21-23 Sept. Migration and Devotion

This week we initiated discussions about bodies in motion, based on the articles assigned and on videos we partially watched in class. We considered bodies that moved between Chicago and the DF, and back, to join the First-or-Second Tepeyac from the other in the case of the Guadalupanas; to move into the woods, into smoke, or into the waters in order to be infused with the spirit of María Lionza; or to dwell in the back-and-forth motion of interorality, between verbal and non-verbal, between the scriptural and the performative, and between land and the waters of the ocean, to bring an offer to Yemayá, perhaps with Oshún, Oya, and other deities from the Lucumí-Yoruba pantheons.

On Wednesday, we also embarked ourselves in a different kind of motion, that of the comparative methods. We initiatied a discussion about the complexities of good comparativism (apples and oranges, well compared), and started the comparative chart of all the female figures we have so far discussed.

For this week’s blog reflection, choose one thread of religious / spiritual meaning from one of the deities we studied and discussed this week, and one from previous weeks, and offer a comparative reading of them. Comparative reading 101: you shall not offer a tit-for-tat journey. Namely, you shall not seek to find ALL analogous traits; some of the best comparative work dwells in, and analyzes, contrasts and differences, to find links hidden below such disparities.

Please, post your reflection by Saturday at 8PM at the latest, so you can shift your focus to the readings and questions for next week. Good weekend, everybody!

9 replies on “21-23 Sept. Migration and Devotion”

Comparing the Pachamama with Maria Lionza, they are both female figures who represent a greater spiritual force beyond the figure themselves. Pachamama, for instance, is associated with all that is “more-than-human.” She is associated with what gives: the mountains, water, all natural sources not made by man. She represents the idea that humans do not exist above nature or separate from it. Maria Lionza, also a strong female figure, began as a historical figure who became a figure associated with the strength, healing, and communication with spirits.

As I reflect these basic comparisons, I want to explore more deeply the meaning of what is more than human. Maria Lionza and Pachamama both represent to humans a connection with a world that co-exists but is distinct from the lives of humans. Whether it be being aware of water and trees or with seeking strength from spirits, both figures represent in human terms something beyond human creation and understanding.

Furthermore, the human response and means to venerate these figures vary. In the current day and age, for Maria Lionza, a spiritual pilgrimage takes place to pay homage. Hence, what is more than human is honored through bodily actions (taking the pilgrimage, singing etc) However, for Pachamama, in her name, there are protests fighting against the destruction of nature. Hence Pachamama, who represents what is more than human then become the start of movements made by humans on behalf of what is more than human.

All in all, both Pachamama and Maria Lionza represent the power of believing in and fighting for something that is beyond human; because the strength that is drawn is more than human, it empowers individuals to find strength in their human lives as well.

La Caridad del Cobre of Afro-Cuban religiosity and Maria Lionza of Venezuela embody female figures in dual identities that dispose of strength and spirituality among their devotees in different contexts. Both figures convey a sort of resistance and resilience among marginalized people’s ability to maintain native cultural and religious beliefs/practices by combining them into colonial Catholicism. Afro-Cubans recognize Cachita as both a Madonna and the multiplicity of the Yoruba deity Oshun with associations to fertility and the color yellow. Although not depicted as a Madonna with child, Maria Lionza symbolizes motherhood in her identity as the indigenous Yara with the carrying of a pelvis, and becomes associated with blue and white in her identity resembling the Catholic Mary.

The apparition and shrine of Cachita in the city of Cobre became a source of strength for African slaves in the approval for their proposal of freedom and later a political identity in the Cuban Independence from Spain. Maria Lionza symbolizes the power to invoke strength, moral order, and purity to her faithful followers. The profound reverence of this spirit is found in the political identity of Venezuela as represented by the blue color symbolizing her power on the national flag.

