Mixe - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Mixe religious belief consists of diverse elements of Spanish Catholic and indigenous origin. In some villages, Protestant groups have had significant success in converting the villagers. Devotion to God and the Catholic saints is expressed by the maintenance of household altars and a cycle of religious feasts. Native deities include Thunder, a rain and crop deity; Earth, a source of sustenance and the repository of wisdom; Great Lady Life, the deity of conception, childbirth, and medicine; and the Lord of the Underworld, a source of illness and wealth. There are also a number of lesser spirits, demonic beings, and supernatural serpents related to heavy rains and wealth. Along with body souls, an individual possesses one or more guardian spirits. Typically in animal form, these alter egos reside in forests and fields. Mixe mythology revolves around the sacred twins, a boy and girl, who after a series of episodic adventures, ascend to the sky to become the Sun and Moon.

Religious Practitioners. Each community has a lay organization responsible for the care and functioning of the church. There are also shaman-curers, who vary in the extent of their healing knowledge and skills. Curers obtain the knowledge to cure through dreams, plant-induced visions, apprenticeship, and by means of cash payments to other shamans or the exchange of information with them. Divination with maize and the interpretation of the pulse are the primary means of diagnosis; curing is done primarily by means of medicinal plants and ritual sacrifices. The propitious days for rituals or any major undertaking, the meaning of dreams and omens, and the causes of social disequilibrium and affliction are ascertained by a class of calendar priests.

Ceremonies. Mixe culture commands a large corpus of ceremonies, including rites of passage, rituals related to agriculture, hunting, and other economic pursuits, rituals for civil-religious authorities, and rituals for the well-being of the family and the community. These ceremonies include offerings of bundles of split wood, eggs, maize meal, agave brandy, candles, tobacco, and sacrificial offerings of fowl.

Arts. Preoccupied with subsistence activities, the Mixe are perforce restricted in their concern for arts and crafts. A few communities engage in textile weaving, basketwork, and ceramics. Women's blouses are woven for the tourist trade. Great artistic attention is given to music, dance, and costume, which are exhibited primarily during community feasts. Aesthetic sentiment is also expressed in festive household altars and in the elegant arrangement of candles, pine needles, and other objects for nocturnal ceremonies.

Medicine. Dispensaries and practitioners of cosmopolitan biomedicine are limited to towns accessible by motorized transport. Some illnesses are recognized as owing to natural agencies, such as sudden shifts in body temperature, anger, and overexertion. Diarrhea, skin infections, and many other illnesses are treated with medicinal plants and sweat baths. Superhuman causes of illness include nonfulfillment of ritual obligations, social conflict, soul loss, witchcraft, and sorcery. Shamanic curing rituals of sacrificial burned and blood offerings are carried out to expiate a moral offense, retrieve a soul, or remove an injury caused by malevolent human forces. There are also specialists for childbirthing, setting broken bones, massaging body ailments, and healing snake bites.

Death and Afterlife. Prior to the Spanish Conquest, the dead were buried in fields; the bones were later hung in baskets from trees or placed in temple charnel houses. Although burial within cemeteries was instituted by the Catholic missionaries, until the nineteenth century, the dead were also buried inside churches. Prior to interment, a wake and feast are held, and some communities have elaborate ceremonies to insure that the ghost does not harm or frighten its living relatives. The spirits of the dead are believed to dwell in the vicinity in which they had previously lived. Another belief is that the errant soul is purified in an underworld flame prior to its journey to heaven. During a yearly feast for the dead, food is given to household visitors who are said to represent the ancestral spirits.

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