Essay on Religious Syncretism and its Consequences in Mayan Society

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Religious Syncretism and its Consequences in Mayan Society When Spaniards first set foot on Mesoamerican shores in the early sixteenth century, they encountered not the godless mass of natives they believed they found, but a people whose rich spiritual traditions shaped and sustained them for thousands of years. These diverse spiritual practices legitimized nearly every aspect of Mesoamerican daily life, from science and architecture to art and politics (Carmack 295), in many of the same ways Catholicism did in Spain. The collision of these cultures in the Great Encounter and the resulting Spanish colonial state mixed not solely two different peoples—Indian and Spanish—but thousands of variants: elites and slaves, peasant farmers and…show more content…
To the native people, "Christianity appeared to be primarily a set of practices, many of which resembled their traditional practices of prayer, offerings, processions, dramas, fasting, and the use of sacred images" (Carmack 166). In Mayan areas, cofradías became a central part of Christianity in the New World. Cofradías—religious societies instituted and overseen by the Catholic Church and dedicated to a particular saint—were "intended to facilitate the Indians’ integration into the Church and to serve as a mechanism for the collection of revenues from the indigenous population" (Carlsen 93). The spiritual leap to acceptance of saint societies was not a great one. Each Mesoamerican town or city already worshipped a patron god; with the introduction of Catholicism, the indigenous peoples merely traded one icon for another (Fash). As Church leaders became increasingly dependent on the funds generated by the cofradías as a major source of income, Mayan leaders recognized the bartering power they held and used it to gain a degree of autonomy in their worship practices (Carlsen 94). This tacit agreement allowed Mayans to include their own deities in their flourishing idol worship, and many of these practices remain in place today as such figures continue to line the walls and altars of many parishes. In Santiago Atitlán, for example, a stone image of Aklax (or San Nicolás), the patron deity of aj’kuna and associated with

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