he generously quotes Ronald Hutton’s investigations into the history of Easter, and finds little evidence that Christians were trying to steal Eostre’s thunder. Of course that doesn’t mean that all those eggs and bunnies aren’t “borrowed” from pre-Christian folk traditions, but I think we can rule out wholesale holiday theft in this case.

In a final note, does a sickening crime against a child point to the spread of a growing anti-witch hysteria? A 10-year-old girl reported being beaten and sexually abused by a relative until she confessed to being a “witch”. The suspect, Emmanuel Beavogui, a native of Guinea here on an expired visa, was arrested and the alleged implements of his torture as well as a book on expelling demons was found in his home.

“The girl’s aunt told police that the youngster confided to her that Beavogui was beating her with a stick and accusing her of being a witch. The girl then told police a similar story, saying Beavogui pushed her against walls and recently struck her in the shins with a broomstick, which made her bleed. Police took photos of her injuries. The girl also said Beavogui beats her “until she confesses.” At Midwest Children’s Resource Center, which evaluates alleged child abuse, the girl said Beavogui had often given her baths when his wife was gone. During these baths, he would rub her vagina and scrub it with a plastic mesh — doing it so hard on one occasion that she bled, the girl told a nurse. After getting a search warrant for Beavogui’s home, police found two brooms, a wooden stick, a blue plastic mesh and the book about demons.”

Beavogui seemed cocky concerning his arrest, saying he could beat a “sexual charge” due to being married. He is currently out on bail, and his passport is being held while he awaits trial. The girl is in protective custody. While the abuse of children is always troubling, there seems to be something more here than mere abuse. I’ve noted that some extremist Christian elements lately seem quite comfortable adopting language and practices from the anti-witchcraft/occult hysteria-peddlers in Africa. Mix that with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt spread by the two-bit occult “experts” and concern-trolls and you have a potentially volitile mix that could endanger kids who don’t toe the line. Could the next “Satanic Panic” be focused on the children instead of in alleged defense of them? What happens when some of those quiverfull children don’t want to become culture warriors for their parents? Will they suffer extensive “exorcisms” as some children already have? Or something even worse?

Palo or Satanism?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 8, 2009 — 1 Comment

If you ever needed an example of how journalism can change the religious aspect of a story, look no further than the media outlets currently doing retrospectives on the kidnapping and killing of Mark J. Kilroy twenty years ago. Kilroy was a University of Texas pre-med student on spring break in Mexico. On March 14, 1989 he was kidnapped and ultimately killed by a group of drug traffickers lead by the charismatic and insane ex-fortune-teller to the stars Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo.

“Kilroy arrived at South Padre Island on March 11 with friends Billy Huddleston, Brent Martin and Bradley Moore, joining the tens of thousands of students who each year made the trek to a warm sun, alluring beaches and unfettered nightlife on both sides of the border. Sometime during a visit to Matamoros on their third day in the Valley and into the early morning hours of March 14, Kilroy became separated from his group. They never saw him alive again … Constanzo’s followers selected Kilroy at random. Most of the other victims were competitors in the drug trade.”

Now, here’s where things get tricky. Constanzo adhered to his own twisted and distorted variant of Palo Mayombe, and ran his drug operation like a cult (complete with brainwashed followers), with numerous ritualistic human sacrifices (mostly competitors) being done to “feed” his magical power. The Mexican press dubbed Constanzo and his followers “narcosatánicos” (Satanic drug dealers), sensationalistically linking Constanzo’s warped Afro-Carribean practice with Satanism. Now, twenty years later, The Brownsville Herald’s report takes the time to unwrap the tangled story interviewing anthropologist Tony Zavaleta, an expert in African diasporic religions who advised police twenty years ago and witnessed first-hand the horrifying work of the cult. Zavaleta makes it clear that Constanzo was a madman engaging in a twisted and isolated distortion of Palo.

