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Do Indigenous Religions Contain “Seeds of the Word”? (I)

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Undoing slanders against the colonization of America

Our first article aimed to demonstrate the utter falsity of the accusation that the brave Portuguese and Spanish conquistadors perpetrated the “greatest genocide in history” by practically exterminating indigenous peoples (as the apostate ex-friar Leonardo Boff claims). In this second article, divided into two parts, we will continue to dispel the myths and slanders against the missionaries and conquerors of America.

I - SECOND ACCUSATION: DESTRUCTION OF INDIGENOUS RELIGIONS

The missionaries and conquerors destroyed the traditional indigenous religions, accusing them of being idolatrous and satanic without realizing they contained “seeds of the Word,” that is, they were germs of Christianity.

This accusation contains three different arguments:

1. The Holy Spirit “animated” pre-Columbian religions

According to Chilean liberation theologian Maximiliano Salinas, one could “feel” the Spirit in the worship of the Mexican god Xipe Totec and the Inca Pachamama (cf. Salinas, pp. 25 ff.). In the same vein, CELAM’s working document for the Bishops’ Meeting in Santo Domingo states that the Spirit was “attracted” to the “profound religious meaning” of pre-Columbian cultures (CELAM, p. 30). Leonardo Boff sees God and his Spirit manifested in the “traditions, myths, and rites” of native religions (Boff, Adista, p. 6).

2. These religions were “seeds of the Word.”

Both the preparatory document of CELAM for Santo Domingo (op. cit., p. 30) and the one presented by the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference (CEB, p. 5) speak in this sense. The Brazilian Basic Christian Communities also consider these cults a “way of believing in God
 (BCCs, p. 71). Father P. Richard states that “there was faith,” “there was holiness there, an impressive spiritual depth” in these beliefs (lecture cited, Sept. 1991 – TFP-Covadonga Archive).

3. Therefore, Europeans were wrong to call these religions satanic and to combat them

Europeans, says Leonardo Boff, considered these “grand religions” as “the work of Satan.” The “best missionaries … did not dialog with the religions, which are the soul of a culture. They destroyed them to exorcise Satan” (Boff, Jornal do Brasil, October 6, 1991).

The CELAM working document implies that the Spanish misunderstood evangelization because of “limitations stemming from their mindset based on ‘Christendom’ and ‘Reconquest’”[1]  (op. cit., p. 31).

These “limitations,” the text adds, “prevented the full understanding of the religious practices of those peoples. Their myths and rituals, human sacrifices, and various other customs were practices originally celebrated to obtain the favor of divinity. Such idolatrous practices were considered “abominable and aberrant without initially distinguishing their profound religious values” (CELAM, p. 31).

The Bolivian bishops make the  same criticism in their “Contribution” to the Conference in Santo Domingo: “Upon arriving in the New World and discovering the religious expressions of those peoples: human sacrifices, plurality of spirits, etc. [the Spaniards], without seeking to understand their cultures, concluded these lands were dominated by the demon” and called their inhabitants “idolaters.” They also criticize some people’s belief that the resemblance between some indigenous religious tenets and the History of Salvation has led to their being “interpreted as ‘traps of the devil’ rather than seeds of revolution or seeds of the Word, as we can interpret them today” (BCCs, p.5).

To the Basic Christian Communities of Brazil, “the colonizers and missionaries usually saw only both Indians and blacks as superstitious and idolatrous people, practitioners of devilish cults.” Hence, “the good news has become bad news. This historical perversion is the great wound of Evangelization, which still bleeds after centuries” (BCCs, p. 72).

II – RESTORING THE TRUTH

What should we think of such opinions and of the aboriginal American cults? Since “all the gods of the Gentiles are demons” (Ps. 95:5), can these beliefs really be considered “legitimate and worthy” “seeds of the Word,” “ways of believing in God,” expressions of “faith” and “holiness”? Or were they idolatrous and, at best, grotesque and devilish caricatures of the one true Religion? Did the missionaries do good or bad in fighting them?

Distinction required – To answer this question, we must first make a distinction. It is possible to identify in some pagan religions, elements of natural religion and traces of primitive revelation, Abrahamic revelation, and even Christian Revelation, which are either pre-figures or distortions of the one true Religion. Examples: belief in one God, veneration of angels, or doctrines such as the creation of the world, the Original Sin, the need for Redemption, the moral law, eternal salvation or damnation, etc.

However, in general – and almost without exception – these elements of natural or revealed religion appear in various degrees mixed with preternatural or satanic deformations, which on the one hand always tend to something aberrant, horrendous, monstrous. If in some beliefs these satanic elements remain relatively hidden, in others – such as Tibet’s Lamaism – they are clearly and ostensibly dominant.[2]

What was the situation with the pre-Columbian religions of America from this point of view?

