A Daily Mail story about a “Black Mass” has been circulating on my Facebook feed. The article depicts every cliché about Satanism, which in and of itself set off my skeptical spidey senses. The images are actually quite stunning and beautiful (though I do cringe at the animal sacrifice—somewhat hypocritically, because I love me some rare steak), but, apart from the pentagram, the costumes indicate indigenous practices, not quite “satanic” ones. As an important comparison, animal sacrifice is virtually universal in terms of human religious behaviour, despite modern Western aversions to it. The ancient Israelites sacrificed to God; the Romans to the Emperor; and various types of Shamans still do this today.
The Daily Mail article is (likely deliberately) sensationalist, and thus flawed because it highlights these supposed “satanic” elements to correspond to Christian fears of devil worship. The entire article consists of quotes from shocked American tourists repeating propaganda about Satanism, with virtually no other information on the group, the ritual, the location, context, or history of the event.
After a little Internet research, it is likely that these images come from the Brujo Festival in Catemaco, which celebrates the varied and rich sources for Mexican brujeria. The relevant quote:
“Historically brujos, shamans, warlocks, or whatever you choose to call them, occupy a revered place in Mexican indigenous culture. The Aztecs classified almost 40 different types of healers.
On the spiritual side, after the Spanish conquest, Catholicism’s attempt to slaughter indigenous culture was transformed by native peoples into metamorphed saint worship and, especially in Veracruz, abetted by a large influx of African slaves and their jungle heritage.
Cuban santeria, Haitian voodoo, and Catemaco brujeria are closely related and promise their aficionados blissful enlightenment, and, to cover all bases, even throw in a little devil worship.”
(More information can be read at the Catemaco website: http://www.catemaco.info/brujos/)
This is a far cry from “Devil Worship,” but actually a local Mexican festival that acknowledges its confluence of cultural inheritances with elaborate and abundant rituals. To frame it in terms of Satanism is what scholars call an imperialist imposition: that is, interpreting the “foreign” according to one’s own fears and culture. It imposes characteristics unto it that correspond to Western concerns, concerns that may or may not be native to the practice.
It also looks like
an amazingly fun time a legitimate research project.