Mother Mary or Mother Nature?

One of the things I have found most interesting since arriving in La Paz is the fusion of indigenous culture/religion and Christianity, specifically Catholicism. Having lived in Italy last summer, I have seen numerous cathedrals, holy effigies, paintings depicting the Christian stories, etc., but those are about as purely European Catholic as you can get. Though the church incorporated many pagan rituals in order to convert more people, the Catholic depiction of Christ and those within the Bible have been fairly uniform: white, bearded Jesus; youthful, wholesome Mary; grandfatherly God; and so on and so forth. That being said, I was delighted to see and intrigued in how the Andean society retained and incorporated it’s religious beliefs and culture through the expansive Spanish missionary movement.

The most obvious example of this integration was the depiction of Mary as the Andean fertility goddess, Pachamama. One can easily recognize the Christian artistic style of the 17th through 19th century within the artwork, but you then notice that Mary is always portrayed as having a triangular figure with little to no arms or any other distinguishable body features; representing the Pachamama as a mountain that overlooks all of nature and brings forth abundance. Once learning of this, it made me realize not only how similar the two religious figures are, but elucidated how an entire culture was able to appease an oppressive force by incorporating their own beliefs into that being forced upon them. Though I don’t know for sure if they did in fact believe in Christianity, I like to think that this was a way for them to defy the Catholic church and those trying to wipe away the Andean culture. I appreciate and admire the strength of these people to ensure they never forgot who they were in the midst of all the conflict and change.

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One thought on “Mother Mary or Mother Nature?

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  1. I, too, am fascinated by religious syncretism. Have you noticed it in the US? It’s interesting to consider whether Christmas, for example, is holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus or the celebration of capitalist consumption (we seem to spend more time shopping than praying). Is that syncretism? Is Santa Claus just the prosperity gospel saint who rewards those who are “good” (my son was in kindergarten convinced that one of his classmates must have been “bad” because he didn’t get many presents on Christmas)? Some sociologists call American malls “cathedrals of consumption”. Are they right?

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