Mexicans Are Good At Combining Traditions

They’ve had centuries of practice
BY: ROSAURA BARAHONA

Syncretism is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “the reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief.” And that’s what we have regarding religion in Mexico.

Mexico is a Catholic country. In 2010 the official data showed that 84% of the 100 million Mexicans were Catholic, but Elio Masferrer, President of the Latin American Association for the study of religions, considers that the real number is much lower (73%), although the Vatican considers it is much higher (91.89%).

Part of the problem is that no one defines what Mexican Catholicism is. They naively think that Catholicism is Catholicism no matter where you find it, but the truth in Mexico is the religious beliefs, rituals and traditions from our preHispanic cultures, when combined with the Catholicism brought by our Spanish conquerors in the XVI century, blended into a very peculiar form of Catholicism that is often closer to heresy than to Christianity. Won’t the Pope be surprised to discover that when he arrives in February. Or maybe he won’t be surprised.

This fusion of different beliefs doesn’t bother most of us Mexicans because we easily reconcile superstition with preHispanic beliefs and Catholicism. This is no problem at all, except for the very orthodox, which are a minority. That is why our Catholicism is not very Biblical and has a shape of its own.

Priests and nuns differ from place to place within our country. First of all, because there are not enough priests in Mexico to cover our religious needs. Most of them stay in cities and only some go to small towns certain days of the week and, only occasionally, others go to rural areas. That is why different Christian religions have grown so fast in those regions.

When the Catholic priests came from Spain, they didn’t try to understand the preHispanic religion or mentality . They threatened natives with punishments or death if they were not baptized and renounce  their gods and beliefs, which most of them did…apparently. Their temples and shrines were destroyed by their “saviours” and substituted with European Catholic churches or chapels, but natives kept on with their animal sacrifices not in front of their idols any more, but at the cross or the images of virgins or saints that took their places. Baptism didn’t mean anything to them nor did the Biblical God or saints.

And believe it or not, it is still the same today among many groups with deep native roots. The main reason is that Catholicism was imposed on us and our preHispanic religions were never really replaced, so we ended up in a heterogeneous religion almost tailor made.

In our syncretism, people who adore the Virgin de Guadalupe visit her on December 12th, with matachines (Mexicans dressed as natives and dancing ritual dances for miles). You will also see people with cactus on their knees, chest or/and back in order to offer a painful sacrifice in exchange for the favor or miracle they are asking for. Today’s Catholic church does not condone this, but neither do they fight it. Of course, you will find many Mexicans who don’t agree with this, but sooner or later they will accept it is true, although they’ll say something like: “This only happens among ignorant people”.

Not so. Many educated Catholic people believe in tarot cards, ouija boards, palm reading or white and black witchcraft. Many don’t, that’s true, but we all have to get along, and if you don’t take all this very seriously, it can really be a lot of fun.  ,