Catholic Church Struggles with De Facto Polytheism

This is an old story, but it erupts in new forms. Polytheistic-style devotion keeps irrupting in the Roman Catholic Church, much to the concern of the hierarchs.

From The Catholic Herald (UK): “The Church’s life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte: The Church in the Americas is sounding the alarm over a macabre new devotion.”

To the great consternation of the Church, over the past 17 years veneration of a Mexican folk saint that personifies death has become the fastest-growing new religious movement in the West. At this point there are no systematic surveys of the precise number of Santa Muerte devotees, but based on 10 years of research in Mexico and the US, we estimate there are some 10 to 12 million followers, with a large majority in Mexico and a significant presence in the United States and Central America. However, the skeletal folk saint, whose name translates into English as both Saint Death and Holy Death, now has followers across the globe, including in the UK, where there are sufficient devotees to support a Facebook group specifically for British followers . . . .

To understand the devotion to death, we must also examine the historical record. Across the Americas, and in particular in Mexico, death deities were prevalent during the pre-Hispanic era prior to colonisation. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Maya and the Aztecs, turned to death gods and goddesses for healing ailments, and also to guarantee safe passage into the underworld.

Yes, devotion to Santa Muerte is huge, and I have heard of some American Anglo Pagans who also participate in her cult, particularly in the Southwest.

El Niño Fidencio (Kid Fidencio), a folk saint of northern Mexico who is frequently channeled by healers.

There are more “folk saints.” One of my graduate-school professors, of partially Mexican ancestry, was fascinated by the cult of El Niño Fidencio, one of several folk saints who emerged from the chaotic years of revolution and civil war in early 20th-century Mexico.

Another of that period is Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers. It’s not to hard to find statues of him. He is one of a whole choir of “narco saints” (the linked article includes N. S. de Guadalupe; she is versatile).

Photos: Mexico City’s Day of the Dead Parade

No one does the Day of the Dead like the Mexicans, who, after all, made it what it is today.

And there was a pre-parade: on October 24, the Catrinas parade. The photos above are from the Catrinas parade, but you might have a hard time telling the difference.

Locally, I saw this coming on September 29th!

Paganism belongs in the streets!

Pentagram Pizza with Idolatrous Sprinkles

That’s our idol, and we will see you in court!  The Satanic Temple is going after Netflix for using their Baphomet in the new “Sabrina the Satanic Witch” series. (OK, its real name is Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  Via The Daily Grail.)

I think I blogged her before. Or I should have: “Orgasms I have with my spirit lovers have been way more satisfying than any I’ve had with ordinary men.” (No, it was someone else who had a “sex with ghosts” website, now 404’d.)

An underground chamber has been located under the Pyramid of the Moon in the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán. Was it a place for initiatory or shamanic ceremonies, or was it where they kept the . . . special Beast? (Via The Daily Grail.)

A Room Full of Eerie, Masked Idols Has Been Discovered in Peru. “Deep in the enormous citadel of an ancient Peruvian culture, archaeologists have uncovered a corridor containing 19 mysterious black wooden statues.”  “We assume they are guardians,” said an archaeologist. Or maybe they were special Beasts. (Via The Daily Grail.)

Salem—It’s an International Brand

Photo from the Salem Witch Store & Coffee page on Facebook.

On August 3, 2018 Jason Mankey posted his list of the “25 Most Influential Living Pagans” on his blog—a good list, but slanted toward the English-speaking world (the “Anglosphere”).

On August 10, Jaime Girónes responded at The Wild Hunt with “The 15 Most Influential Pagans in México.”

I read it with interest, but I broke into laughter at his mention of Casa Salem Witch Store & Coffee.

I wrote all those posts last spring and summer about Salem, and I thought I had said everything I had to say, but I was wrong.

Salem—it’s an international brand for witches. ¡Es la verdad!

John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse, and all the other victims of 1692 (now numbered among the Mighty Dead, Christians though they were) also gave their lives that there might be specialty coffees in the Colonia Narvarte district of Mexico City.

But turnabout is fair play. As I mentioned, Aztec-style coffee will soon be on sale in Salem, Mass.

Three Items about the Dead

Whose Bones Are Those?

The Halloween news rush brought item about a new unit established at an Oxford college to perform cross-disciplinary investigations of religious relics

In what is thought to be the first research body of its type in the world, the unit, based in Keble College, will bring together experts in radiocarbon dating, genetics, osteology —the study of bones — chemistry, geography and archaeology with leading authorities in ancient Greek and Hebrew, Byzantine studies, ecclesiastical history and theology.

I am not sure what tone to take with this — not my saints after all — and it really does not matter to me if the skull of St. Cuthbert or whatever turns out to be someone else. One on level, this is interesting archaeology. On another, it feels like a re-run of the 16th century — the “stripping of the altars” and all that — but with “functional” science (instead of Protestantism) taking on “superstitious” religion (instead of Catholicism).

So why now? Is there a culture war motive, with “leading authorities in . . . . theology” participating in the disenchantment of the world? On the other hand, they hint that they may have found John the Baptist.

Four Scary Places

Still thinking about the dead? So are the editors at Indian Country Today, which ran this piece titled ” Get Spooked! 4 Scary Places to Visit This – or Any – Halloween,” on Friday last.

Halloween is the holiday when we face fear and get right in the face of the supernatural. Children wear costumes and adults seek out opportunities to confront the unknown or, some would say, the misunderstood. In that spirit, we offer four places you can go to laugh at your deepest anxieties. Or scream.

