10 Folk Religions You Didn’t Know Existed In Latin America And The Caribbean

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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

Credit: La Santa Muerte. Digital Image. El Diario de Chihuahua. October 27, 2017.

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.

Credit: Rezos. Digital Image. Vice. November 1, 2016.

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.

2. Santería

Credit: Altar Santero. Digital Image. Vice. April 12, 2014.

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.

Credit: Ritual Santero. Digital Image. Steemit. August 7, 2016.

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

Credit: Ritual Fidencista. Digital Image. Factor . June 24, 2017.

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.

Credit: El Niño Fidencio. Digital Image. Mexico Unexplained. April 17, 2017.

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

Credit: Vodou Altar. Digital Image. EuroNews. November 2, 2017.

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.

Credit: Vodou Ritual. Digital Image. The Daily Mail. March 28, 2016.

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

Credit: Walking on Fire. Digital Image. Sputnik. March 28, 2016.

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.

Credit:  River Rituals. Digital Image. Feature Shot. July 11, 2016.

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.

6. Candomblé

Credit:  Pilgrimage. Digital Image. Sul21. May 21, 2014.

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.

Credit:  Candomblé Rituals. Digital Image. Hakai. March 29, 2016.

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


Credit:  Malverde. Digital Image. Proceso. May 3, 2017.

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.

Credit: Malverde Procession. Digital Image. El Comercio. May 4, 2018.

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.

8. Rastafarianism

Credit: Rastafari. Digital Image. FNND. July 30, 2015.

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.

Credit: Rasta. Digital Image. The Gleaner. August 21, 2012.

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

Credit: Rasta. Digital Image. The Gleaner. August 21, 2012.

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.

Credit: Rasta. Digital Image. The Gleaner. August 21, 2012.

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

Credit: Rayamiento. Digital Image. yagbeonilu. October 3, 2015.

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.

Credit: Ngangas. Digital Image. yagbeonilu. October 3, 2015.

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.

READ: Aja’s ‘Brujería’ Is The Anthem For All Of The Brujas Who Are Just Living Their Best Life

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Every Hairy Latina Can Relate To These 7 Stages Of Grief


Every Hairy Latina Can Relate To These 7 Stages Of Grief

Courtesy of Danielli Marzouca

Okay, so I wish this body positivity movement happened when I was 10 years old and was the first person (girls and boys) to start growing leg hair in the 3rd grade. I was one of the only Latinas in my religious school and girls were forced to wear skorts. We all remember el horror when your little body started getting hairy.

I present to you my story told by the collective consciousness of Latinas on the internet because there is nothing wrong with being a #HairyLatina.

Hey everyone, this is me today.

I’m half Puerto Rican and half Palestinian, which makes me an especially hairy human. Growing up, it was something I was always bullied for. It didn’t help that I was also the tallest person (boys and girls) in my grade (hint: Sasquatch is what the bullies called me).

Hair is something I have probably spent weeks of my life trying to hide (read: Nair, shaving, laser hair removal, waxing, threading, etc.) and years obsessing over. In South Florida, wearing long sleeves to cover your hairy arms just caused it’s own embarrassing, sweaty problems.

One thing we know for sure is that being native Latinx means we are hairy people.

CREDIT: @anaphant23_ / Twitter

If you grew up somewhere without a strong Latino presence, like I did when my family moved from Miami to Boca Raton (culture shock, af), you might not have known that it was a Latino thing. I know I felt like a total outcast.

For some reason, my retired model of a Puerto Rican mother does not grow hair on her body. In the midst of my hair obsession, I asked my mom when the last time she shaved her legs were. Her response: “Hmm, no sé, maybe 3 or 4 months ago.” Like I was literally the hairiest person in my own little family.

But once I found out that my “hairiness” connected me to my people, I started to feel proud.

CREDIT: @floresimbioticas / Twitter

Who says we’re the ones who are hairy and that other people aren’t just bald? The reason we’re hairy is because American beauty standards center around white, thin, hairless, blonde beauty.

My mom is just an enigma. I’m not jealous at all. I mean, I was seething as a young adult, but being hairy has given me an opportunity to love myself and my body without permission from both white and Latino culture. We probably support the entire hair removal industry.

The truth is, I was never alone in the world of hair.

CREDIT: @408araceli / Twitter

It’s our beauty mark, and while it’s not something that my mother always told me to be proud of, it’s something I will tell my kids. For the first few years of the bullying, I resented that my mom would try to comfort me but couldn’t relate at all. Her solution was the same as mine: get rid of the evidence.

By the time I was 15, I was getting my upper lip and bikini line laser hair removed. This was laser hair removal over ten years ago so it hurt like a mother.

