Monday, October 5, 2009

I survived my foray into the New Mexico desert having had many wonderful experiences and having met and reconnected with many wonderful people. I return with a Geo Tracker full of red dust, a sun burnt face, and a definite need to review the physics of time and matter conversion. For anybody with any kind of psychic/spiritual ability, the area in which this ceremony is enacted is like being in Disneyland. I can definitely see why the US Government has placed it's primary research labs at Los Alamos. It's not just because New Mexico has uranium deposits. The veil between dimensional realities is indeed very thin in some places in New Mexico.

Speaking of the intersection of dimensional realities, one of the first things I did upon arrival in New Mexico was come across a book published by the University of New Mexico History Department entitled "The Witches of Abiquiu". I had to read it right away, and I'm glad I did because I learned a great deal about the history of this area and how the Spanish interacted with the Natives.

It's the story of the founding of the Pueblo of Abiquiu and what happened when one Franciscan priest found himself face to face with the abilities of the curanderas and shamans of the Pueblo.

Fr. Toledo engaged in a ten year battle with these 'witches' finally asking for the help from the Office of the Inquisition in Mexico City. It's a fascinating read which ends with the Inquisition dropping all charges and the territorial Governor releasing all the captured 'witches'. The rational was that whatever was going on, and plenty went on, it was not demonic and therefor none of their business. In fact, Fr. Toledo was more or less told to leave the curanderas and medicine people alone because they were in many cases the only sources of healing for both natives and the Spanish settlers and more than that, they were effective. Even Fr. Toledo eventually had to seek out a curandera to help him with his own medical issues. She solved them in one session principally due to the fact she had been the one causing his ailments.

Abiquiu was not like any other Pueblo in that it was given to the Genizaro. The Genizaro were primarily natives of different tribes who had been kidnapped by other tribes and for which the Spanish would pay the kidnappers a ransom. The ransomed would then work off their ransom through years of what amounted to indentured servitude. Working off one's ransom could take anywhere from five to ten years at the end of which one was neither really native nor really Spanish. Since the Genizaro didn't easily fit into either culture the Spanish governor gave them their own Pueblo at Abiquiu in 1754. His intent was that Abiquiu would be a buffer zone between the Spanish settlers around Santa Fe and the raiding Utes and Pawnees of Northern New Mexico.

The Abiquiu Pueblo developed a spirituality which was a combination of different tribal spiritualities and their own unique understanding of Catholicism. The one thing all the tribes seem to have in common was a similar understanding of shamanism, probably because of their interaction with the Indigenous tribes of central Mexico.

When Fr. Toledo's flock would talk about the abilities of shamans Fr. Toledo had no conceptual framework in which to put these acts. He saw things strictly in terms of good and evil, while the shamanic mind sees things in terms of the balance between light and shadow. Each served it's purpose just like the seasons each served their purpose in the creation of life. So when a shaman talked about or engaged in shape shifting, Fr. Toledo heard demonic possession and attempted exorcism.

There is one story about an exorcism Fr. Toledo conducted on a female curandera which sealed the fate of his witch hunt. During the exorcism a male voice came from the woman, and speaking perfect Latin, proceeded to tell the good Father where he had been going wrong in evangelizing the natives, and why it was important he be more successful. In the opinion of this entity, the people of the Pueblo were out of balance, engaging in too much shadow medicine and it was Fr. Toledo's job to give them reasons to stop these acts, not provoke more of them.

Both Fr. Toledo and his assistant were flabbergasted and said so in their report to the Inquisition in Mexico City. Neither they nor the Inquisition could entertain the notion that the devil would be interested in putting the devil out of business. With impeccable logic the Inquisition determined that what ever was going on it couldn't be demonic. It was after this exorcism in 1766 that they ordered Fr. Toledo to cease and desist. By the end of his life Fr. Toledo had come to a different understanding of how indigenous spiritual practice and Catholicism could co exist, each helping to shape the other.

It's a situation which is still evolving to this day and one which can still provoke irritation between traditionalists of both the Native and Catholic camps. But for most people it can be a situation which leads to more depth in their spiritual practice and a greater appreciation for the delicate balance and wondrous complexity of creation and man's place with in it.

That's a good thing and it's why Catholicism in the Southwest can be a hopeful example for Catholicism everywhere. Here spiritual authority is not an issue of mitres and money. It's an issue of spiritual ability and the selfless dedication to use those abilities for the good of others. That has always been the hall mark of true shamans, medicine people, and our own Catholic saints.

It's a spirit and an attitude which is utterly absent in so many of the Catholic issues debated in the United States today. If I realized anything this weekend, spending the time I did with the people I did, it's that Catholicism in the US could use a lot less talk and a lot more walk.


  1. Another inspiring blog, Colleen. I was wondering about the picture. I've never seen the sky look like that. You say "The veil between dimensional realities is indeed very thin in some places in New Mexico." I am wondering if you could describe this phenomenon.
    That picture is very incredible and I suspect it has something to do with the veil being thin.

  2. In ancient Irish spirituality, places where the boundary between the human world and the spirit world narrow are called "thin places".

    Sounds like there are some thin places in New Mexico, too!

  3. A deeply moving, powerful story, that is quite funny in ways and ends up being truly inspiring - it's so heartening to see any evidence of open mindedness on the part of any Catholic inquisitors.