There are some shared aspects of rituals observed by Afro-Cuban devotees of Cachita and those of Maria Lionza, but the contexts in which they are carried are starkly different. Devotees of both rituals make use of drums, cigars, songs, madrinas/padrinos, and spirit mediums. However, devotees of Cachita perform Santerias in the home of Santeros, but followers of Maria Lionza must make pilgrimages to Sorte Mountain to experience the spirit of Maria Lionza. She resides in the Sorte Mountain and the spiritual performance to bring healing and purity to the devotees must make its occurrence there in her home.

I decided to compare La Caridad del Cobre with La Virgen de Guadalupe through the analyses of ‘La Caridad del Cobre’ and ‘Beyond Mexico: Guadalupan Sacred Space Production and Mobilization in a Chicago Suburb.’

In reading these two pieces I came across three distinct yet interrelated points of comparison that focused on the deities themselves and the projections that their devotees have placed on them that have become engrained within their own ideals of worship. Firstly, both of these female figures have become known as protectors of the marginalized through physical manifestations i.e. statues. More specifically, from reading ‘La Caridad del Cobre’ we know that the statue of La Caridad had an affinity for places among the marginalized as she, despite being moved around from different positions of power, always ended up right back to her place among the marginalized. Similarly, La Guadalupe’s statue in the Second Tepeyac was constructed with the blueprint from the original but was changed to redirect the focus of importance to La Guadalupe as a protector of her devotees. In the new statue her eyeline is shifted from a white Spaniard colonizer to Juan, an indigenous man. This intentional change by her devotees emphasized La Guadalupe’s affinity toward her position as both a mother and a protector of the conquered and therefore a mother and protector of the marginalized, just like La Caridad.

In extension to this, both La Caridad and La Virgen de Guadalupe are anthropomorphic deities that give solace to their devotees by providing a center–a religious center, a spiritual center–from which to find comfort amidst ongoing colonial violences. The origins of La Caridad sprouted from the implementation of these violences in the form of slavery and other forms of labor exploitation from which enslaved and indigenous peoples could find individual comfort through communal worship of La Caridad. Fast-forwarding to the future, the growth of La Caridad in Cuba, while a vehicle for identity reconstruction, was also a communal coping mechanism needed after being released from colonial control. Comparably, the presence of La Virgen de Guadalupe in the Second Tepeyac as a protector of the marginalized has created a space in which immigrants, undocumented and not, find solace from various types of violences within the community she creates. Mentioned more specifically in ‘Beyond Mexico’, the shared worship of La Virgen de Guadalupe amongst immigrants within the Second Tepeyac community established a space in which devotees could enter to both escape and counteract such violences through either direct or indirect participation in political immigration matters. Whether someone was a volunteer for helping undocumented immigrants or was an undocumented immigrant themselves taking part in the program, La Virgen de Guadalupe and the worship she elicits allowed for such safe spaces to be constructed.

And lastly, both their existences support and create community as without emphasis on communal ties neither deity would be so widely devoted to as they are today and the worship that both of them attract and induce has created a transnational community whose strengthening ties in turn amplify devotion toward them both. In ‘La Caridad del Cobre,’ it was stated that the presence of a pueblo structure created a nurturing sense of local identity and community that was unmatched in other slave communities and that this strong starting point is what allowed devotion of La Caridad to spread the way in which it did. Without a strong community, therefore, La Caridad might not have reached the importance that she did and, if she did, the hypothetical lack of an ongoing strong community would have made sure that she did not remain as important as she has continued to be since her arrival in Latin America. Likewise, devotion of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the strength of the connection between La Guadalupe and her followers, has occurred due to strong communal presences. Like we read in ‘Beyond Mexico,’ the building, the institution itself, was not initially sacred but was made into a place of sacredness specifically for La Guadalupe because of strong communal ties centralized around shared devotion, shared cultural practices, and the shared respect of every identity and culture of everyone and anyone who decided to participate within this sacred space. It can be said then that, because both La Caridad and La Virgen de Guadalupe kindle strong communal ties, they both possess an intrinsically implicit quality of being able to stimulate community building, and that that quality is recognized by devotees resulting in a positive feedback relationship in which worship of both deities is amplified by the community they unwittingly cause and, simultaneously, the worship given by devotees is strengthened by this growing strength of such community.

