Religious Accommodation

Writing trigger: I am fascinated by personal ads. Even though I’ve never written one myself… even though I’m not reading them in an effort to find Mr. Right, I read them to see which ones appeal to me. So many ads sound much the same. Everyone is attractive with a good sense of humor. Everyone likes quiet nights at home and country walks. For the most part, the ads are hard to distinguish from one another.

  • Put yourself out there. Write a personal ad for yourself. What can you write that will set your ad apart from the other ads? Or…
  • Choose a personal ad to answer. Set the scene. Your characters are meeting for lunch/drinks. How do they prepare for the date? What do they think about prior to the meeting? As to the meeting itself, include that either one or both of your characters have misrepresented themselves in their ad.


Visiting the New Mexican Salinas Pueblos, I studied the placement of the kivas (underground chambers designed for rituals) and the church. Had the church built over the kivas or next to them?  Needless to say, those who do the conquering are never happy with the pre-existing religion. In the case of the Quarai Ruins, The National Park Service had several interpretive signs. One sign read that the church built next to the kiva which indicated some accommodation to the Native American polytheistic practices. However, other signs indicated that the Catholic church forbade kachinas, the masked dancers who embodied the sun, moon, corn, rain, or fertility (just some among many) gods.

This supplanting of one belief system for another is never entirely successful. Of course the blend is somewhat disconcerting.

Earlier this year, we were in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where we were fortunate to take in day-long dances in honor of El Senor de la Conquista- a statue of Christ that was carried into battle by the friars who came to San Miguel to convert the native population. I took many pictures of the dancers. Looking at the photo above, check out the face paint. Evidence of accommodation if I ever saw one. In addition, I have pasted in the March 11, TimeOut in which I wrote of the experience.

TimeOut March 11, ’10

“Onward Christian Soldiers”

These weren’t teasing, rat-a-ta-tat snare drums.

No. These drums were tribal, fierce, get ready for battle, and spill some blood drums. Even some eight blocks from the source of the sound, the earth shook. The natives were restless.

I walked toward the drumming. The sound reverberated off the stone walls. Mel Gibson and Apocalypto came to mind.

San Miguel de Allende’s main plaza was packed with Indians and Mestizos who filled the streets surrounding a green square tidy with laurel trees clipped like hat boxes.

The day of the drumming, the Indians wore traditional dress. Their body paint suggested that they were off to war.

Both men and women wore five or six rows of seed pods around their ankles. The dancing feet set the shells a clacking and this added another layer of percussion.

All wore elaborate, feathered headdresses. Some featured panther heads or carved human skulls which were embedded in headbands that held radiating rows of multi-colored feathers- three, four and five feet long.

The women wore smocks appliquéd with geometric designs. The men wore breechcloths. Around their necks, they wore beaded collars or capes- some of which incorporated fur pelts.

Each dance was choreographed. No two dances were alike. Maybe eight or so dance troupes danced all day and into the night.

White crusader banners with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe fluttered in the breeze.

Eager to know more of this celebration, I asked a local. He said that the traditional dancers were honoring El Senor de la Conquista- a statue of Christ housed in la Parroquia, the pink, Gothic. cathedral-sized church that towers over the square. This statue was carried into battle by friars who came to San Miguel to convert the rebellious Chichimeca, a sub-set of the Aztecs.

And at that point I experienced a disconnect. Why would a native population celebrate the subjugation of their religion, culture, and people?

Later I learned that the dancers were honoring Tonatzin, the Aztec Lunar Mother Goddess who was appropriated by the Catholic bishops and re-branded as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Legend has it that a native (whose name was never recorded but was designated by the Spanish as Juan Diego) was worshipping Tonantzin, and she (speaking in her native tongue) told Juan Diego that she had not forgotten her people.

When the native son told his village that Tonantzin had spoken to him, not once but several times, no one believed him. Juan Diego asked Tonantzin for proof.

At which point, Tonantzin gave Juan Diego roses in full bloom. On his return to the village, Juan Diego spilled the roses out of his cloak to reveal Tonantzin’s image on the cactus cloth fabric.

As for the discrepancy between the seemingly militant Indians and the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, I’m thinking that the Indians are simultaneously demonstrating accommodation and subterfuge.

On one hand, they accept that the Spanish appropriated Tonantzin who is one and the same as Our Lady of Guadalupe; on the other hand, their tribal dancing reminds everyone that their culture won’t be denied.


About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Religious Accommodation

  1. annalou says:

    La Lacuna, most recent book by Barbara Kingsolver… along with Isabella Allende and Frida Kahlo, she is a clearly intelligent and enquiring writer, who makes me wish to go to Mexico… and simply to dig in there, become more me.

    I love your writings. Please send more.

    I am certain I am becoming totally (dyslexic:? Altzeimered? Senile?) at a loss as to how to prevent my brain curdling. I forget the moment I think of something. Took me two trips upstairs to retreive Kingsolver’s name; I forgot both times why I was up there. Started in doing other seemingly ‘important’ stuff.

    • helga says:

      Hi Annalou,

      dont’ worry. It happened to me as well. I know exactly what you are talking about. Don’t panic, panic makes it worse. I was ‘lucky’ to get CBT therapy at St Ann’s hospital. I know it all has to do with stress, stress which, maybe, we produce ourself, stress which we woudn’t need to have if we decided against it. In my case stress is connected to irrational demands on my self, stemming from childhood upbringing. Recently I was so worried about losing my memory that I ask a psychiatrist to come for a home visit. After the psychiatrist told me that my memory is absolutely fine that my experiences are just to do with stress, I stopped panicking. Now it still happens what you describe occasionally but I never panic anymore. There is more to it. I think that the stress is also to do with noticing the first signs of aging physicly, not being able to do all the things we used to do, becoming slower. This is in itself so shocking and can send you into a crisis. As I am many years older than you are I have the experience that as soon as you come to grips with the facts and enjoy what you still can do panic leaves you. If you like to meet and talk about it more then ask Doris for my phone no or e-mail address.

      For now all the best

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s