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Monday, September 25, 2017
Date Posted:

Rome’s Thinly Disguised Paganism

Dr Clive Gillis

The current BBC series Around the World in 80 Faiths where Anglican priest Peter Owen Jones has presented scenes from 80 of the worlds religions really is of little interest to fundamentalist bible believing Christians except as a spur to redouble efforts to present the True Gospel whilst there is yet time.

However for Rome watchers faith 64 Pachamama, filmed in Bolivia was an exception. We are all aware of how Roman Catholicism originally simply embraced the decaying temples and pagan practices of the Caesars and absorbed them and then later in the sixteenth century age of exploration subsumed the belief systems of the pre existing cultures of the Americas, Africa and elsewhere in the hope as time went by these sprinkled peoples would culturally romanise to the point where their roots would disappear. Again we are aware of the futility of this hope without heart change in the new birth.

The interesting aspect to the Pachamama sequence was the ease with which centuries of Roman Catholic influence has been swept away by the chance combining of two simple influences. The first is the election of Evo Morales the first truly indigenous Bolivian to become head of state since the Spanish Conquest 470 years earlier. Morales is descended from the ancient pre conquest people, the animist Aymara. He made the point in January 2006 by being inaugurated at an indigenous spiritual ceremony at an Aymaran archaeological site now the modern spiritual centre of Tiwanaku where he was crowned as "Apu Mallku" or Supreme Leader of the Aymara.

The Aymarans are Bolivia‘ s main indigenous group of brightly dressed people with the famous bowler hatted ladies. Popular by supporting the Coca industry, Morales who claims descent from a pre conquest chief has presided over a renaissance of Aymaran culture. It also just happens that in the charming little Bolivian village of Sampaya by the slopes of Lake Titicaca the substantial Roman Catholic church can no longer be regularly serviced by a R.C. priest and the Aymarans have been left to fend for themselves.

Proud and certainly undaunted we see the yatiri or Aymaran holy men arrive and set up their animist trappings in the church courtyard. The assembled people then all move into the priestless church itself where one of them officiates at the high altar not looking unlike a R. C. priest in his primitive dress with an effigy of the Virgin Mary behind him. Pachamama is the Aymaran earth Goddess and clearly no amount of R.C. teaching about the Virgin Mary has managed to supplant belief in Pachamama in the peoples mind.

The animist ceremony then proceeded up hill . After what was stressed as being "hours" of carefully remembered ceremonial undimmed in the Aymaran consciousness despite the intervening 470 years of R.C. domination, it climaxed in the slaughter of a Llama whose blood was shed on the ground and heart burnt to keep the earth fertile and avoid agricultural catastrophe for another year. Clearly Roman Catholicism is even less than skin deep and with its shortage of priestly vocations more precarious in places liable to such political change than we might think.

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