“…they also found evidence of “Palo Mayombe,” an imported Afro-Caribbean religion. It would be engrained into their memories. Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, the ringleader of the drug gang, gave the religion a “bad name” in the “self-styled” manner in which he practiced it, anthropologist Tony Zavaleta said … He has met with Palo Mayombe practitioners during the past 20 years in the Rio Grande Valley, other Texas locations and Mexico City and, “They all, with no exception just lament what Constanzo did and he caused them so much harm and so much damage (to their religion).” Zavaleta said he recently talked to a “santero,” a person who practices Santería, who also is a “palero” and a “padrino.” And in talking about the 20th anniversary of the Rancho Santa Elena massacres “he went into a rant about Constanzo, about ‘ese loco,’ ” Zavaleta recounted.”

Now, compare that excellent bit of journalism by Emma Perez-Trevino with the report by local television station KVUE.

“…the work of a satanic cult, the leader, a Cuban-American who promised drug traffickers protection in exchange for human sacrifices … the satanic cult’s so-called godmother was a student at Texas Southmost College, now U.T.-Brownsville … Many still refer to it as the work of the devil, just across the border from a Spring Break paradise.”

Even though KVUE also interviews Zavaleta, they don’t include any information from him about the formation of this cult, satisfied to call it “Satanism” and move on. Now think about how many people saw that television newscast as opposed to reading the two in-depth pieces from The Brownsville Herald and you start to see how religious misinformation starts to spread. I suppose “Satanist” has a bit more “zing” than “twisted and isolated offshoot of Palo Mayombe”, but it isn’t correct and clouds the true facts of this horrible event. As horrible as this case was, and no doubt as much as ethical practitioners of Palo and related faiths wish this wasn’t in their history, the truth can ultimately benefit them. If labeled “Palo”, ethical journalists can at least find and interview modern practitioners who can explain the distorted nature of Constanzo‘s insane cult. But if they are “Satanists” then people make all sorts of troubling associations, and most likely triger interviews with “Satanic Panic” peddlers who have a vested interest in inflating a largely imagined threat (or genuine modern Satanists who will have little to no knowledge about the case).

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 27, 2008 — 1 Comment

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

As if sensing that the recent Pew Forum study of America’s religious landscape would show that modern Paganism continues to grow, while Christianity’s majority status is eroding, a growing number of anti-Pagan articles have appeared warning the faithful of our growth. One comes from Janice Crouse, a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America, who warns of the growth of Wicca and “Earth Worship” among the Christian youth.

“Janice Crouse, a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America, says it’s disturbing that many young people in evangelical churches are experimenting with the Wiccan religion. Church leaders and Christian parents, she warns, must be ready to counter that growing interest among their youth. Crouse cites an article in Religion Journal which said youth pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention were worried about large numbers of evangelicals taking part in Wicca, a religion that involves nature worship, stresses moral autonomy, and includes remedies and spells … [Crouse] says the interest in Wicca can be traced to recent books featuring witchcraft and similar topics.”

Meanwhile, WorldNetDaily prints the cover story from their recent Whistleblower magazine issue dedicated to the growth of Witchcraft in America. Besides including a strange obsession with author Neale Donald Walsch, it is your typical anti-Wiccan piece, complete with the “feminism/lesbianism encourages Wicca” argument.

“In many ways, the interest in Wicca among women (at least two-thirds of Wiccans are female) parallels the growth in feminism and lesbianism – all fueled by disillusionment with and alienation from men. Indeed, sociologist Helen Berger, who spent 10 years researching and writing the authoritative book “A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States,” reports the astounding conclusion that at least 40 percent of Wiccans and neopagans are homosexual or bisexual. Clearly, Wicca has become the spiritual home for many feminists, including lesbians. It’s also the most graphic, in-your-face example of a much more universal phenomenon – the increasing feminization of the Christian church and of Western culture.”

Articles like these (and others) seem to point to an increasingly nervous conservative Christian population. A group of believers concerned with their looming irrelevance. A future where politicians no longer feel the need to pander to them, and where they are just another voice in diverse chorus of religious voices.

