One of the aims of the Amazonian synod is for people of the developed West/North to understand the indigenous cultures better. The fertility goddess Pachamama has featured in the discussions, so I did a bit of extra reading about her. The mythology of indigenous peoples is vast, complicated and very interesting. You can learn a good bit about Pachamama and Peruvian indigenous culture at this good summary. You can also learn about the Peruvian Pachamama rituals here.
Remember as you read, however, that primitive religions are, by their nature, mythological not dogmatic. The different myths and rituals blend into one another and the traditions, customs and rituals are in flux. There is no equivalent of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for pagan religions. While there are similarities between different indigenous cultures, there are also vast differences in the myths, rituals and practices.
In the brief reading I did on the Peruvian Pachamama traditions I learned that Pachamama is understood to be the Great Earth Mother.
Pachamama is the Supreme Goddess honoured by the indigenous people of the Andes including Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. Pachamama is referred to as both the Physical Planet Earth as well as the Universal Feminine Energy in Time and Space, The Cosmic Mother. Pacha is an archaic Quechua word meaning universe, world, time and space. So She is in fact the Goddess of all that exists for all time, eternal. 1)
She is considered the Mother who begets life, nourishes and protects. In Her role as Earth Mother, She oversees planting and harvesting and is responsible for the well-being of plants and animals. Offerings are made to Her regularly for success in all endeavours. Pachamama is often depicted as a huge Dragon as She represents the Andean Mountains. When She feels disrespected, She may cause Earthquakes. 2) The Andean People believe that recent quakes in the region are a direct result of humanity’s disregard for the planet. Pachamama is showing us Her displeasure at our attitude toward Her. The Andean People also believe Pachamama teaches us that work is a supreme virtue. For if we build, create, plant etc . . . with love in our hearts, our work will be sacred and we will be sacred. In this way, love and work may take us to a state of higher consciousness 3) much like the Karma Yoga of Eastern Religions.
Most of the images of Pachamama are benevolent portrayals of a pregnant, wise woman. However, other literature seems to indicate that she is “often depicted as a huge dragon.” She is associated with the snake or serpent. This would align with other pagan traditions around the world that link the earth energies with the serpent. Ley lines in Europe, for example, are sometimes referred to as “dragon paths” while in Eastern religions the dragon is associated with fertility because he brings rain and represents the spirit of the rivers and water. You can learn more about Eastern folklore associated with the dragon here.
What we are dealing with here in many different forms and expressions in primitive cultures around the world is the instinct of animism. Some writers make the mistake of saying the indigenous religions are pantheistic or polytheistic. They are not. The religion of indigenous peoples is animism. I have written on the distinctions here. Animism is the belief that certain spirits inhabit animals, plants, rivers, mountains and trees in the physical world. These physical things are “totems”–physical vehicles, containers or channels for the spirit beings. A physical representation of the living being can also become a totem or channel for the spirit being. Thus a pagan may seem to be worshipping the idol. He is not. He is worshipping the spirit he believes lives in the idol or comes through the idol.
Of course the God of the Old Testament prohibits all such religion. “You shall have no other gods…you shall not make unto yourselves graven images.” Note that it is not the graven image per se that is wrong, but the graven image that represents some other god.
We might well ask, “How can there be other gods?” The answer is there cannot be other gods. There is only one God. The other beings who present themselves as gods are created spirits. The only other created spirit beings are the angels and there are two categories of angels–those who are obedient to their creator and those who are in rebellion against their creator. Those who are in rebellion against their creator of demons.
All religions have a mythology, and Christianity has its own myth. When I use the word “myth” I am referring to the stories we tell to communicate the deeper realities of the invisible world. Pagan cultures rely heavily on myth because they do not have the particular incarnation. Myths, in their own way, are incarnations of the truth. They are attempts to communicate the invisible realities. The Christian myth is different from the pagan myths because we believe these things really happened within history. The stories carry deeper truths of the invisible world just like any myth, but with the difference that they really happened. BTW, This is one of the themes of my book The Romance of Religion.
Interestingly, the Christian myth also tells the story of a great Mother. That Mother of All Things is called Eve. Did you know that was the meaning of her name? Eve is not the serpent, but she is tempted by the serpent. Because he and his cohort were cast down from heaven to earth, the earth became the realm of the fallen angel Lucifer, Satan, the Father of Lies. The “energies” of the earth became hostage to Satan and his demons. Earth became “the silent planet” cut off from the rest of God’s cosmos and alienated from the creator. This fallen spirit tempted the Mother of All Things Eve to disobey her creator and join Satan and his demons in disobedience and become a true inhabitant and child of the silent planet. She yielded to the Dragon’s Lure and thus she and her children all became hostages to the Dragon.
This ancient Judeo-Christian “myth” tells the true story of the woman and the serpent. The identification of Pachamama with the serpent indicates that the woman and the serpent are not in conflict. Instead they are one. It is as if the python has swallowed the woman.
There is a prophecy embedded in the Christian story. God puts enmity between the serpent and the woman. The woman and her children are the enemies of the serpent, but she will one day crush his head.
So the story concludes with the second Eve–the second “Mother of All” who is the channel of all grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary is not identified with Satan as Pachamama is. Instead she tramples down the serpent through her act of submission to God’s will.
I do not know the content of the tree planting ceremony at the Vatican on Friday, October fourth. I know it had a Franciscan theme because it took place on the feast day of St Francis of Assisi. However, I found it interesting that the ritual to worship Pachamama is supposed to take place outdoors on the first Friday of the month.
Perhaps that was just a coincidence.
Given what I have written above about the woman, the serpent and Pachamama, it would seem difficult to reconcile a religion that associates the Great Earth Mother with the Great Earth Serpent and the “Mother of All” who is actually the one who tramples down the serpent, but perhaps I am not being creative enough in my attempt to accompany.
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