The answer comes out conclusively when you closely examine their beliefs and rituals:

1. Pre-Columbian Religions in Central America

A bestial, homicidal, and cannibalistic religion – The cultures that the Spanish got to know in Central America – including Mayan and Aztec – derive from the early Olmec culture, which existed in the first millennium BC. “It was a totemic society (filial subjection to a beast). This beast is the jaguar or god of the heart of the world, sometimes represented performing the sexual act with a woman, and his figure can be found in all Mesoamerican civilizations” (Caturelli, p. 108).

It is difficult to identify a “seed of the Word” in this mythical beast that commits acts of bestiality with a human being…

The culture of Teotihuacán, the successor to the Olmecs (1st to 9th centuries of our era), worshiped a dual god (i.e., contradictory god, which is a characteristically satanic element) called Tloque Nahuaque, in the form of a “serpent with feathers.” Later came the Totlecas, which “embody the feathered serpent, now transformed into a multitude of meanings,” but which always “designates the supreme god of duality” (idem, pp. 109-110).

Does this serpent-shaped god, the apex of Totleca pantheism, represent the Word, or does it represent the very serpent[3] cursed by God? What “seeds of Revelation” can be recognized in this superstition?

Also among the Maya, the very numerous gods were dual and zooanthrophic (a mixed form of animal and man). To obtain their favors, they were offered human sacrifices, “preferably young men and women and children” whose hearts were torn out “still throbbing and oozing with blood, and offered to the gods.” Thus proceeds the priest, his hair never combed nor washed,  and saturated with the blood of previous sacrifices” (Caturelli, pp. 113-114).

Is it possible to identify in these gods, half beasts and half men, or in these ferocious and disgusting rituals, anything that legitimately prefigures Jesus Christ?

Collective Holocausts to the Devil – These atrocities reach their paroxysm with the Aztecs. The satanic aspect of their rituals is reflected in some details of the human sacrifices they offered to the devil, such as those reported by Friar Toribio de Paredes Motolinia, OFM – one of the first twelve missionaries of Mexico – in his famous History of the Indies ( Motolinia, OFM, pp. 29 ff.).

He narrates, for example, that in the Aztec month called Panquetzaliztli, dedicated to the gods of war, men had to draw their own blood “to pour it on idols with their fingers (as if sprinkling holy water) or to put blood from their ears and tongue on some papers and offer it” (idem, p. 30). They also draw blood from other parts of their body according to the habit of each region.

Moreover, there were horrible human slaughters performed on stones placed at the top of sacrificial pyramids before the altar of the idols. “On this stone they stretched the unfortunate victims on their backs, with their chests very tense because they were bound by feet and hands, to be sacrificed. The idol’s chief priest or his lieutenant were the ones who ordinarily sacrificed. If sometimes they got tired because there were numerous people to sacrifice, others trained to perform the sacrifice would come in. As the victim’s chest was very tense, they would take a long razor and rip his chest open with great force and quickly pull out his heart … as it fell to the ground, still pulsating a little, it was immediately placed on a shield before the altar” (ibid.).

The priest then raised the heart, offering it to the sun and then to idols. “And in another vessel, he gathered [the victim’s] blood and offered it to the chief idol as if to eat, anointing his lips; then he did the same with the other idols and figures of the devil.” Their hearts “were eaten by the old celebrants.” If the victims were prisoners of war, “the one who arrested them, with his friends and relatives, would take [the corpses] and prepared the human flesh with other foods. And on another day, they would celebrate and eat it” (ibid.).

MontezumaMontezuma’s macabre “ball attire” – The barbaric acts often did not end here. After killing the victims, they “skinned a few of them …. and wore their skin, left open at the back and above the shoulders. They donned it as tight as they could (as if wearing a coat and trousers) and danced in that cruel and astonishing garment. And since all those sacrificed were either slaves or prisoners of war brought from Mexico, they took a war prisoner who was leader or chief and skinned him to clothe, with his skin, the great lord of Mexico, Montezuma. Dressed in that skin, Montezuma danced with great gravitas, believing he was rendering a great service to the devil being honored on that day” (idem, p. 31).

Dancing with skinned and boneless women – Women were not exempt from these atrocities. “On another feast day, in each place they sacrificed a woman and, after skinning her, someone dressed her skin and danced with everyone else; one dressed the woman’s skin, the others wore feathers…”

“Here in Cuauhtitlán … it seems that the demon was crueler than in other places … [they] slaughtered two slave women high above the grills [of the pyramids] before the altar of idols and flayed their whole body and face and took their ‘shins’ from their thighs [the femur]. The next morning, the chief Indians put on their skins faces like masks, took their ‘shins’, one in each hand, and descended very slowly, step by step, growling like ferocious beasts” (ibid.).

