photo of Mexican man the sierra norte

employment and income
family life
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
social change
social institutions
traditional skills

introducing the area

spiritual beliefs

 quotes about spiritual beliefs
 key testimonies featuring spiritual beliefs

church in MexicoTraditional beliefs, including beliefs in spirits, appear to be held in these communities alongside those of Catholicism. The story of an epidemic which severely affected Tiltepec and prompted the community to move to another site higher up the valley is attributed to chest infections and illness arising in the lower, "hot" zone of the valley on the one hand, and a curse put on the community on the other hand. A woman with the powers of a witch, insulted by the young men in the community, left and as she ".said goodbye. she used an offensive word and said 'Now you are many but later you will know that some will stay below the rocks that are above this village.' That's how the village fell ill; they became sick with a serious illness" (Mexico 1).

decorations in MexicoOther legends are part of community folklore in the Sierra Norte. There are many stories relating to the "lord" or "owner of the mountain", also known as Guzio, the Zapotec deity or spirit which protects the sanctity of the forest and its resources (Mexico 14): "[my grandfather] was a person who lived in the forest really, his life was there, yes. He said that the deer . have an owner that is this, that they call the owner of the mountain.". The same narrator in Yavesía continues: ".[animals] have the right to live so it is not fair that someone kills them.but there are people who sometimes take [the life of an animal].for no reason at all, so I imagine that's why [the owner of the mountain] appeared like that [to a hunter], [it was] an effect of his conscience. nature, if one finishes it off, well the punishment will come from God..."

The owner of the mountain takes on different manifestations: "Yes, there are people who are alive now who say that in an area that in Zapoteco is called Cua jie ('the rocks are here'), that they have often seen a snake there.Well, there are people who've seen it and they say that it's a very big times we've been afraid.but it doesn't bite because it's the 'owner of the mountain'" (Mexico 14). Many who relate these stories, and who remember being told them by their grandparents, agree that in many cases the underlying purpose is to instill respect and concern for wildlife and to prevent their thoughtless slaughter, or the over-exploitation of natural resources.

Respect for the land is believed to be important for maintaining its fertility but several say people no longer treat "mother earth" with due deference: ".first our forefathers gave an offering to the land to be able to work it; now instead when it comes down to it, we are just laying hands on the earth [without caring for it]. Nowadays there are some people who say that the crop gives if it wants to give; if not, it doesn't ." (Mexico 3).

Failure to follow customary rites is thought by some to bring ill-fortune and disease (Mexico 6), tantamount to giving up an "insurance policy": "Before, the authorities protected the village by going to the churches of other villages and leaving candles for their own village, so that in that way nothing bad would happen to the village or people when they attended the tequios (obligatory, unpaid community work). The person who received the cargo (unpaid community position) of agente (elected community head) had a big responsibility." But one year, she claims, they said "the traditions are worth anything" and stopped many practices.

The predominant religion in Mexico is Catholicism, and the spreading of evangelical Protestant groups is viewed with mistrust by some in these communities (Mexico 6): "...they're the ones that have allowed all these traditions to become lost.the Evangelicals. Yes, it's them. For us Catholics, it's bad that we are losing the traditions, but for the Evangelicals, suits them that all the traditions of a festival are lost."

quotes about spiritual beliefs

"[An] archaeologist.said to us, 'Do you know what? Well, Yavesía, here.this was a place of worship for Guzio (Zapotec deity).' Then he explained.there was the statue of Guzio, the rain god, and then we went to see where there was [the carving of] two snakes.These snakes are the cloud snakes. So this indicated that this was a very important centre of worship, a culture connected with rain. Rain is what brings you water so that there's life. So I now understand why [Yavesía] is a village that has fought so dedicatedly to conserve its resources."
Mario Fernando, M/36, community manager, Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 12

"There's fear of what's been said, what the deer hunters have said, they say that a person who kills a lot of deer will [be haunted by] the 'owner of the mountain' [in the form of a huge snake]. It causes panic if someone comes across it. In fact, well, yes, every animal has its [spiritual] owner, from what my grandfather said. If by chance I come across [an animal] I'll kill it, right, because I know that I need it, but there are people who sometimes take it.for no reason at all, so I imagine that's why [there are Zapotec stories about animal spirits]. If one finishes [nature] off, well the punishment will come from God.
Mauro, M/28, representante communal (official responsible for community property), Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 14

"My late grandmother, may she rest in peace, said the same thing to me: that on one occasion over there in the land of the Llanos de Chicle she said 'Be careful, no way should you go on that land.' I think that a man called Andrés died over there. She said that La Peña put a spell on him and there he stayed, because he had killed so many deer".
Mauro, M/28, representante communal (official responsible for community property), Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 14

".[something] happened to the drunkards too, with what they call the Matlacihua (Zapotec supernatural being, a woman who leads men astray and brings them misfortune). The drunkards said that.she took them off, mostly to places where there are streams and they say that she took their clothes off and hung them from high trees. Many said that she appeared as a bride, a woman dressed in white, but she just [said] bad things to them, she was going to drop them down a well or a ravine. They got drunk and the wind took them and put them into these difficult places, until their families looked for them and found them. They too were all cut and scratched and their clothes were hanging up above. Well, these are things that the people say."
Soledad, F/62, Ixtlán, Oaxaca, Mexico 16

key testimonies featuring spiritual beliefs

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1    Antonio   male/59   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   14    Mauro   male/28   representante communal (official responsible for community property)   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   19    Victoria   female/32   housewife   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   3    Cecilio   male/42   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   6    Eusebia   female/M   housewife   Tiltepec, Oaxaca