The blog Newspaper Rock links to an article put out by the United Methodist Church discussing their problems ministering to Native Americans, and the long history of (justified) distrust among Native peoples towards the Christian religion.

“No more than 6 percent of the 2.7 million Native Americans in the United States identify themselves as Christian–a statistic often blamed on mistrust of the church. Mission schools operated on Indian reservations from the late 1800s through the first half of the 20th century, many of them founded by Methodists. Children were forced to adopt Anglo-European culture, abandon their tribal languages and convert to Christianity. Today the Native American Church, an indigenous denomination that mixes elements of Christian faith with tribal sacraments, thrives in Native communities where mainline churches don’t.”

Newspaper Rock blogger Rob Schmidt says that there is another very good reason, aside from distrust, why Christianity has problems making inroads into Native Country.

“I suspect most Natives eschew Christianity not because they mistrust the church but because they already have perfectly good religions.”

A point not often conceded by the missionary-minded.

In the wake of a woman being sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for “witchcraft”, the European Union is criticizing a draft penal code in Iran that would order death for anyone convicted of “witchcraft”.

“The European Union has called on Iran to drop provisions in a draft penal code stipulating the death penalty for apostasy, heresy and witchcraft. “These articles clearly violate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s commitments under the international human rights conventions,” the Slovenian EU Presidency said in a statement.”

Are Muslim nations ushering in a new era of witch hunts? How will the international community react once innocent women are being put to death for the “crime” of witchcraft?

Diane Slawych travels to Catemaco, Veracruz (in Mexico) and surrounding areas to witness the annual Congreso Internacional de Brujos, a convention of shamans, witches, Brujos, Santeros, and other traditional healers in the region.

“Another local tells me witches can be found in more than a dozen towns in the area and are often consulted by locals seeking a spiritual cleansing or help with various life problems. But why have all the witches congregated in the same region I wonder. One guidebook offers a possible explanation. Until the 1940s the area was dense jungle and so folk traditions survived longer here than elsewhere … the witches festival isn’t heavily promoted, though many Mexicans, who make up most of the visitors, seem to know about it. The weekend event begins this year on Friday, March 7. Ask for details of shows and other activities on arrival. And if you want to meet a practitioner of folk medicine, keep in mind you don’t have to come during the festival. In the towns of Los Tuxtlas you can meet a witch at any time of year!”

Its too bad the article is written as a light piece of “spiritual tourism”, instead of actually taking an interest in the indigenous and syncretic faith practices of the area.

The Interfaith Alliance has compiled a video outlining the “Top 10 Moments in the Race for Pastor-in-Chief and the unholy use of religion in the presidential campaigns.”

Number one? Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards”. With all the Christian rhetoric flying this primary season, its hard to know which candidate will really hear the concerns of minority faiths in America.

In a final note, Slate.com reports on the growing popularity of mead, a drink made from fermented honey, popular throughout the ancient world.

“…the recent interest in fermented honey has morphed it from an esoteric item that only a few bearded Dungeons & Dragons players indulged in to a small yet legitimate commercial enterprise … Is mead, last popular around King Arthur’s table, poised for a comeback?”

Sadly this interesting article is marred by the harping on the drinks “image problem” due to its popularity with SCA members and Renaissance fairs (as if this were some insurmountable obstacle). In the end, the author admits that he just doesn’t like mead all that much, claiming mead is the perfect beverage for Winnie-the-Pooh should he ever take to the bottle. Perhaps next time an article of this nature could be written by someone who actually enjoys mead.

Some last minute essays, opinions, and stories (some of it dealing with the upcoming holiday), for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Times reviews Emily Wilson’s new book about the death of Socrates. Entitled, appropriately enough, “The Death of Socrates: Hero, villain, chatterbox, saint”, the book looks at the different perspectives through history of this famous free-thought martyr.

“For some Romans, Socrates talked too much while dying a rather comfortable death. According to Plutarch, Cato the Elder called him “a big chatterbox”; the painless demise was contrasted with the hideous suicide of Cato the Younger. As an explicit act of political protest, inspired by Socrates, Cato stabbed himself till his innards extruded; after his wound had been sewn up, he tore it open again and ripped out his bowels. This scene is illustrated, along with numerous versions of Socrates’ end.”