And it didn’t help that mámi didn’t let you shave.

CREDIT: Sandra Mendez / Buzzfeed

Meanwhile, my own mother is somehow the same bald Puerto Rican beauty queen model she’s been since she was my age. Oh, and she weighed 20 pounds less and her nickname was Double D’s. You know…whatever.

Still, mi mamí was against shaving until I was at least 13 years old. It’s like Nair was the safety scissors of Latina grooming. As a good, stereotypical, vegan, composting, liberal lesbian, now I’m horrified that I intentionally smeared chemicals onto my skin that are so intense, they burn hair off. (!!!)

If you have brothers, you definitely had live-in bullies.

CREDIT: @IVIeghan / Twitter

My little brother was the worst. He sucked A$$. Gio, if you’re reading this now, this is your public retribution. My little, sweet brother was straight up always asking me if I was turning into a man what “y’know, because you’re growing a mustache to match your hairy arms.” Sometimes they were gorilla arms, but most of the time, I was Sasquatch at school and at home.

My dad and other brother would laugh and my mom would try so hard not to laugh, but it was pretty obvious. I’m traumatized.

And you f*cking hated it when your white friends would tell you they have the same amount of hair as you.

CREDIT: @jigganutttsssss / Twitter

“Pero like, your hair is literally invisible and glitters in the sun and my hair is as dark as outer space.” There is no comparison or reliability there at all. Nobody picks on the blonde girl for her arm hair. That’s fake news.

By the time I was 15, I had brunette friends that were bleaching their own arm hair every month. Since my mom wouldn’t let me do that, I was wearing long sleeves… to cross country practice… in August in SoFla.

To be clear, if you shave your arms and body hair, I have no judgement or problem with you.

CREDIT: @kalinawatsonroberts / Twitter

I say, do whatever makes you feel good in your body. For a time, I shaved from the bottoms of my eyebrows down to the floor, but, for me, it wasn’t worth it. I have friends who do that and feel like a glamorous queen and I love it.

Whenever my happy trail or arm hair or even back hair (I was being so extra), started to grow in all prickly, I would actively hate myself and my body. That’s just my experience.

Obsessing over my body hair made it harder for me to love myself.

CREDIT: @elisexmia_ / Twitter

I would come up for air and have a moment of, “F*ck the patriarchy, I love myself and my big hips, and hairy ass body,” and then someone would call me Sasquatch. 🙄 Now it seems so below my radar, but during puberty, that would strike me deep.

We all feel awkward enough in our bodies, can we please stop commenting on each others?

In a way, learning to become resilient about people’s commentary on my body, forced me to give myself a degree of separation from what they say and how I feel about myself.

Maybe it’s maturity, or maybe it’s the #BoPo movement, but today, I see beauty in body hair.

CREDIT: @nono.rueda_ / Twitter

More than that, I see beauty in learning to unlearn the self-oppressive messages I saw through the ’90s and ’00s. I need to know if Jennifer Lopez is the same breed of Puerto Rican beauty queen as my mom and is naturally hairless.

We grew up with the few models of Latina beauty as totally hairless. Thankfully, full eyebrows and full hips are mainstream and we’re living our best lives up here. I’m also getting to see some of my own fearless friends get less serious and more playful around body hair.

The truth is that Latina body hair has superpowers like no other. This is Harry Potter sh*t.

CREDIT: @analsmasher420 / Twitter

I used to have a schedule: shave my legs every other day; armpits, upper lip and toes everyday; arms and happy trail once a week. Like that was ever enough. I was like a walking cactus, all prickly and conscious about someone touching me and noticing.

Thank DIOS for Twitter because never before have I felt so validated by the Internet. I hope my experience helps validate your own. You’re not a weirdo or an outcast for having body hair. You’re a badass Latina.

But that eyebrow arch is a universally accepted perk.

CREDIT: @melyyy_ms / Twitter

I *think* I have a unibrow, but I haven’t seen my natural brows since I was like 13 years old and let my best friend basically tweeze me into Cruella de Vil. My mom was *horrified* that my eyebrows were basically gone. In that moment, she told me that “my eyebrows frame the soul.” Y’know, since eyes are windows to the soul.

We’ve always been proud of our eyebrows from the moment we learned we could tweeze away the strays. We’ve got shape, baby.

And I get it–my blonde hippie friends have pressured me in the past to stop shaving and I hated it.

CREDIT: @tatianagonxalez / Twitter

Your natural blonde hair may make you look like an admirable, carefree goddess and be applauded in our society, but I resent any light hair Becky telling me how to experience my body.

