Otomí of the Valley of Mezquital - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Catholicism is the predominant religion in the Valley of Mezquital. In the more isolated and traditional communities, practices and beliefs that are probably of pre-Hispanic origin persist, linking native and Christian deities, the cult of the dead, nahualism (the capacity of witches to turn into animals), and beliefs relating to the causality of illness. In separating itself from the civil arm, the religious system has suffered an appreciable loss of authority. Protestantism has spread out over the area since the mid-twentieth century.

Ceremonies. Religious festivals are the main type of community celebrations, but they have lost their relationship to the agricultural cycle. The times for the festivals are now dictated by the Catholic calendar; among the most important are the festivities for the patron saint of the local town or village. Another important ceremony is the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Religious Practices. The Otomí perform private religious rituals in their homes. The houses have small oratories where images of Catholic saints are venerated. There are small niches in a corner of the home, where candles are kept lit in honor of the saints and of the dead. Failure to perform religious services can make the saints and the dead angry, bringing misfortune on the family or the milpa.

Medicine. Among the Otomí, folk medicine is one of the most important means of dealing with illness and death. Herbs are used on a daily basis for maladies such as headaches, stomachaches, sprains, the general feeling of being unwell, emotional tension, and so forth. They are used to prepare teas, infusions, creams for massages, and balms. There are few traditional medical specialists in the communities, except for midwives.

Death and Afterlife. Because they believe in life after death, the Otomí feel an obligation to venerate the dead at their family oratories, together with the saints. The dead can become angry and send misfortune when proper rules of conduct are not observed. On the Day of the Dead, their souls come down to earth for a time of conviviality with the living, so offerings—food, sweets, pulque, and everything the dead liked to eat when they were alive—are set out for them.

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