Cultural and Mystical Fusions
I know, yet another esoteric title, but I've been wondering about something
that I can't quite describe any other way. Let me begin with a story… you
probably don't know Cuauhtlatoatzin, nor could you probably pronounce his
name (so it is a good thing he changed his name to Juan Diego), but you may
heard of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Juan Diego was a native Mexican, a Nahuan actually, who was described as a
ascetic mystic who converted to Christianity. In the winter of 1531, the
Virgin Mary appears to him and tells him that she wants a cathedral built
on Tepeyac Hill (on the eastern edge of Mexico City). The local bishop
doesn't believe him and needs some signs… well, you can probably guess
how this story ends. The cathedral is the second most visited shrine in
Catholicism, a few years ago, Juan was sainted, and no one can remember
that bishop's name.
But it isn't the story itself that has me thinking… Was it coincidence
that Tepeyac Hill was a spot where an Aztec temple to the goddess Tonantzin
stood? I don't think so. This cathedral (and the story) marks a
cultural fusion between the native people's beliefs and the new conquerering
Throughout history, this sort of fusion is extremely common, but I had
always wondered whether this fusion of cultures is pre-meditated or does
it just happen? And by the term, "just happen", I am referring to the
Let's suppose our tribe just conquered another city. Clearly, our god must
be better than theirs, so we must appease our god (and gloat) by tearing
down the loosing god's temple and building one to our own. At least that is
what our cleric says. After the gleeful destruction are we going to head to
the quarries for some rocks? No way, we'll just use the stones from the
temple we pulled down. Are we going to haul the stones to our temple's new
location? No way, we'll just build on the foundation of the loosing god's
temple. The laziness factor at work, and that's how we got the Cathedral of
Notre Dame and many others.
Sometimes the laziness factor is so strong only the name plate on the door
is changed. Once upon a time, there was this goddess named Bridget (or
Bride) who would show up on her holy day (February 2nd) to help with
birthing the lambs and people, and generally bless the place. She had a
temple in Kildare, Ireland where her priestesses lived and kept a
perpetually burning flame.
Well, the goddess Bridget is now Saint Bridget, her holy day is now called
Candlemas (February 2nd), her priestesses are now nuns, and the temple is now a
monastery. Sure, they've added wings and a fresh coat of paint, but the fire
is still burning.
But the story of Juan Diego is different in that it is the looser who is
asking to integrate, not the winner placating the masses. There are
advantages for both sides to merge the cultures. It allows the "converts" a
chance to keep some of their older traditions and it keeps them connected
with their past and their identity. Along with keeping the masses pacified,
the ruling conquerers get to enrich their own culture with new stories
But cultural fusion, while to some extent, is inevitable, I shed a tear
whenever I hear foreign musicians and singers use Western scales and
American pop techniques. I find the original Coyote stories with their
scatalogical references to be far deeper than the bleached versions. I
suppose for the first time in our history, we can actually archive a
culture before it is lost in fusion. But good luck finding anything
aboriginal that hasn't already been fused.
Tell others about this article:
I've spent some time searching out traditional cultures in far away places,
and I've noticed something interesting. People seem to assume that the
"conquering" culture wants to replace the traditions of the old culture.
But more often I've seen that the conquered culture actively wants to take
on the culture of the conquering culture. I guess they see it as more
modern and successful.
Let me give an example. When I lived in England, I had several friends who
were from Bulgaria (this is when Bulgaria was still communist). I've
always been interested in traditional Bulgarian music, so when they would
visit home they would bring back tapes of traditional music for me. But
they would never listen to it themselves. They preferred American music.
And when I actually went to Bulgaria, the only place I ever heard anyone
playing traditional music was at a wedding.
The interesting effect is that Americans seem to want to preserve
traditional cultures from other countries more strongly than the people who
actually live in those countries.
Another example: it seems to be easier to find a pub to listen to
traditional Irish music in Portland than it is in Ireland. You go to a pub
in Ireland, and you're much more likely to hear rock music.
I guess when people leave their homes for a new place like America, we are
more concerned about holding on to the old culture and preserving it.
I'm not sure if I buy into the idea of shrinking culture. On one end of
it, there certainly is homogenization. I saw a lot of it in Germany, where
most of the songs played on the radio are from North America, and nearly
everyone can speak English to some extent, not to mention the McDonalds and
a Burger King down the road a bit.
But, on the other end, new culture is constantly being created. Look at
the feminist, civil rights, and green movements in the last fifty years --
heck, even the Catholic church has received it's share of reform in the
Personally, I think the scales will weigh out towards diversity, simply
because the population is growing, and it's becoming easier and easier to
find both diverse opinions and likeminded people.
Ah Howard-- only you can take me from the wonders of my corporate office
and wisk me away to philosohical bliss of thought.
As for Diego and the conversion that occurred with his sighting and Bridget
and her sainthood is very simply the yin and yang of religion constantly
revinventing itself to the same message; there is a being or force, we
cannot truly define what it is beyond that we are a part of it thus, in our
frustration or ego, we seek to define "it" according to our times,
experiences or lust for power. What better power than to conquer another's
definition of the highest power that still remains undefined?
History repeats itself; Chritianity did it to pagan's, Muslim's to Judeaism
(dome of the rock) etc… so we see it again in the "modern" west of Mexico.
I don't know if religion was your ultimate example here but as a microcosim
of thought for that point I can only say that your phenomena will continue
to occur until we reach monotheism. Why? The world needs monotheism for
only it can provide true universalism. And only it can provide peace and
justice for all. Until then, my god is better than yours