But why would you scream? Read it and find out.

Beads of copal (Wikimedia Commons).

Paganism at the Public Library

If I had time to drive over to Pueblo, Colo., today, I could view the winners of the public library’s Día de los muertos altar contest. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be set up at 1 p.m., so set-up is in progress as I write, with winners announced at 3:30 p.m.—and everything dismantled by 4:30.

The entry form states,”Altars judged on overall appearance, originality, and creativity reference [sic] to traditions of Día de los Muertos.” Battery-operated candles only, please.

The instruction sheet goes on to tell you that you may commemorate “ancestors past, celebritys [sic] or beloved pets.” So maybe Vlad the Impaler could count as a celebrity, as he did at the university on the mesa in 2007?

As I wrote in 2011, I am sensing some tension between people who want the altars to be done only in some correct Mexican-ish manner, and those wanting to take the tradition in new directions.

The instructions are quite specific as to how you are supposed to represent Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire, and of course copal incense (not burning, though) is recommended. (I like copal too.)

So I regret that I cannot see these altars, but I appreciate that the library is teaching an effectively Pagan tradition. My gardening priestess, however, wants me to haul a big round of bale of spoiled hay from a neighbor’s ranch for winter mulch this afternoon, however. That’s another Samhain ritual.

Exorcising México

México has been exorcised. Yes, the whole country. The Roman Catholic church pulled out one of the big guns: Exorcismo Magno — it takes a team of exorcists.

Can a country with deep Christian roots like Mexico find itself at the mercy of demons? Some in the Church fear so.

And as a result, they called for a nation-wide exorcism of Mexico, carried out quietly last month in the cathedral of San Luis Potosí.

High levels of violence, as well as drug cartels and abortion in the country, were the motivation behind the special rite of exorcism, known as “Exorcismo Magno.”

According to this article (in Spanish), same-sex marriage  (“matrimonio gay”) was also targeted by the team of magic-workers.

We will watch for changes.

Pentagram Pizza: Where You Find an Eagle Eating a Snake . . .

pentagrampizza¶ After reading this article, I think I will write something for Fate magazine about how Tenochtitlan was really a Mexica overlay on a forgotten Roman colony. Should be good for a few chuckles.

¶ After a long hiatus (in comic book years), Asterix the Gaul returns.

¶ An old acquaintance, Loretta Orion, pops-up in this Samhain-themed article, “Phantoms of the Hamptons.” She is the author of Never Again the Burning Times: Paganism Revived (1994).

The “2012” Prophecy and Ancient Maya Politics

If you know someone who starts getting nervous as the end of the year approaches because of the “Mayan prophecy,” send them here.

They should be able to understand how it all goes back to the king of one of the ancient Mayan city-states proclaiming how great he was.

The key to understanding the reference to 2012 is a unique title that this Calakmul king gives himself. In the text, he calls himself the “13 K’atun lord”—that is, the king who presided over and celebrated an important calendar ending, the 13th K’atun cycle (9.13.0.0.0). This event had occurred just a few years before in AD 692. In order to vaunt himself even further and place his reign and accomplishments into an eternal setting, he connects himself forward in time to when the next higher period of the Maya calendar would reach the same 13 number—that is, December 21, 2012 (13.0.0.0.0).

Adding New Gods

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus wonders about how new gods are added to polytheist pantheons.

Something that will often happen, particularly with reconstructionist-based practitioners, is that further research into a particular deity and their connections leads to “new-to-me” or various other re-discovered deities that are then taken into one’s personal pantheon. Or, suddenly, a deity emerges in one’s experiences that one hadn’t paid attention to previously, or gets one’s attention in some fashion or other; whether they are readily identified or if it takes some study to figure out who they are, such encounters often occur that expand one’s personal network of divine relationships.  . . .

What about the less-frequent (but nonetheless possible) reality of totally new deities, though? How does one deal with this issue when it arises? I have yet to see any modern Pagan or polytheist treatment of this matter, nor any conventional training and education on when and why it can occur, nor how to handle it when it does. And, while it might not be that frequent of an occurrence, I suspect that we are going to see a lot more of it in the near future as our community expands and the world continues to change.

He goes on to discuss how today’s Pagans might deal with the emergence of new gods, including an ancient oracular practice

The blog made me think, for example, of how the Santa Muerte cult has grown, moving even beyond people with roots in Mexico. The image has been around a long time—go into any folklore museum in New Mexico, for instance, and you will see the similar Doña Sebastiana in her cart, a relic of the old lay brotherhood of the Penitentes. Does that make La Santa Muerte a “new” goddess, or just an upgraded one?

The Campus Day of the Dead, 2011

Day of the Dead altar to Marilyn Monroe, CSU-Pueblo

Day of the Dead Altar to Marilyn Monroe

As planned,  I stopped by the Student Center on Wednesday to check out the Day of the Dead altars.

No Vlad the Impaler altar this year! No altars to firefighters or Victorian writers either. Apparently Chicano Studies conformity was enforced, with Catholic Campus Ministries stepping in as a co-sponsor as well. Lots of crosses, “correct” altar decorations, Jesus candles, and Guadalupe candles—even if She is, as we say in religious studies, a multivalent symbol.

The altar to Marilyn Monroe shown above was the only one that broke the mold a little, sharing the “anyone can participate” feeling from previous years.

I drank some cups of colada morada with my Ecuadorian professor friend and nibbled some guaguas de pan. Eating babies—that’s a little edgy, but remember, it’s cultural. (Some pisco would have helped the colada.)