Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Further Thoughts on Pachamama and the Virgin of the Andes

Amidst all the debate surrounding the infamous Pachamama statuettes at the Amazon synod, a few commentators have noted that the goddess Pachamama is not in fact from the Amazon rain forests, but from the Andes mountains. Moreover, fewer seem to have observed, as far as I can tell, that the Pachamamas which appeared at the Synod do not really appear to resemble the traditional imagery of Pachamama from the Andes. In fact, it is remarkably rare to find imagery of Pachamama in traditional Andean art (with a few exceptions), for the simple reason that her presence is felt everywhere: for she is embodied in the earth itself, especially in the figure of a mountain - and the Andes are all mountains. Pachamama is herself the Mountain.

The few modern renditions of Pachamama which seem most accurate to the Andean imagination attempt to capture the identification of the goddess with the mountains, in whose folds all of life and nature is sustained. Adorning her image are flowers, trees, plants, animals, the elements, signifying her deep connection to the fertility of the earth. Her body is itself the Mountain, and the earth beneath it; she simultaneously towers over and lies beneath all life forms. From her bosom all things are nourished, as from the deep springs of fresh mountain water.

What fewer commentators on the Amazon synod have noted is the remarkable fact that this more traditional imagination of Pachamama has indeed been projected onto traditional Andean Christian depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was brought to the Andes by the Spanish conquistadores, when they conquered the Incan empire in the 16th century. There is a book by Carol Damian demonstrating this very phenomenon in detail: The Virgin of the Andes. In other words, in the Andes, the Blessed Virgin is Pachamama, or Mother Earth, whom the Andean peoples venerate as the mistress of all life, fertility, and agriculture, as well as the very Mother of God Himself. This is no accident. Although the Spanish conquistadores certainly endeavored - with much success - to root out the indigenous paganism of the Incan empire, as is fitting, nonetheless at the same time they could not help but plant the Christian faith in Andean soil, with all of its pre-existent cultural and spiritual ties to the Andean land. After the pagan cults had been extinguished, and Spanish Baroque Catholicism had been firmly established, the indigenous Andean-Catholic artists merged the artistic and spiritual traditions of Catholic imperial Spain and the "pagan" naturalistic Andes, producing numerous depictions of "the Virgin of the Andes" which represent her as Pachamama. See, for example, this beautiful rendition of the Virgin of Bolivia:

The Virgin of the Mountain

The conical shape of the Virgin's dress, and the vegetative and naturalistic ornamentation which adorns it, are explicitly intended to evoke the imagery of the Mountain, with which the goddess Pachamama was once identified. Note also how the cosmic, naturalistic imagery of the Andes is integrated with the Baroque liturgical symbolism of Spanish Catholicism, presided over by Christ and the Father in liturgical attire, thereby bringing the natural cosmos of the earth into the supernatural cosmos of the Church. 

Countless such images can be found in the various regions of the Andes, some of them viewable here, often attached to various specific devotions - but always evoking the imagery and symbolism of Pachamama, or Mother Earth.  Many of these images can also be found in Carol Damian's above mentioned book, in which she writes that in the Peruvian colony of Cuzco, "The one consistent feature that appears as a dominant stylistic and iconographic trait in Cuzco paintings of the Virgin is the triangular shape of Mary's dress, a reference to the shape of a mountain and, especially, her role as Pachamama, the Earth Mother." Moreover, "the mountain form of the bell-shaped gown of the Virgin and the birds and flowers which adorn her transform Mary to meet the needs of the Andean devotion." (pp. 50-51). 

This is a remarkable example of "inculturation," the assimilation of indigenous and even pagan imagery - indeed, the external form of a pagan deity - into the structure and form of the Christian tradition. Catholicism proves its universal character, embodied in the imperial universalism of Spain, by assuming the sensory and spiritual form of indigenous religious culture. This is the sacramental and Incarnational logic of Christianity: the forms of the earth are able to be harnessed by God and transfigured by divine revelation. 