Hi Reina!
I really enjoyed reading your comprehensive comparison of La Caridad and La Virgen de Guadalupe. I particularly liked how you emphasized the importance of communal ties in both. I agree with you that the strength of the communal ties played a direct role in the amplification of the deities themselves.
I also think your point about how both deities were protectors of marginalized groups connects with the communal ties aspect in that marginalized groups could stand more united against forces against them when they had something “greater” than their marginalization to stand behind.

Comparing La Virgen de Guadalupe in the Second Tepeyac and Maria Lionza raises the questions of how both of these figures influence community building and religious/spiritual significations in ways that support and clash with each other.

Both Guadalupe and Maria Lionza are heavily centered in the movement and geographic migration of folks, Guadalupe with the recreation of Tepeyac as a “sacred landscape” in Chicago and Maria Lionza being worshipped in the Sorte Mountain in Venezuela (Peña, 724). However, the direction of this movement differs as Guadalupe unites thousands of people from different ethnic and geographic backgrounds in the small suburb of Des Plaines in Chicago. Maria Lionza’s figure, on the other hand, moves out into the mountains in order to create a space of isolation for those who worship her. Although both Maria Lionza and Guadalupe both focus on community building with this migration, the directionality of Maria Lionza moves folks out into the woods while Guadalupe is moving folks in towards the pilgrimage of Second Tepeyac.

Another point of comparison between Maria Lionza and Guadalupe are the significations and meanings derived from their feminine figures. While Guadalupe was recognized as a “mother and protector of the conquered”, Maria Lionza was understood as a powerful, sensual Indigenous woman (728). Maria Lionza’s figure is naked and holding up a human pelvis, showing that the erotic and the body is very closely tied to her spiritual meaning. However, Guadalupe’s figure is seen as more pure and nurturing as she holds her arms open to her people. The difference between these two feminine figures is interesting because it can reveal the different relationships that religion and spirituality can have with the erotic and feminine body. Although both figures are meant to serve as a source of protection and healing for their worshippers, Maria Lionza provides her people with an unapologetic symbol of embracing the erotic and the body while Guadalupe exudes a feeling of protection and motherly love.

Putting Maria Lionza and La Virgen de Guadalupe in conversation raises the question of how space and signification influence how a specific deity is worshipped. How does a focus on pleasure and the erotic affect how Maria Lionza is understood? How does motherhood and purity affect how La Virgen de Guadalupe is understood?

Both La Caridad del Cobre and La Virgen de Guadalupe are central figures to modern Latino Catholic belief that come from very similar origins. La Caridad and La Virgen appeared to men of color, who were both coincidentally named Juan Diego, and have come to be associated with repressed minorities. Although both figures are associated with the Catholic faith, they are sources of strength and comfort for their people, symbols that they can turn to get away from the brutality of slavery, colonization, and modern systems of oppression.

As a result, the cult of La Virgen and La Caridad have survived and grown to this very day. Their association with the oppressed is what makes both deities so powerful: they are malleable to relate to many people as systems of oppression change to include and exclude certain communities. La Caridad has come to represent Cuba and its people and has shifted in the modern day to resonate with exiled Cubans who fled Castro’s regime. On the other hand, La Virgen has created a space for immigrants, especially those in the United States, to share in their troubles and find solace in a country that seeks to oppress immigrants.

In my opinion, what makes the Virgen and La Caridad so powerful is their ability to create a community for their people. Their devotees find strength in the ability to build ties with each other, and in doing so, strengthen their belief in La Virgen or La Caridad respectively. This positive feedback loop has made it possible for so many people to personally identify with these figures to the modern day.