The book goes on to illustrate how Socrates ended up a hero to Christians (thinking that Christ was the culmination of the philosopher’s teachings), and being used as a popular character in a string of recent novels.

New DNA evidence was filed Monday in hopes of overturning the convictions of the West Memphis 3. The three teens were convicted for the murders of three children back in 1993, the case has long been criticized for using “Satanic Panic” to frame the teens, bringing up Damien Echols’ interest in Wicca and Heavy Metal music, and using an “occult expert” to gain a conviction.

“Defense lawyers say two hairs — evidence that looms large in a case long devoid of physical evidence — link the stepfather to the crime scene where the bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found nude and hogtied in a watery ditch … The prosecution’s theory of a satanic motive was key to the convictions … However, forensic reports offered by the defense attribute nearly all those injuries to predators — possibly dogs or raccoons — that fed on the bodies in the hours after the murders.”

In fact, according to a report filed in July, none of the genetic material found at the scene could be trace back to the three teens. It remains to be seen if this new evidence will in fact clear the teens (now in their 30s) or save Echols from execution.

The Idaho Statesman explores the famous witch-trials in Salem through three women descended from victims and accusers at that time.

“‘I lived this for about two weeks – what would he have said, what would she have done – and I literally entered her skin,’ Judith Alexander said. Judith Alexander, Rebecca Bowen-Odom and Lila Hill. The three women recently portrayed their ancestors in a dramatization of the Salem witch-hunt era for Pioneer, the local chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

The article thinks ergot poisoning was the most likely culprit for the witch hysteria, though there are several theories out there.

Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church has gone on record as saying it doesn’t like Halloween.

“Those who celebrate Halloween are worshipping a culture of death that is the product of a mix of pagan customs,” the Archdiocese of Mexico said in an article on its Web site yesterday. “The worst thing is that this celebration has been identified with neo-pagans, Satanism and occult worship.”

No word on if this includes Dia de los Muertos celebrations as well, or if the death-haunted holiday is significantly free of “occult” influence to remain safe.

Finally, a somewhat strange attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records was attempted by a group in Somerville, MA.

“The witches were urged on by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, the Somerville author of the new children’s book Witches’ Night Before Halloween and an authority on the holiday. Witches’ Night (Pelican Publishing) is her fourth Halloween book, but her first for kids. Pratt Bannatyne wanted to celebrate Halloween in a new way, and Somerville — with its eclectic festivals and “the willingness of people to come out and do something different” — seemed like the place for the first known Guinness attempt for the ‘Largest Gathering of Halloween Witches (Reciting Poetry).’”

No word on how many of the “witches” were also Witches (of the religious sort), but they did succeed in winning the record. Maybe a Pagan group can work towards ‘Largest Gathering of Pagan Witches (Reciting Poetry)’ sometime in the near future.

That is all I have for now, have a good holiday in the coming days!

Time Magazine has a profile feature on the cult of Santa Muerte, which looks at how the controversial syncretic religion has spread from Mexico and into the United States.

“Santa Muerte began appearing in U.S. neighborhoods with large Mexican populations only in the last decade. Walk down 26th street here in Little Village, one of Chicago’s largest Mexican neighborhoods, and notice the tiny shops, or botanicas, selling statues, candles and palm-sized prayer cards bearing Santa Muerte’s image. Notice references to Santa Muerte in Spanish-language newspapers. Young Mexican-American men are marking their bodies with Santa Muerte tattoos to prove their devotion. Middle-class, suburban-bred Mexican-Americans are snapping up black tee-shirts bearing Santa Muerte’s image to reconnect with what they perceive to be part of their heritage. Last weekend, a Chicago art gallery opened an exhibit showcasing images from Tepito – with Santa Muerte figuring prominently. And Santa Muerte may gain even more credibility: the famed Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal narrates Saint Death, a new documentary about the phenomenon.”

