10 Folk Religions You Didn’t Know Existed In Latin America And The Caribbean
As we all know Latin American countries skew pretty religious. In fact, more than 80 percent of people in Latin America have a religious affiliation, which usually is to the Roman Catholic church. However, there is a small percentage of people, particularly in Brazil and Cuba, that practice folk religions. Some of the religions have been denounced by larger religions as demonic. Here are ten folk religions that have grown in popularity throughout Latin America.
1. La Santa Muerte
La Santa Muerte (The Holy Death) has one of the fastest growing followings in Latin America. It has 10 to 12 million followers worldwide. Indigenous communities have worshipped La Santa Muerte since the 18th century. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the saint went mainstream in Mexico City and Catemaco, Veracruz.
In order for La Santa Muerte to give you what you want, she will take something away from you.
La Santa Muerte is considered to be an angel by many. People devoted to her present offerings in return for her protection and help. Many say the purpose of La Santa Muerte is not to wrong people but to help them thrive. Most Catholics/Christians consider her to be a narco-satanic figure, the Vatican has even condemned those who worship her.
Santería is one of the many Afro-Caribbean religions in Latin America that were brought to America by enslaved Nigerian people during the slave trade. It is considered to be a mix between Catholicism and Yoruba. Santería is a divinatory religion that provides people with the means to possess an understanding of reality in the present and to predict future events.
They focus on rituals and practices instead of prayers.
Unlike the cult of La Santa Muerte that believes in a Catholic God, santeros (those who practice Santería) believe in Olodumare as the God who created the universe. Santeros claim that Santería is the use of white magic and not black, contrary to popular belief. They communicate with Orishas, the equivalent of Saints, through rituals and offerings (such as animal sacrifice) to get their protection.
3. Niño Fidencio
El Niño Fidencio is probably the most famous Mexican healer. He was known to use shards of broken glass bottles to take out the evil that was hurting his patients. He stayed in rural areas where there was almost no drinking water available. He allegedly cured people with mud from puddles nearby and this practice has become part of the modern rituals.
People traveled from around the world to visit Fidencio for healings.
It’s been mentioned that 10,000 Cubans tried to cross the ocean to see him. Fidencio was also visited by a Mexican President and even the King of Spain. At the end of his life, he moved to Espinazo, a lonely train station in Northern Mexico, which eventually became populated by 15,000 people seeking his help.
4. Haitian Vodou
Haiti is mostly Catholic but Vodou is considered to be the National Religion. Around 7 million Haitians practice it in some way. Voodooists consider this cult as an extension of Catholicism but many think this practice is sorcery and worship of the devil. Those who practice this faith say Vodou is a domestic cult that serves the family spirits and worships God. They also mention that in Vodou there is no devil, just angry spirits.
Families give offerings to family spirits for protection and thanks.
Family spirits, called Loua, protect the children and, in return, families must honor them with rituals and offerings. Louas only have power over their own family. They can appear in dreams and trances during Vodou rituals. When Louas appear they usually come to warn their families of illness and misfortune. Vodou is a faith that honors the dead above all, so it’s no surprise that they’re constantly celebrating their dead by decorating their tombs and performing rituals.
5. Maria Lionza
Maria Lionza was a Venezuelan indigenous princess believed to manifest herself in the form of a blue butterfly after her death. Her cult dates back to the 15th Century before the Spanish conquest. And as most folk religions in Latin America, the cult to Maria Lionza is a mix of Catholic, Indigenous and African beliefs, including Santería and Vodou. The practice of this faith was legalized during Hugo Chavez’s presidency.
Her presence and power in Venezuela has touched half of the population through various rituals.
People usually go to her to ask for good health, love, and success. Some of the best-known marialioncero (people who practice the faith) rituals walk on burning coal, dance on broken glass and include animal sacrifice. Such rituals have 3 major purposes: healing, divination, and possession.
Candomblé is an Afro-Brazilian religion practiced by almost 2 million people, predominately in Brazil. It was brought to Brazil during the 16th Century by enslaved people from Africa. Practitioners honor Orixás, which spirits assigned to each person. They control people’s destiny and protect them. A Candomblé mass can include music, animal sacrifice and spirit possession.
Candomblé, like so many other religions, was a way for African slaves to continue practicing their own faith while disguising it in Catholicism.
They worship many gods and don’t recognize the existence of heaven or hell. They’ve incorporated Catholic symbols and images, such as the cross but allow women to be priestesses and fully accept homosexuality. Candomblé is considered as the most tolerant and accepting religion by many people who practice or are aware of it.
7. Jesús Malverde
He’s called the Mexican Robin Hood. The legend says that back in the 1800s, Malverde was a most-wanted bandit with a large bounty on his head. After being wounded by a hunter and escaping from captivity, he died of gangrene. Before dying, he told one of his fellow bandits to turn him into the sheriff’s office to collect the ransom and use that money to help the poor.
His legend has led to him becoming a major figure for the narco scene.
He’s the Patron Saint for drug dealers. There are 3 chapels honoring Malverde, one in Cali, Colombia, another in Culiacán, Mexico and the 3rd one in Los Angeles. People know this route as “La Ruta de la Coca“ (The Cocaine Road). On the anniversary of his death, people take out his statue out of the chapel and place it on the hood of a brand new car and take it for a spin around town. They hang gold necklaces around his neck and pour whiskey over his head.
Rastafarianism is the newest religion on the list. It was founded in Jamaica back in the 1920s-1930s and today has around 1 million followers. Rastafari is based on Judaism and Christianity and many of their practices are based on the Jewish Law. The religion’s international recognition grew exponentially thanks to the music of Bob Marley.
Rastafarianism is not only a religious movement, it’s also political.
Its purpose is to provide a voice to the poor Black people in Jamaica and become a resistance against oppression. Practitioners believe that they are God’s chosen people according to their re-interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. They believe the Messiah is Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia whose actual name is Ras Tafari Makonnen.
9. La Difunta Correa
María Antonia Deolinda Correa, better known as La Difunta Correa, is a symbol of a popular cult in Argentina. The legend says that back in the mid-1800s Maria decided to leave home with her child in search of her husband that left for the war. While she was following the troop’s footsteps in the mud she got lost and decided to rest under a tree uphill. With no water left in her canteen she died of dehydration. A few days later some peasants found her baby still alive as she kept breastfeeding him after death.
Her legend has grown to include several temples throughout Argentina.
The first chapel was created over her tomb by a farmer who found 500 cows he lost after praying to her. Now, there are many chapels all over Argentina and people pray for her help. As an offering, they bring bottles of water so she’s never thirsty again.
10. Palo Mayombe
Palo Mayombe is a religion that originated in Cameroon. Some call it the dark side of Santería and one of the most powerful forms of black magic in the world. However, people devoted to the faith say it has nothing to do with black magic. In fact, they say Palo Mayombe is completely based in the magic forces found in nature, like those of herbs, stones, soil, sticks, water, even the sun and the moon.
The religion is very secretive and the teachings are guarded and only told to those becoming spiritual leaders.
To be a member of the faith people need to go through an initiation ritual called “Rayamiento.” To be able to do it you first need the approval of a “Nganga,” which is a herbalist or spiritual healer. Little is known about this religion as all the information is under protection by the priests and only passed down from generation to generation.