Cuicatec - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Cuicatec participate in a ritual and belief system that is not wholly reducible either to Catholicism or to indigenous Cuicatec cosmology. The only Cuicatec deity that is not worshiped in the Catholic church is the spirit of the mountains, Cheve, which is identified with the devil. Other deities that were originally related to the Cuicatec agricultural cycle are now linked to the Christian liturgical calendar and its associated personages.

The agricultural cycle begins after Easter, as the lengthening of daylight anticipates the first rains. The image of Jesus Christ is identified with the emerging sun and rain, and his resurrection with the rebirth of maize as a new plant. During the summer phase, the sun and maize are seen as prime adults. The principal holy days are devoted to Saint Anthony and Saint John the Baptist, both of whom are identified with water. The fall/harvest phase is associated with the death of the sun and the maize. The dominant image is of the Virgin Mary, identified with the moon, who is mourning the death of her son. The winter phase, celebrating the Immaculate Conception and the Nativity, is also dominated by the Virgin.

Religious Practitioners. The public rituals that are associated with holy days are controlled by members of the civil-religious hierarchy. Shamans, trained ritual specialists, tend to control private rituals, including those related to individual health and the annual renewing of the household tools of production. Families that cannot afford shamans may carry out their own rituals. When a Catholic priest visits the settlement, he performs Masses, baptisms, and weddings.

Ceremonies. There are a series of rituals, both private (household) and public (settlement), that are associated with the agricultural cycle. The former are more variable in content. Spring rituals, devoted to Jesus Christ and to the supernatural controllers of the weather, petition for the arrival of the first rains. Summer rituals, devoted to Saint John the Baptist and Saint Anthony, offer thanks for the first rains and petition for the second rains. Rituals of the fall demonstrate gratitude to all supernatural beings for the summer rains and request permission to harvest. In communities with irrigation, a winter crop, believed to be under control of the now-dominant moon, is planted. Rituals are devoted to petitioning the Virgin, who is identified with the moon and with surface waters (water holes, springs, and irrigation canals), to protect the second crop.

Ideally, rites of passage are timed to coincide with the life-cycle phases that are associated with the agricultural calendar. Thus, baptisms and the installation of new members of the civil-religious hierarchy (who are viewed as newborns and are identified with the infant Jesus, the reemerging sun, and maize) occur in the winter, confirmations and first communions in the spring, marriages in the summer, and funerals and ancestral rites in the fall.

Medicine. Traditional explanations for illness include soul loss—resulting from fright and from falling—and witchcraft. A shaman is usually contracted for diagnosis and treatment, which may involve offerings to the mountain spirit, Cheve. In addition, practitioners of Western medicine are sometimes consulted.

Death and Afterlife. After death, one's soul goes west, like the setting sun. On the Day of All Souls and the Day of All the Dead, the principal harvest rituals, the village ancestors return to receive offerings of thanks.

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