Growing up as a Mexican-American in the United States, I was always intrigued with the cultural practices my parents believed that had no American equivalents. Since children usually trust their parents to steer them in the right direction, I never questioned them. It wasn’t until I reverted to the Faith and educated myself on what the Catholic Church teaches and what it condemns that I realized that a lot of practices I was used to seeing not only in my family but other Mexican families were problematic and went against Church teachings.
So, what are some of the most common yet dangerous things that Mexican Catholics belief that aren’t actually inline with the Church? Here are five of the most prevalent practices that should be avoided at all costs.
Devotion to La Santa Muerte (Holy Death)
A frightening amount of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have developed a devotion to the “Santa Muerte.” There are shrines and I’ve even heard of a “chapel” dedicated to this pseudo-saint here in Los Ángeles. People have statues of it in their homes and some have even tattooed it on their bodies. What most of them don’t know (or choose to ignore) is that the so-called “Holy Death” has been condemned by both local church authorities and the Vatican. In fact, the Vatican emphasized its blasphemous nature in their statement in 2013. Exorcists have also reported that they’ve had to perform exorcisms on people who once had a devotion to the “Holy Death” and later became demonically attacked.
So why do many Mexican Catholics believe and have a devotion to it? Several reasons. They might not know about the condemnation of this “saint”, they might be invoking its intercession for an illegal or immoral reason, or they seek revenge. This popular devotion has also taken the thunder away from another popular pseudo-saint (Jesus Malverde) who was popular amongst drug lords and other criminals. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t take away the fact that this practice is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
Locking the lips of St. Raymond Nonnatus
“If you want to make the person who is gossiping about you stop, put a locked lock under a lit white candle, attach a dime to the prayer card of St. Raymond Nonnatus with chewing gum you’ve chewed, and say this prayer.”
I heard this advice a lot growing up. This is just one of the many superstitious practices many Mexican Catholics do that combines Catholicism and “white magick.” Unfortunately, superstitious practices like this are rampant with “cultural” Catholics who are unfamiliar with the Faith. If you ever encounter these types of practices, remember what it says in The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2111: “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.”
Strapping “ojo de venado” on babies’ wrists
In a vein similar to the superstition of wearing rosary beads and saint medals for “protection,” well-meaning but poorly catechized parents will put an “ojo de venado” (“eye of a deer”) on their baby’s wrist. The superstitious belief is that it will protect their child against the so-called “evil eye.” While the “evil eye” isn’t strictly a Hispanic belief, the “eye of a deer” is. If you see one—which usually looks like a walnut sized seed attached to a red beaded bracelet—don’t be afraid to let the parent know that the superstitious practice goes against Catholic teachings. Do this especially when an image of a guardian angel or saint is placed on the brown seed.
This is probably the most common practice that mixes elements of Catholicism and magic and are done in various ways withh an unending combination of items. The gist of it is that you use items such as eggs, herbs like sage and rosemary, water that has flower petals in it, limes, etc to “cleanse” a person or place from evil spirits or witchcraft performed on a person. The items are swept across a person’s body or a place while praying the Our Father or Hail Mary. Sometimes holy water is used as well but it’s less common.
I don’t think I need to explain why this is entirely problematic but I’ll let The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2117 remind you of why this should be avoided:
“All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others—even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.”
St. Jude’s Jealousy
Have you heard that you can’t ask St. Jude and another saint for their intercession for the same thing because St. Jude will get jealous? Yep. That’s a common belief as well. Devotion to St. Jude has exploded in the last two decades or so but so has this erroneous belief been propagated along with it. Of course, we know that there is no jealousy in Heaven but some people are so keen on getting their petitions answered that they’ll believe and do anything to make sure they get what they ask for. The likely source of this superstition comes from the fact that many people resisted asking St. Jude for his intercession because they confused him with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus; we use the name of “Judas” for both in Spanish.
Similarly, people believe that if you don’t spread the word or place specific prayers at churches after being granted the prayer intention, that saint will never help you again. These chain letter-like practices also fall under superstition and, well, I think we know why this is bad.
As you can see, most of the practices have an occultic and superstitious nature to them. If you’ve ever done any of these things out of ignorance, you can bring it up in the confessional next time you go. Actually, even if you knew it was wrong and you still did it, it’s never too late to repent and confess it. If you know of anyone who continues these practices, don’t be afraid to impart on them the facts (and cite references if possible). I did this with my parents and while it wasn’t easy for them to hear it, I knew that it was for the sake of their souls and that trumped any friction it might’ve temporarily caused.
If you’re looking for help or guidance, do it the right way. Pray the Rosary, novenas, fast, and offer up small sacrifices. Don’t fall into superstitious beliefs because you want something so much. Instead, trust that God will grant you what you seek and if He doesn’t it’s because He has something better in store for you.
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