Religious Beliefs. All Cora life revolves around religion. Humans must cooperate with the gods in order to maintain the order of the cosmos. One seeks the gifts of nature from the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the fire, in order to survive, as the Cora have always done, by eating the sacred plant, maize.
There are many places of worship, primarily caves, mountains, promontories, glades, lakes, springs, and rivers. One could describe Cora religion as a pre-Hispanic cult with an overlay of eighteenth-century Catholicism, including baptism, the worship of saints, and a ritual calendar.
The Indians feel that the gods are directly related to them. Cora gods are typically equated with Catholic sacred figures. For example Taya'u, "Father," is at the same time God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Burial, the Sun, and Fire. The great celebration of this god is Easter.
Tatí, "Mother" is the earth goddess of fertility. She lives in the Pacific Ocean, to the west, from where she sends the rains. She is equated with the Virgin of the Rosary and the Virgin of Candelmas. Tahás Suravéh, "Big Brother," is the morning star and is equated with Saint Michael. Other gods are Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Fire.
The major shine of the Cora, Thoakamota, is located on the Mesa del Nayar. For centuries the rituals of the Sun have been held there. The first fruits of harvest are also offered there.
Religious Practitioners. Shamans are religious specialists and religious leaders. They communicate with the gods through songs.
Ceremonies. Except for curing, Cora religious rituals involve the whole community and are led by special authorities. There are both Catholic and indigenous rituals. The latter, called mitotes, have a pre-Hispanic origin and are carefully separated from the Catholic rituals. Indigenous rituals are performed to ask for the fertility of the fields. On other occasions, the Cora give thanks for the gifts received. The mitotes are closely tied to the cycle of maize cultivation. Although the most important mitotes are held in the communities, they may also be held in rancherías.
The most important Catholic ceremonies are New Year, Carnival, Easter, and Christmas. During New Year, the Cora hold the ritual of Changing the Staffs, which was introduced by the Spanish as a means of rotating the individuals in authority each year.
Easter is a very important festival. The Christian concept of Easter, introduced by Spanish missionaries during the eighteenth century, was reinterpreted by the Cora and put into a format that was purely indigenous. In order to teach the Passion of Christ to the Cora, the missionaries made use of dances and music that were originally part of puberty initiation and fertility ceremonies associated with spring. In the two centuries that have passed since then, Christian and indigenous concepts have been blended to form the modern Easter ritual. In other cases, indigenous ideas were hidden by expressing them with Christian symbols.
Medicine. Curers treat those suffering from illness, whether the cause is natural or supernatural. Supernatural illnesses are sent by the gods when they feel neglected or when a ritual has not been performed properly for them. Illness may also be sent by dead kin lonely for the company of their living relatives. Sorcery can also produce supernatural illness. The curer diagnoses the cause of a supernatural illness through dreams or songs. The treatments consist of cleansing the sufferer with sacred feathers, sucking small objects from the affected areas, massages, or blowing tobacco smoke on the patient from a clay-and-cane pipe. Natural illnesses are cured with herbs and occasionally in combination with the aforementioned methods.
Death and Afterlife. After death, the body is laid on a blanket or sleeping mat facing the door of the house. Four candles are lit and placed at the four corners of the body. The feet face the door to indicate that the deceased will be leaving permanently. A shaman is sought to pray to the dead person and seek his or her well-being in the other life. A vigil is kept for five days, during which prayers are said. The body is buried with various personal possessions: clothes, hat, sandals, poncho, and drinking gourd.
On the fifth day, a ceremony literally called Chasing the Dead is held. The aim of this ritual is to get rid of the dead soul. An altar is erected, on which foods such as tortillas, tamales, cheese, and fruits are placed. A change of clothing and a poncho are placed at the side of this altar. The shaman prays for several hours, calling to the spirit of the dead person. The spirit is slow to arrive. Finally, in the middle of the night, it arrives in the form of a flying insect. It enters the house, lights on the shaman's sacred feathers, and then flies toward the altar with the food and clothing. The gathered friends and family rise and accompany the soul as it leaves the house. They say good-bye to it outside the house and express the idea that it will never return.
It is believed that the soul ordinarily goes to a round mountain covered with caves, to the northwest of the Cora territory. On the other hand, the souls of mestizos and badly behaved Cora go directly to a hell below the earth or sea.