Thursday, December 22, 2011

84. Mexican Codex Map (NOT ON DISPLAY)

How Mexico Became Catholic.
Here’s another example, following on yesterday’s Islamic Bima, detailing an odd commingling of religion that follows an imperial conquest. When the Spanish took Mexico from the Aztecs, in the 1500s, the Catholics quickly started missionary work and conversions. Yes, they were killing and massacring them, too, and releasing diseases that would decimate their numbers; but the Catholics wanted them alive and willing converts, otherwise they felt it didn’t take. Officially, the natives worshipped devils, and it would be a great victory for Holy Mother Church and her Inquisition if they could save all those souls. And yet, the practical solution, as every successful conqueror has discovered, is to adapt the old faith that everybody knew to the new faith you’re trying to impose—thus, Christmas takes the place of the old pagan solstice holiday (convenient that Jesus was born then, no?). In Mexico, it gives you things such as the Day of the Dead, which combined native Mexican ancestor worship with the Catholic All Saints’ Day/All Souls Day business, or the map of a region near Mexico City in this podcast, which features the adorable location “Cathedral of Santa Barbara at the Place of the Toad”—they kept the altar at the place which everybody associated with worship, just changed what it was they were worshipping.

The destruction of Aztec civilization, along with so many other native American situations, is easily deplored and condemned by apologist historians. Slightly deeper analysis: in some cases it was easy for the Spanish to overthrow the Aztec power structure, because the Aztecs themselves were deeply resented imperial overlords, and lots of native groups were delighted to get rid of them—after all, no one could possibly be worse than these chocolate-sipping sadists. That may not excuse what the Spanish did to the Aztecs, but it’s a useful lesson for would-be imperialists: it’s easier to create your colonies where there’s no central authority, just a lot of warring tribes you can play against each other, or where, as in this case, there is a central authority whom everybody hates. Throw down the dark lord, take his ring, and set yourself up as the new dark lord, it’s all quite straightforward.

MacGregor concludes his podcast by pointing out that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the best example of a strictly Mexican Catholic amalgam. She appeared (in what’s now Mexico City) to a young Aztec a few years after the conquest began, and is now the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world, after Rome, I guess. Even Mexican atheists, communists, and extreme free-thinkers have a hard time not being devoted to Our Lady there.

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