Mexico        Rêve Mexicain en français
Religion and beliefs
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
Print        Share on : facebook   twitter   google   myspace 

Religion and beliefs

young Indian preparing the Day of DeadIn spite of the professions of faith reaffirmed by its leaders and of the strict separation between Church and State, Mexico is profoundly catholic. About 85 % of its population professes Catholicism (10% of protestants). It is second in the world considering the number of faithful but the number tends to decrease because of the coming out of the sects.
True believers are horrified by the bloody cults practiced by the Indians, the Spaniards tried to extirpate from the hearts the profound beliefs but vainly. Indian assimilated the elements of the new religion and by renaming their own gods; they composed sometimes a medley for their personal use. Very soon, the missionaries understood and accepted the necessity of compromising with the local religions at the price of an “indianised “ Christianity.

     Right picture : young Indian preparing the Day of Dead

The influence of Indian beliefs

The whole popular Catholicism is impregnated of Indian elements. And the medley is even more powerful in the more humble classes. So, it is difficult to draw the border parting the local rites with the ones belonging to the catholic faith. Under an apparent homogeneity of the practices, remains a real heterogeneity of the beliefs. Christianity has only artificially supplanted the indigenous cults just by suppressing the more barbarous and showy rites. Mexico succeeded sometimes in creating an inextricable and unique mixture, which could resemble to a « pagano-christian » religion. So, you might see, in some churches of village, Indian Saints dressed as the members of the neighbor locality while their mestizos homologues are dressed like Europeans, the meztizos being almost ignored by the Indians. You might also assist to these dances called santiagueros. The apostle Santiago, protector of the conquistadors and legendary hero, seems to be housed in the Indian pantheon where he is invested with the characters of a God of the war and Thunder. It is the reason he is represented as a glorified man riding a wooden horse and brandishing its redoubtable sword against the « unfaithful », in order to personify the one who blows the evil spirits and dryness. Behind the Saint, you could see the pagan God breath !

Aguardiente and blood of bird

As everywhere, the mysticism of the Indians limit itself to the immediate goods : health, rain for abundant harvests, peace within its people, and since we never have enough Gods with ourselves, the old divinity of Fire that still burns in the center of the houses. As many evil and beneficent spirits kept haunting the caves and forests, there is no magic unnecessary to coax them. The Chinantecs and the Cuicatecs (Oaxaca), which still venerate the thunder, spread aguardiente on the ground to get good harvesting, while the Mixtecs spread bird blood before the sowing. Divination, magic, shamanism and recourse to hallucinogens are still alive. The Huichols won’t deny it since they organize an astonish pilgrimage in order to satisfy the divine forces : During almost 6 weeks, they walk 800 to 900 km through the lunar landscape of the desert of de San Luis Potosi looking for the sacred plant : the peyotl. This small cactus without thorn has hallucinogen effects that allow you to communicate with the spirits and penetrate the splendor of the Sacred.
Genuine “plant of life”, it gives the abundance of the harvests and the blessing of the great world powers. Joys and calamities of the whole community depend on the success of the pilgrimage.

The familiar death

it is welcomed with joy !

It is for the Day of the Dead that are revealed the specific attitudes in front of the death. Indian and Spaniards shared a lot of common points about it : pride, contempt for the danger, tragic vision of the word... The present-day Mexican inherited it.
The familiar death, the everyday death doesn’t necessarily generate sad ideas. And what a beautiful occasion is it to meet all together, the living and the dead, once a year, to celebrate ! In Mexico, during the days before November 2nd, people offer funeral sweets. They are exchanges of sugar skulls called calaveras, symbolic objects in the higher sense of the Mexican Day of the Dead. It is very appreciated to offer some to the loved ones, its parents, and children. The more appreciated are the biggest ones, with the first name of the happy recipient on the headband. The “breads of death” are delicious round brioches flavored with coffee and adorned with tibias and served with cakes hiding a tibia instead of a baby like the King cakes for Epiphany !