The Three Deaths – That same day, they did “another major and unprecedented cruelty.” Perched atop very tall posts, “they tied [with their arms in the shape of an X] six captive men of war. Around and below them, more than two thousand youngsters and men with bows and arrows … targeted them like rain. When the prisoners were full of arrows and half dead, they would climb up, untie them, and let them fall from that height, an impact that would break all their bones. Then they gave them the ‘third death’ by sacrificing them and tearing their hearts out. They were dragged away and slew; their heads were cut off and given to the idol ministers, who would take their bodies, like lamb meat, for the chieftains to eat. The next day they would again feast with that nefarious banquet and all would dance and rejoice” (idem, p. 32).

Sacred serpents fed human flesh – The same flesh served as food for countless rattlesnakes that Montezuma raised in a special place near his palace; the Aztecs considered them sacred animals (cf. Cronau, p.126).[4]

Propitiatory Infanticide – For his part, Hernan Cortez narrated these barbaric feasts to the Kings of Spain, describing them as “horrible and abominable.” “Every time they wish to ask their idols something, for their petition to be better accepted, they take many living girls and boys and even adult men and women, open their breasts and tear out their hearts and bowels in the presence of those idols … No year goes by without their killing and sacrificing fifty souls in each temple. …. Your Majesties can be assured that since they have many temples, from what we have seen and discovered so far there is no year in which they do not kill and sacrifice three or four thousand souls”(Cartas de Cortes, Ed. de Gayangos, p. 25, apud Bayle, SJ, Missionalia Hispanica, nº 13, p. 17).

Hellish Degradation – Part of these rituals were collective drunkenness, as various chroniclers and historians have described. About them, Friar Toribio de Paredes Motolinia comments: “This land was an image of hell” especially when “seeing, at night,  its inhabitants shouting, some calling the devil, some drunk, others singing and dancing.” The libations began at sunset, and “by early evening, they were already losing consciousness, sometimes falling or sitting, singing and shouting to call the devil. It was very unfortunate to see men created in the image of God made worse than brute beasts; worse, they committed not just that sin but many others, wounding themselves and striking each other; they even killed each other albeit they were friends or conspicuous relatives” (Motolinia, OFM, p. 22).

It is really difficult to identify any form of “faith,” “holiness,” “dignity,” or “seeds of the Word” in this “image of hell”…

The arrival of the Spaniards, a liberation – This whole picture explains why the Spaniards, as the contemporaries narrate, were received as liberators by the peoples overwhelmed by the Aztecs. “Because of this excessive cruelty shedding so much human blood and the very heavy tribute of having to catch more and more captives to sustain their gods, many of those barbarians were tired and saw their situation as unbearable; yet, they did not stop abiding by those rigorous laws because of the great fear the idol ministers instilled in them. However, in their hearts they longed to be free from such a heavy burden. The Lord’s providence had them in this state of mind when given the news of the law of Christ, which they undoubtedly saw as a good law, and [Christ] as a good God to serve” (Acosta, SJ, chap. XXII – How the Indians Themselves Were Tired and Could not Bear the Cruelties of Their Gods, p. 85).

The same happened when Columbus arrived: “When Columbus met the Arawaks of the Bahamas, and the Greater Antilles, these feeble people were in ruins because of the fierce imperialism of their Caribbean [Indian] neighbors, which is one of the reasons why they hailed Columbus as a liberator. ‘Come and see men coming from heaven,’ the Arawaks chanted on the beach” (Armesto, p. 47).

Retrato_de_Hernán_CortésIn the early reports that Hernán Cortés sent to the Emperor Charles V, he mentions a very significant episode. After conquering Mexico, while in Cuyoacán, “ambassadors of the republic and province of Mechoacan came to him asking him to send them his law and teach it, as they intended to leave their own because it did not seem good to them. Cortes did so, and these days they are among the best Christian Indians found in New Spain” (Acosta, SJ, p. 86).

Excerpts from the book, The Fifth Centenary Facing the Twenty-First Century – Authentic Christendom or Tribal-Communist Revolution, pp. 50-58)

*     *    *

In the next article, we will look at what happened among the indigenous peoples of South America and the glorious struggle of Holy Church to extirpate idolatry.

