Jan 25 2013

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CONSIDER THIS: The Tale of Two Experts on the Occult

Managing Editor

Michael Rodriguez

Michael Rodriguez

Since publishing the story about the mysterious Santa Muerte statue and various followup articles, the San Benito News has received hundreds of comments through various forms of communication and media, including emails, tweets, text messages, website and Facebook comments.

We’ve also felt the wrath of self-proclaimed “brujos” and “brujas” who were offended by Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville, concluding that the statue was intended to cast a deadly spell using brujeria.

Suddenly, the story ignited dialogue about religious freedoms among Wiccans, Santa Muerte devotees and other practitioners of folk religions and the occult. I observed as much after noticing our original story had been the subject of fevered debate on various blogs and news aggregation websites, including Doubtful News, which I was actually unfamiliar with until recently.

So, knowing me, I had to respond to criticism made by folks who thought we should have sought the opinion of someone else, someone such as Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint and the Bishop Walter Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies. Dr. Zavaleta’s comments, you see, were not accepted by many people outside the Rio Grande Valley, most of whom were followers of the aforementioned cult and folk religions.

Also, Dr. Zavaleta was not considered a credible source because he is “too Catholic to open his eyes,” as one so-called bruja charged.

As I’ve said in countless email responses and website comments, if there are those who would discredit Dr. Zavaleta’s conclusions based on his religious practice, then by the same token I should dismiss their remarks as biased. For instance, a person identifying oneself as a “bruja” would obviously be offended by Dr. Zavaleta’s theories that the statue was being used in some sort of brujeria spell to kill a person. Then again, I’d be making a presumption that would be rather unfair.

Dr. Zavaleta deserves better treatment, and so does Dr. Chesnut, for that matter. I consider both men professionals whose expert opinions are highly sought-after.

It should further be noted that the original article was not an attempt to spark an argument about religious freedoms but merely to present the concerns of a community, the actions of a city administration in response to such concerns, and the opinion of a doctor/professor/published author with expertise in this field.

What was really interesting were the theories some commenters shared on the aforementioned blogs and news aggregation websites, even criticizing people in the state of Texas for praying before football games. Without going into detail as far as what was said, I got the impression that these commenters were implying that God-fearing Texans were somehow backwards hicks.

Yet these very people are the same ones who often ask to be taken seriously.

Still, I don’t want this column to end on a bad note. I am actually quite pleased with the response we received because it’s opened the door to a dialogue that must be had, and I’d like to think the News helped open that door as a result of publicizing Dr. Zavaleta’s thoughts on this matter. It prompted the response of Dr. Chesnut, which I am equally pleased with.

Consider that there’s always going to be a difference of opinion regarding this subject; after all, Santa Muerte as a practice has long been a controversial topic in which at least one thing can be determined without a shadow of a doubt – no one can agree 100 percent on anything, not even two world-renowned experts.

Read this story in the Jan. 27 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sbnewspaper.com/2013/01/25/the-tale-of-two-experts-on-the-occult/


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  1. Fedup

    Definitely see this with open eyes, but asking to welcome it with an open heart is a mighty stretch !!!

  2. Ashley

    I personally know where you are coming from, and it might be helpful to understand that Pagans are just like any other people from any other religion, they all have different opinions. Some (just like any other human) are quick to their guns, while their intent might be well, it does not come out looking so. Any news on anything occult in this day and age should be welcomed with open eyes and an open heart. If we could all open our hearts to a little more tolerance it would make every place a better place.

    As far as the “too Catholic to open his eyes” bit goes, Catholics are the closest Christians to Pagans, so that comment makes no sense whatsoever.

    Better luck with it all in the future.

  3. Liz

    What happen to “trouble and soldier”, where is Heather?

    1. Heather Cox

      Hi Liz,

      Michael brought your comment to my attention. Trouble and a Soldier now has its own website! We’re up to Part VI. If you’d like to check it out, just visit the link below! Thanks for asking, and God bless =)



  4. Christopher Blackwell

    I have to admit that when I even hear the word Occult Expert, I tend to cringe as the greatest number of alleged occult experts are remarkably ignorant about the very thing to claim to be expert on. In other words that vast majority of them are out and out frauds. Even in fields like anthropology they tend to be ignorant about the people that they study and especially their beliefs system. Even in my life time anthropologist have only began to stop calling religions of alleged primitive people superstitions, in spite of the fact that some of these religions have well served their people for thousands of year, far longer than our modern mainstream religions.

    I would thinks that Santa Muerte statue would seem to call for talking with people that actually are followers of the skeleton saint. Their opinion of what it meant being put up in a graveyard would strick me a more likely to be correct than what any outsider might say about it.

    1. Editor

      Good point on speaking to Santa Muerte devotees. It’s something we’ll definitely consider in future articles. Thanks for the input!

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