Time hints that part of the popularity of Saint Death is a Catholic Church riddled with scandal and hypocrisy. One devotee in the article says outright that she worships Santa Muerte “because of everything you hear with priests”. What started out as a small splinter cult mixing attributes of indigenous religion, Santeria, and Catholicism is evolving into a far more mainstream concern that is advocating for legal rights and adopting friendlier imagery for its ever-growing body of followers.

“A small religious group that worships the grim reaper and is fighting for government recognition unveiled a softer image of their so-called Death Saint on Sunday: a woman with a porcelain face, brown, shoulder-length hair and long thin fingers … “This image is one of justice, of freedom, but above all one that reveals the face of God,” Romo said. Believers say the Death Saint kills only on God’s orders.”

The growth of Santa Muerte shows that there are religious needs that the dominant monotheisms are no longer meeting, and that Paganism and other new religious movements aren’t isolated to Europe and the “first world”. Religious diversity is basic human impulse, and attempts to get everyone worshiping the same God (in the same manner) are ultimately doomed to failure as the needs and wants of individuals, groups, and societies stray from entrenched dogma and doctrine.

The resurgence of European-based religious Witchcraft (or Wicca) isn’t the only form of modernized folk religion to spread around the world and grow in popularity. Magical traditions and witchcraft(s) have also come to America from Mexico and the Caribbean. Two recent stories have emerged that remind us that Witchcraft is global and creating tensions within both Christian and secular society as it grows. This first concerns the town of Catemaco in southern Mexico (the Mexican equivalent to Salem) where the booming tourist trade of Brujos and shamans are spurring the Catholic Church into waging a spiritual campaign against the practitioners.

“Thanks to this bustling trade in mysticism, Catemaco is Mexico’s unofficial capital of all things occult. It also presents a unique challenge for and competition to the Catholic Church. For decades, the church has waged a campaign against “brujeria,” or witchcraft, in Veracruz, a state along the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years the church has issued declarations and even put a cross on the top of White Monkey Peak, a nearby hilltop used by shamans as a ceremonial center.”

But despite the Church’s claims of rampant fraud and extortion, the occult is becoming ever-more mainstream in the Catemaco due in part to the city’s reliance on the tourist trade it brings.

“Despite these scams, the tradition of witchcraft, which predates Catholicism in Mexico, persists … Today, while tourists are the main customers, many residents still go to shamans for routine cleansings and good-luck amulets. An even greater challenge is economics: Brujeria means big bucks. The Veracruz government dubbed the region “the Land of Witches” in a recent tourism campaign, and a massive, festive “black mass” is held each first Friday of March. The state governor often attends. “It’s our way of life; there are no companies here,” said Norberto Baxin Mantilla, known to customers as “the Black Unicorn.” “There are hundreds of witches and shamans. It’s a source of income.” Baxin’s work space, located in his house, is adorned with posters of skeletons and statues of “La Santa Muerte,” the incarnation of death, a skeletal figure that has spawned a growing cult in Mexico in recent years. The hood of his silver Camaro also bears the grim-reaperlike image of Santa Muerte.”

In the end it seems that (spiritually speaking) money talks, and since the Catholic Church can’t spur tourist income for this region, the Witches, shamans, and other magical practitioners are finding mainstream acceptance (and government approval) by filling that gap. But the (sometimes shady) monetary ethics of Witchcraft in the global south don’t always play well in America, as seen in a recent case of a school Principal in New York who is catching heat for hiring a Santera to “cleanse” her school.

“A principal at a high school in Lower Manhattan had heard the jokes about using a “sage,” or spiritual guru, to perform a “cleansing” of the building to counteract misbehaving students. The principal took the jokes seriously – performing a Santeria ceremony during the school’s midwinter break in 2006, according to a report released today by the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City public schools. One day last winter, the principal, Martiza Tamayo, told an assistant principal, Melody Crooks-Simpson, that she had a friend who could do just that. Ms. Tamayo promised that the friend “could burn sage and incense in the school and it would calm the students down,” according to the report.”