I don’t resent Becky for going natural—I totally celebrate you and love that you think your little blonde armpit hair is cute. I resent Becky for pressuring me into living more “care-free.” It definitely takes a lot more confidence and my own lesson of self-love to walk around in the world with proud, thick black Latina leg and arm hair than it does for Becky to go natural.

But every single summer, me and my cousin would compete to see who could grow the longest leg hair.

CREDIT: @phoenixluv77 / Twitter

It’s too embarrassing for me to make up, I swear. So why was it actually all fun and games between us girls and a total nightmare when we left our little family bubble? Why is the outside world teaching young boys that it’s okay to police their classmates on their body hair? I’m finally getting it now and I’m enraged.

What would it have been like for me to see a hot, cool, hairy woman out in the world walking around with confidence?

If you’re reading this and in high school, plz @ us and tell us it’s better now.

CREDIT: @heidiramirez971 / Twitter

I see your generation dying your armpit hair hot pink and teal and lavender and I am both extremely proud and severely jealous. I have two lil chia pets under my arms that I could have made *art* with in high school. I mean, I guess I still can, but age (and those hours of grooming I was talking about) has made me lazy.

Here I am praying we live in a world where Latina women everywhere stop cursing their ancestors, cause before you know it, that’ll be me you’re cursing, guapa.

So, with all the reasons to shave installed in us since birth, I leave you with my own personal reasons not to shave.

CREDIT: @Life_OfA_LaTina / Twitter

What could you be doing with those 40 minutes? That’s 40 more minutes you can spend studying, or reading a book by Latina authors, or playing an instrument, or making art out of your armpit hair, or whatever it is that every other white girl and every single boy in America gets to have. You get to give permission to other women to stop shaving and stop buying into the hair removal industry.

Also, you get to save made water if you’re a person who cares about the environment.

Thirty days ago, I embarked on my own social experiment and stopped shaving.

CREDIT: @danymorc / Twitter

Full disclosure: I’ve already entrapped my girlfriend into living together, so she can’t leave me (jk, jk, jk) and I’m not trying to woo anyone. But really, being truly loved by someone has felt really good, and in some ways has given me permission to love myself in a more radical way.

It wasn’t a big decision or anything I gave much thought to. I just decided I wanted to challenge myself to make ultimate peace with my body hair and feel sexy and good in my natural body.

More disclosure: I’ve spent money and time on laser hair, so I’m not in my most natural state, and I regret it.

CREDIT: @TheZombiUnicorn / Twitter

I pray that nobody from Costco reads this, but I 100 percent used an at home body hair removal system where I shaved my entire body every 3 weeks and spent 2 hours laser hair removing it. It was boring AF, and I’m just as hairy but with a couple of random bald spots on my legs. Now that my armpit hair is all grown out, I can see that it was all a waste of time…but not money.

I returned the machine just before it’s 12 month return policy came up. 😅 Patriarchy makes you stupid sometimes.

But I do feel more liberated than ever.

CREDIT: @Steph.quixotic / Twitter

It feels good to stop subscribing to other people’s beauty standards and start living in my own. My natural body is my standard of beauty, no matter what it looks like. This is just one, very easy part of my healing from body dysmorphia and disordered eating. Loving all of my body.

While life is a whole lot more bearable outside of school, I still get some long stares at my pits by older white ladies out and about. At first, I felt a little uncomfortable with the attention, but then I felt proud to know that there might be someone younger in the same room who feels like they can take up more space.

Plus, poco a poco, we’re seeing Latinas truly represented in TV, like in One Day at a Time.

CREDIT: Netflix

Also, now we know that it’s a myth that shaving makes your hair grow back thick. Throw away the Nair my friends. Shaving is SAFER. If you want to join me, you can also toss your razor and just see how it goes. When it comes to our bodies, we’ve all probably seen our own moms take a pinch of fat, diets, or a wrinkle way too seriously.

I know my own tias would be talking mad sh*t about me if they knew I wen’t #shavefree. But I saw my leg hair measuring cousin, Cecily, take that step and felt permission to do it for myself. You don’t need permission from anyone to live how you want to live–whether that’s hairless or hairy.

This is just my story, but maybe you can relate. No matter what, my message is to love yourself.

If you feel like a liberated goddess with baby soft, hairless skin, do you boo. I applaud you as my Latina sister in this life. I know how much time, money, and effort it takes and I respect how women decide to take care of themselves in this world.

If you’re like me and felt like body hair removal was more oppressive than liberating, I encourage you to take the 30 day challenge. It has been a healing experience for me and I don’t feel the same pressure I used to feel to prioritize a 40-minute shave over getting a project done or doing some self-care. I probably will shave again at some point in my life, but it feels pretty great to let go of the pressure. ❤️

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