Today’s column comes to us from Jaime Gironés, a long-time contributor to The Wild Hunt based in Mexico City. Jaime’s column was the first Pagan column to regularly be published in both Spanish and English, and led TWH to expand its team of international columnists to cover more of the world’s Pagan voices.
También está disponible en español.
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The time when the veil between the worlds becomes thinner and we honor our ancestors has just passed; now we are almost a month away from the winter holidays. In Mexico, celebrations begin on December 12, the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. According to the Catholic tradition, from December 9 to December 12 in the year 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, later to become the first indigenous Catholic saint from the Americas. On the 12th, many schools and businesses close, and many people take the day off. Millions from all the corners of the country make a pilgrimage to a shrine, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Hill of Tepeyac, in the north of Mexico City. There, they pray to her, express their gratitude, and sing to wish her a happy birthday.
It is expected to see that this celebration is taken online, so every year around this day there are constant posts on my social media feeds of people expressing their love towards the Virgin of Guadalupe. What is less expected, however, is to see offensive comments towards these posts. For example, I have observed people new to Paganism or Wicca proudly sharing their first altars, where they have placed the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that has been with their families all their lives, and furious Pagans or Witches reply to the post, saying, “That is not a Pagan altar!”, “That is not a Goddess!” It becomes a diatribe on something that should never have been open to debate, an individual’s altar being an expression of their own spiritual love and worship.
I find many of these comments invasive and disrespectful. First, we all have a personal relationship with the concept of deity. Second, we do not all share the same practices and beliefs. Third, and most important, what Our Lady of Guadalupe represents extends beyond Catholicism.I understand the view that a Catholic Virgin cannot be equal to a goddess, and I understand that for some people any image of the Virgin represents oppression and subordination. For others, however, this specific figure has represented the mother goddess all of their lives. She is the only concept of the Divine Feminine they have, and to them, she represents a deep and meaningful idea.
My grandmother used to point to her Virgin of Guadalupe pendant and tell me to “pray to the mother.” She did not explain to me the Charge of the Goddess, nor Doreen Valiente’s writings; she did not say, “This is the maiden, this is the mother, and this is crone” while drawing a triple moon. She did not say anything like that to me. But she showed me her love to the mother goddess, and taught me that the mother goddess loved me too. That remained in my heart forever, and later led me to discover other images and names of the divine feminine with whom I could expand my relationship.
I refer to the divine feminine as “the goddess” or “mother goddess” in my practices, or sometimes I use names of goddesses from different cultures; I never use the name “Virgin of Guadalupe.” Still, I have great respect for her image. I see that image as the guardian and spirit of the land, as the native and local face of the goddess. It is an egregore, some would say.
Last year, 7.2 million people came from all around the country to the Basilica on the Hill of Tepeyac. Some traveled on their knees, some for days, crawling for miles until they camped outside the temple. They suffered being hungry, tired, and cold, just to be able to see her image.
There used to be a temple on this Hill dedicated to the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, “Our Lady Mother,” mother of gods. It was a pilgrimage site long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Men and women used to go to this hill, saying, “Let’s go to Tonantzin’s party!”
The image of Tonantzin has prevailed through the centuries. It has changed, yes, but it has also prevailed. Fifty years after the Spanish Conquest, Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, wrote, “…and they come from far away to visit this Tonantzin, from as far away as they used to; a devotion which is also suspicious, because there are many churches of Our Lady everywhere, and they do not go to them, and they come from far away lands to this Tonantzin as in the past.”
The Virgin of Guadalupe is a non-official national symbol whose influence is also felt elsewhere in Latin America. She was an image used in the name of independence and revolution. Her image that is still often used in protests. One can find a shrine dedicated to her in the middle of the street, another one in the corner while waiting for a taxi, and then see her pendant swinging from the taxi driver’s mirror. One can find her poster on buses, outside a house, inside a house, in clothing, in jewelry. People have her stamp in their wallets between credit cards. The Virgin of Guadalupe can be found everywhere.
Now, I’m not saying we should all worship the Virgin of Guadalupe, or even call her by that name. I do think, however, that we should be respectful when people share their practices, especially when these come from many generations of tradition. Should we clarify differences between the Virgin and a goddess? Yes, we should. Should we explain the history? Yes, but always with respect toward others’ personal relationships and encounters with deity.The best example of this respect I am referring to comes from a dervish order in Mexico, the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order of Mexico. They see the Virgin of Guadalupe as the spiritual sovereign of Mexico, and they have an annual tradition of joining the pilgrimage to the basilica because they consider it as joining the natural movement of the great soul of the country. If I’m not mistaken, they have done this since the order arrived here, and it started as a request made to the Virgin of Guadalupe to establish the order in her land. This is, for me, the most beautiful and romantic spiritual expression of respect I have heard of.
The “return of the goddess” is a common topic in Pagan and Wiccan spheres, of how humanity needs to believe in the divine feminine again, and how that presence would benefit humankind. This will not happen by repudiating one of the most powerful current expressions of the divine feminine, but by acknowledging her power, prevalence, and survival. These pilgrims walk thousands of miles because this goddess has survived in their hearts generation after generation, even when a “disguise” or another name was given to her. Maybe just as having that love in my heart led me to discover the goddess in other ways, maybe the love in their hearts will help Tonantzin to return to be as she once was.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.