 

[1] It is at least strange for this episcopal text to consider the yearning to establish a Christian civilization or restore it (as was the case in the Iberian Peninsula) to be caused by mental “limitations.” In fact, such longings for Christendom are the opposite of limitation: in the temporal sphere, they are the full expression of the Church’s intellectual horizon and the ultimate expression of her spirit.

Indeed, Christendom is the social order that accomplishes on earth the wish that Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself expressed when He taught us the Our Father: “Let Thy kingdom come.” In it, the wisdom of the Gospel governs states and influences all relations in society, producing in every field of human activity “fruits important beyond all expectation” (cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical Immortale Dei, November 11, 1885).

How, then, can they call this supreme expression of the Catholic spirit a mentality “limitation”?

[2] To assert without any nuance or distinction that the pagan religions practiced in pre-Columbian America contained “seeds of the Word” is at least a misconception, if not a serious error. In one form or another, all of them without exception were idolatrous, that is, demonic (cf. Ps. 95:5). Saint Paul warns that those who indulge in “idol worship” and “witchcraft” will not “reach the kingdom of God,” that is, they will be lost (Gal. 5:19-21).

Likewise, Saint John the Evangelist describes as impenitent those who “adore devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk” or do penance from their sorceries (Apoc. 9:20-21). He also warns that “sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21: 8). St. John also says in the epilogue of the Apocalypse: “Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city [the everlasting Jerusalem]. Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and unchaste, and murderers, and servers of idols, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie” (Apoc. 22:14-15).

[3] In this regard, the fact that the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe does not come from its Spanish namesake, which designates the city of Guadalupe, but from a wonderful episode with an Indian uncle of the seer Juan Diego, is very suggestive.

On the very day of the Virgin’s apparition to Juan Diego, his uncle, named Juan Bernardino, was in his house prostrate with a long illness and almost about to die, when he had a vision of Our Lady with exactly the same features his nephew had seen her. Addressing him in the Aztec language, the Mother of God promised him a cure – which immediately came to pass, being the first miracle of its kind to occur in Mexican lands – and expressed her desire to be called Cuatla-xupeh (whence Guadeloupe) which in Aztec means “the one who tramples the serpent.”

This expression, says a scholarly Jesuit researcher, can either refer generically to the biblical Woman of Genesis, or specifically symbolize “the victory over the Aztec deity Coatlicue, derived from the serpent god Quetzacoátl, which has the same reptile form” (Caruso, SJ, pp. 120-122, 140).

[4] Serving human flesh as animal food is a repulsive characteristically satanic reversal of the natural order. The rare cases known in history have occurred only in extremely decadent and dying civilizations such as the Roman Empire at the time of anti-Christian persecution.

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2 thoughts on “Do Indigenous Religions Contain “Seeds of the Word”? (I)

  1. Personally, There does not appear to be any civilization, up and until the founding of the Jewish Religion, which was monotheistic except for that period in the 18th dynasty of Egypt wherein the Pharaoh Akenaten introduced the monotheism of the single God, the Aten. It would appear that throughout our ancient history, man developed a Parthenon og gods to satisfy their need to either pray for favours or have someone to blame when things went wrong. So! With the coming of the Europeans to North, Central or South America, the first results of those first events of interaction was diseases the continental peoples never heard of and the resulting deaths were horrific in numbers.
    By the time the Europeans arrived, the Native North, Central and South Americans had already had their own religions some having a single Great Spirit as the center of their Faith (as the Native Americans did and some, like the Central and South American cultures had established their own Parthenon of gods to serve their purposes. Could there many cultures have survived the arrival of the European explorers? Never mind all the overly Pius, religious fanatics because that was simply a bunch of do gooders And, yet, there were many missionaries at work who did try to do good work among the Native peoples. No, the overriding principle which saw the demise and subjugation of
    the Native peoples in North, Central and South America was centered on one word …… Greed. As we watch the developments involved with the exploration of the Moon, and later Mars, we will again see the word “Greed” hidden in platitudes as the different earthly Groups (America and it’s Allies; Russia and is Allies; China and it’s Allies) all lay claim to the potential mineral wealth. There will be great cheers when those first explorers and settlers arrive but as these developments get underway, ruthless financiers and corporations will be driven, not by the value of the many human lives that will be lost in these ventures, but by …… Greed.

  2. The article is about whether the pagan practices of the “indigenous” in the Americas contained anything close to being the “seeds of the world” and after reading the article and knowing what I know the answer is no. Just like the pagan people in Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, etc etc etc had nothing to offer in their old pagan ways. I don’t hear the social justice cry about how Europe was conquered. I accept the fact my ancestors many many hundreds of years ago were pagans, but I’m glad I no longer am in that situation and have the ability to have eternal life in heaven – even if that means my “culture” from my ancestors is devastated – good.

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