Tzotzil of San Andres Larraínzar - Religion

There is no easy way to disentangle contemporary and precolonial belief. Contemporary religion is a product of a constant shaping and reshaping, ordering and reordering of the world. The main source drawn upon in this process is colonial Catholicism. San Andres, the patron of the village, is the highest god of the village, as well as its founder. His feast is the most important ceremony of the year. Andreseros say that saints, with their supporters from other villages, come to visit, and the two alfereces of the patron saint San Andrés spend a huge amount of money on the celebration. They act as hosts to local authorities, to visiting authorities from other communities, and to several other attendees. Assisted by a nakanvaneh (ritual advisor) they give offerings such as fireworks, incense, and pox (liquor), in order to please the gods. Every saint in the church has his or her own ceremony conducted once a year by an alférez, who takes this office for one year, borrowing money from other villagers to fulfill all his duties. Besides the alférez, who is in charge of the ceremony to honor the saint, every saint has at least one martoma , a man who oversees the care of the saint and the church. The martoma's office in San Andrés, is filled annually, giving young married men the chance to enter the cargo system, a variant of a system of civil and religious offices known all over Mesoamerica. There is one group of gods in the church (the saints), but another group dwells in the various mountains and caves in San Andrés. These anheletik, spirits who own the land, must grant permission for new house construction, planting of a field, and so forth. For example, if people do not ask for permission from these spirits, they may send illness and death to the persons living in a newly constructed house.

People can also be harmed through the animal companion of another person. Each person has at least one of these animal companions, the destiny of which is closely related to the destiny of the human being. If an animal companion of a person dies, the person normally gets sick and might also die. Another source of illness is the loss of parts of the soul, which can be caused by fright or induced by malevolent forces. Healing the sick most often consists of appealing for help from different spirits, or even offering them a substitute for a lost soul or animal companion. This tradition has changed through the years. In former times, the death of the highest animal companion (there can be as many as thirteen per person) meant death to the person. Today this kind of illness can be healed by paying a considerable amount of money as an offering to the spirits involved. The animal companions are normally kept in a corral in one of the sacred mountains of San Andrés, where they are fed.

Most healers and practitioners are men; certainly the most important healers of the community are men. Nevertheless, there are also women who are healers. As in other highland villages, the role of the healers, ilvaneh , is very ambiguous. Just as they can heal, they can also bring illness through witchcraft. Many of these beliefs no longer exist, however, and knowledge of this sort is often preserved only through stories and histories.

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