When Devils Dance and Pray

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 14, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

Every Feast of Corpus Christi, in the little town of San Francisco de Yare, south of Caracas, Venezuela, a symbolic struggle between Good and Evil is played out. This reenactment can be traced back to the Middle Ages in Spain; and the music, the drumming, the sacred poetry; the dancing, has its roots in the heritage of slaves from Africa brought to work the land, and the native Indian people.

“Los Diablos Danzantes de Yare” (The Dancing Devils of Yare) is hundreds of years old. “There are many stories of how this originated, but we know it was above all a way for our ancestors to take part in the life of the church,” said Pablo Azuaje, 57, the “capatz,” or dance master who leads the celebrants-all men and boys-known as “promeseros.”

Their title derives from the word for “promise.” In repayment of favors from God, such as cures or advancements, each devil pledges to participate for one year, several years, or even for the rest of his life.

The “dancing devils” parade through the streets in their red robes and masks, amulets and rosaries, stopping at 12 altars along the route until they reach the front of the church. When the Mass is ended, the Eucharist is placed at the church’s entrance and a mock fight begins between the devils and the guardians. Finally, the devils surrender and kneel in front of the Eucharist. The entire performance represents the victory of Good over Evil.

“I’ve spent all my life devoted to the devils,” Juan Vicente Morgado, 53, one of Yare’s leading mask makers, said in his workshop, where dozens of masks hung on the walls. “It’s one of those things in life in which we look into the grotesque in order to find something positive.”

There is something here…a human need for religious pageantry, more dramatic involvement,could make our Catholic faith more intimate, more vital. We’re too weighted towards debate and intellectualizing.

I appreciate the power of masks. We are free to be who we really are when we wear them. I have made several, for different purposes. I always have the odd feeling that when I remove a mask I have put one on instead.

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