The logic of all religion is, of course, symbolic: the divine nature, which is in itself infinite, one, and absolute, is manifested in various forms by finite and contingent creatures. The specifically Incarnational logic of Christianity presupposes but surpasses this symbolic logic - and in the process it often corrects its deviations. Paganism is a deviation of the symbolic logic of natural religion: creatures which naturally ought to serve as parted and diversified symbols of the divine are mistaken for the divine itself. This is a danger and a risk that is simply attendant upon the natural desire for knowledge of God, who can only be known through creatures. The intellectual feat of abstraction - nay, separation - by which the metaphysician can know God as separate from the very creatures which represent him symbolically is not an easy thing for the unaided mind; yet it is precisely necessary in order to avoid idolatry. To the degree that the pagans failed to accomplish this act, understandably, the revelation of Christianity in the Incarnational form of Jesus Christ has corrected them - and salvaged the symbolic forms with which their errors had been mixed. But to a corresponding degree, the Incarnational logic of Christianity has also assumed unto itself the rich forms of all paganism, harnessed the symbolic logic of natural religion for itself, and transformed them into a magnificent supernatural cosmos centered on the Godly figure of Jesus Christ. 

Martin Mosebach has described the Columbian Catholic traditionalist, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, in the following terms: "He saw himself as a son of the Catholic Church, which he did not regard as simply one of several Christian confessions, but as the great collecting tank of all religions, as the heiress of all paganism, as the still living original religion. That the Church after Vatican II no longer corresponded to this ideal, was more painfully aware to him than to anyone." That is indeed a fitting description of the true spirit of Catholicism - and a fitting description of the state of Catholicism in the late 20th century, up to the present time. Gómez Dávila saw the neo-modernist liturgical reforms within the Church of the 20th century as being of-a-piece with the overall Protestantization of society effected by the liberal bourgeoisie since the Enlightenment. He understood that the fundamental premise of modernity was a revolt against everything which it deemed superstitious, idolatrous, and pagan - and this included traditional Catholicism itself. As he once quipped, "It is not primitive cults that discredit religion, but American sects." 

Indeed, it is not difficult to detect in the culture of America a deep uneasiness with all things "superstitious," with anything that might depart from the enlightened standards of liberal and scientistic Reason. The slightest and simplest belief that the material world is animated by unseen spiritual forces worthy of our veneration arouses a gut-reaction of abhorrence and suspicion from those who have adopted the creed of the bourgeoisie. Even those in America who claim to be adherents of the true religion (including the self-claimed "traditionalists"!) have lost all concrete awareness of the world as thoroughly suffused with spiritual energy and power; any indication of such a belief is met with suspicion, skepticism, and even ridicule, dismissed as superstitious paganism or pantheism. It is inconceivable to them that the cosmos might stand to them as a symbol of God, commanding reverence and veneration as His earthly representative. The naive reverence of the primitive tribesman towards nature - e.g. towards The Mountain - is deemed nothing but stupidity and idolatry, rather than as the natural reflex of a deeply human instinct to venerate the divine, wherever it is manifested. 

Gómez Dávila, who must have been quite familiar with the indigenous religious culture of the Columbian Andes, was well aware of the true relationship between Christianity and paganism. He sometimes liked to call himself, not a Christian, but "a pagan who believes in Christ." But by saying so he did not mean to place Christianity alongside the various paganisms, as a religion coequal with them; on the contrary, Christianity was the universal religion which alone could put all other forms of religion in order. In his words, "A Catholic thought does not rest until it puts the chorus of the heroes and the gods in order around Christ." Accordingly, for Gómez Dávila the Blessed Virgin Mary herself was the fulfillment of all the pagan goddesses of old, goddesses who seem to live on in a new but infinitely more glorious form in the Mother of God. "The beauty of the figure of the Virgin comes at once from the sacred retinue of vanquished goddesses she evokes or replaces, and from the way in which she transcends them." 

No comments:

Post a Comment