concherias around the altar of the dead in Mexico CityMexicans play with the Death, making fun of it in carnivalesque masquerades.... People wearing grimacing masks and skeletons made of “papier mâché “ are engaged with a macabre humor in happy satires of the society. And everything is accompanied by a joyful and lively music!
The night of November 1st, you have an appointment with the dead in the cemetery to celebrate and have a diner on the graves. Once again, the practiced rituals are more thrilling among the Indian populations. In Romerillo, Chiapas, the Chamulas are engaged in a very strange ceremonial. Early in the morning, the living bring offerings to the dead : these are whatever the dead liked when they were alive and also carnations to remember them to the perfume of the soil. People talk to the dead and play the guitar and accordion for them. Lanterns burn the whole night to guide the come back of the souls. The big doors that cover the graves are opened and, after a long wait, at dawn, the souls can finally establish contact with the mortals. There are endless speeches telling all the events of the year.

      Right picture: concherias around the altar of the dead in Mexico City

Altar of the Day of the Dead in Mexico City The Dia de los Muertos is organized according to the Mixquic rituals in the South of Mexico and in the island of Janitzio, two ceremonials among the most famous. In the island of Janitzio, in the middle of the lake Pátzcuaro, the Tarasques celebrate also a memorable night of the dead. After a joyful fair, all the women disappear with their children to mark with candles a field that has nothing to do with a cemetery. Here also starts a long dialog with the dead. In Oaxaca, fireworks accompany a meditative parade followed by musicians and dancers.

Many Mexican families put together at home an altar with the picture of the deceased close parents, flowers, gifts and their preferred food. The four main elements of the nature are among the offerings in the altars :
Fire is represented by candles : one candle for every soul,
Earth is represented by the fruits feeding the souls,
Water, in containers all along the trail, in order for the visiting souls to be able to drink while coming to the altar,
Wind, symbolized by paper of china that moves with the breeze because of its lightness.

     Above picture: Altar of the Day of the Dead in Mexico City

See the chapter about the day of the dead in Mixquic

The Virgen of Guadalupe

Inside the Basilica of Guadalupe at Easter time« La Lupita ! » Who did never hear this familiar appellation or see its effigy thousand of times reproduced in every corner of Mexico ? A whole country vibrates when it is mentioned, as far as the devotion for the « Indita » is a unique phenomenon is identical to the notion of the country Mexico. The Guadalupe is the symbol of both the a catholic faith and pre-Hispanic cults. It is the intimate cultural and racial mixture that gave birth to Mexico.

Left picture: Inside the Basilica of Guadalupe at Easter time

The poor Juan Diego, a converted Indian, who on a morning in 1531, got the vision of this Virgin, from the same race as him, who called upon him on the hill of de Tepeyac, would never have imagined that this was the start of this extraordinary cult. The event gave, for sure, a strong impulse to the conversions of the « pagans », and the « Indian » was soon declared Saint of this new Spain who never stopped to adore her since
Every December 12th , there is the most imposing, fetishist, as well as catholic, fair in Mexico in the Virgen of Guadalupe’s honor. And, all year long, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come to implore her in her new and beautiful basilica. Young and old people would crawl on their grazed knees along the vast square of the basilica, with a deep hope to see her. And, if they come and see her from so far, if her picture watches over the homes, their cars, their instruments of music, it is because the failing or the success depend on her. It is because this little Madonna with sad eyes and so yet small hands receives all the anguishes and hopes of the Mexican people who can to ask anything.

prayer in the basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City

     Right picture: prayer in the basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City

See the special chapter about Mexico City North (The Virgen of Guadalupe)




Pilgrims in front of the basilica de Guadalupe Mexico is a laic Nation. There is a strict separation between Church and State. Catholics make up 85% of the population with 10% protestants and less than 5% Jewish.

Left picture : Pilgrims in front of the basilica de Guadalupe

Pope John Paul II has cherished this country. He made five visits to Mexico. In 1992, the religious organizations were legally acknowledged and relations with the Vatican were established.



     Left picture : church of San Francisco de Asis in Cuetzalán

     Right picture : church Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Cuetzalán

church of San Francisco de Asis in Cuetzalán church Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Cuetzalán














No comment has been yet posted on this page.