The ritual (which included the sprinkling of chicken blood on the building) apparently went fine until the principal convinced the reluctant assistant principal that she must come to a follow-up ritual and then demanded $900 for “her share” of the fees. That and a general misappropriation of funds involving the Santera (which included paying her as a private driver for some students) has caused the local Department of Education to remove Martiza Tamayo from her position. There is no word on if the fiscal misdealing was all Tamayo’s doing, or if the Santera was directly involved as well.

While neither of these stories are going to be heralded as PR coups for Santeria or Brujeria, both stories illustrate the slow mainstreaming of these traditions and practices. One wonders how this will affect Wicca and other European-based forms of Witchcraft as they start to interact and co-exist in greater numbers. Eventually the maxim that “not all Witches are Wiccans” will be all but unavoidable.

The Goddess of Mexico

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 12, 2006 — 4 Comments

“…the Virgin of Guadalupe is the rubber band that binds this disparate nation into a whole. She is the common denominator of this land, it is she giving Mexicans a sense of Nationalism, and Patriotism. Their brotherhood comes from the strength of intense faith rooted in indigenous attributes, images, symbols, magic and myth. The focus of this intense faith revolves around Our Lady, La Virgen Maria de Guadalupe, the mother of God who appeared in Mexico in 1531.”Judy King

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is said that on this day the Mother of God appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (the first indigenous American saint in the Catholic Church) at the Hill of Tepeyac and told him to build an abbey. Since then, Our Lady of Guadalupe has become the “Empress of the Americas” and her feast day is one of the largest religious celebrations in the world, millions gather at the place of her appearance do devotions, pray, and celebrate their goddess.


Etching of St. Juan Diego by Jose Guadalupe Posada.

No doubt some devout Catholics may object to my use of the term “goddess”, but many believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe is merely a Christianized version of the Aztec moon goddess Tonantzin. This view is shared by scholars, curanderos/eras, and even Franciscan missionary to the Aztecs Bernardino de Sahagun who was concerned over how the natives called the virgin the by the goddess’s name. The abbey that was built for Our Lady of Guadalupe (now the Basilica of Guadalupe) sits on the former site of Tonantzin’s pyramid.

“Her appearance was seen as a sign of acceptance, telling the newly-converted Christians how to worship her in her own way; a fusion of the two cultures.”Andy Anderson

“[I]t is important to remember the semiotic richness of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexican/Catholic culture, productive of both religious and nationalist meanings. In her syncretic fusion of the Catholic Virgin Mother and the preconquest fertility deity Tonantzin, Guadalupe signifies the racial construction of Mexican national identity as the mestizo or hybrid product of the sexual union of Indian woman and male Spaniard.”Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano

But perhaps the most telling evidence is how Our Lady of Guadalupe dominates the religious psyche of Mexico and its many peoples. A vision and figure more stirring than the male redeemer of Christianity or his faceless father.

“A nation hit by historic catastrophes, such as the one occurred to the indigenous in the 16th Century – the weapons, the persecution of their culture as a Diabolic thing, the slavery, the hard labor and epidemics -, begins the great heroic feat of survival. It invents, with a prodigious recover of its collective culture, a way of saving the past, the millenary, the persecuted, the forbidden, through a new form, accepted by the new religion. It invents a mother, a goddess, a place in the Universe, a promise of redemption, a hopes and love system: behind the saint, the idol; under the Christian temple, the pyramid; behind the gentleness of the Child Virgin, the radical strength of the antique millenary mothers. Not in vain, during the indigenous oppression centuries, and precisely in the places where people suffer the most, several helping Virgins and Christs began to appear, in Chiapas or in Tlaxcala, in what today we know the State of Hidalgo or Mexico.”Jose Joaquin Blanco

“The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery”Octavio Paz

So today I give all honor to the patron goddess of Mexico, the moon goddess who survived to help her people and bind a nation together. Certainly she is the goddess who receives the most praise and devotion in the Americas.