Religious Beliefs. The pre-Hispanic Zapotee perceived their universe as consisting of the center surrounded by four quarters, each with a certain color and supernatural attributes. Time was viewed as cyclical, not lineal, and the Zapotee believed in gods associated with various natural elements, such as rain. The Zapotee rain god was worshiped in the northern sierra region until the mid-twentieth century. Presently, the Zapotee follow a form of Catholicism wherein saint worship plays a dominant part and pre-Hispanic beliefs have become fused with Catholicism. The Zapotee worldview includes a cast of supernaturals: witches, male and female devils, images of Christ (as a child and as an adult), and animal guardians ( tonos). At birth, each person acquires his or her tono (e.g., a mountain lion). An unbaptized person risks becoming a nahual —an animal form assumed in the state of possession.
Religious Practitioners. Aside from Catholic priests, specialized Zapotee ritual leaders, hechiceros, also conduct certain ceremonies, including offerings of flowers, food, poultry blood, mescal, money, cigarettes, and prayers at occasions such as weddings, funerals, and house initiations.
Ceremonies. Traditionally, the Zapotee engaged in numerous rituals associated with their farming activities. Lightning, Cosijo, was seen as alive; the powerful deity was offered human blood, quail, dogs, human infants, and war captives in exchange for rain. Modern Zapotee mark major life-cycle events such as baptism, communion, marriage, and death with ceremonies in the church and in their homes. Important ceremonies occur on Todos Santos (All Saints' Day) and on the patron saints' days in each community.
Arts. Pre-Hispanic Zapotee architectural achievements are especially evident from the temples, compounds, and courts of Monte Alban and Mitla. Some modern Zapotee towns are renowned for serape weavings, pottery, and other crafts.
Medicine. The Zapotee have an impressive repertoire of remedies and cures. Members of both sexes are curers, but only women are midwives, and only men mend bones. Illness may be attributed to improper religious conduct, soul loss, envy, anger, the evil eye, fright ( susto or espanto ), and witchcraft.
Death and Afterlife. The Zapotec distinguish between ordinary death and sudden violent death; in the latter, the deceased's soul does not make the transition to heaven. A distinction is also made in the death ritual for married and unmarried persons.