Maria Lionza and La Virgen de Guadalupe are two deities which are essential to the Latina idea of spirituality. To begin with, La Virgen de Guadalupe is considered important as a result of her rendering of Jesus. This birth carries the entire weight of a religion. On the other hand, Maria Lionza is not associated with the idea of this glorious motherhood. Instead, populations worship her for a variety of purposes, hoping to have their prayers answered.
Next, there is this concept of origin. While La Virgin de Guadalupe is associated with Mexico, Maria Lionza is well known in the Sorte Mountain of Venezuela. La Virgin de Guadalupe’s origin story tells of a moment in which she appeared to a poor Indigenous man named Juan Diego. Maria Lionza, daughter of an Indigenous chief, transforms into part of the Earth once she faces danger in the mountains. In a way, this is seen as a parallel through both divinities’ links to the Indigenous population rather than the elite upper-class citizen. Another point of contrast are the colors equated with each. While La Virgen de Guadalupe is linked to green, white, and red (Mexico’s flag colors), Maria Lionza is closely bound to the color red. In this sense, Maria Lionza differs from most divinities by highlighting that which is not completely pure or stained. Within many contexts, the color red symbolizes violence, blood, and impurities; something which followers of Maria Lionza are not afraid to embrace. All of this relates back to the Latinx conception of purity. Is it possible for Latinas to uphold the beliefs of a pure life without some sort of red marked on their lives?

The discussion last week surrounding our bodies in motion and the discussion about location in terms of different places such as Pilsen in Chicago and the DF, I thoroughly enjoyed our discussions about the role and sense of community and even found connections to nature and culture specifically about Yemayá and Oshún. Additionally, one part of last week that I enjoyed was discussing the connecting similarities and differences among the deities as well as their representations. I was able to draw connections from the deities to the role of nature and felt that I better understood how their representations and connections to nature have stayed constant throughout time. One religious and spiritual meaning from the deities that we studied were the comparisons I drew from La Virgen de Guadalupe and Maria Lionza. I thought it was interesting to see that both similarly put importance on migration to specific geographic locations while tying into the theme of feeling centered with nature. Although the locations that were discussed differ immensely in setting, I believe the figures both stand for the unity that comes when people feel connected to their location, cultural and appreciate the nature-aspect of their setting. La Virgen de Guadalupe’s tie to Chicago and the emphasis on unity in terms of encouraging community building was communicated through her role and character as the text mentioned her similarity to being a protector and welcoming figure. Although Maria Lionza is not as much of a centralized figure in motherhood and protection, Maria Lionza and her emphasized location in the mountains of Venezuela and focuses on her parallel sense of community to those Indigenous and symbolizes all aspects of a person’s impurities whether good or bad, yet also creates a strong sense of community that one may relate to.

Both La Pachamama and Maria Lionza are female presented figures/deities, important for indigenous based religions in South America. Both deities have a connection with nature and are included in the beyond human category.

Maria Lionza is a central figure for indigenous communities and religions in Venezuela. One main difference between Maria Lionza and La Pachamama is that Maria Lionza is explicitly portrayed as a female, while La Pachamama did not have a physical body and was known as Mother Earth/Nature (Pacha in Quechua means earth and Mama means mother.)

Furthermore, Maria Lionza was presented as a woman that defied all Western heteropatriarchal constructs of what a woman should be (constructs we can see with most Virgins.) She is presented in statues around Venezuela as an indigenous warrior woman who was naked, wore an army uniform, riding animals such as horses and tapirs, and holding objects like a sword or even a human pelvis. However, spiritists and spirits affirm that their cult and beliefs are about beauty, purity, order, morality, becoming clean, and behaving properly. This is very interesting since indigenous Venezuelan communities have important figures such as Maria Lionza and La Negra Francisca, both portrayed as erotic and in a non-Catholic way (according to Western heterosexist based ideals), but behave according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

On the other hand, La Pachamama is portrayed as an entity and as the world as a whole. She represents human connections with nature, hence why the Incas had offerings and performed sacrifices in order to have a good outcome with their crops or if they needed rain/less sun, etc.

Both figures have special celebrations in order to worship and acclaim their power and meaning. Both of these homage activities serve as a way to connect the human with the “more than human” we previously discussed in class as well as helping in creating a sense of community between the devotees that worship these deities.

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