San Marcos and Savi

Posted on: 
May 9, 2024

Last week was a noisy time in our little Mixtec town. The festival celebrating San Marcos stretched from Sunday to Sunday and was the highlight of the year for many. Though several other festivals are held in town throughout the year, San Marcos is considered the patron saint of this town, and the festival held in his name is the longest and most anticipated on the calendar. Always held the end of April, the celebrations are accompanied by symbolic dances, a night of bull riding, lots of fireworks and endless drunken partying. An out-of-town band sets up a stage and hosts a dance concert that runs from 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM for three nights straight. Street vendors come from afar and hawk their wares from tables and food booths on the sidewalks. People come from all the villages around and natives who have left home return to take part in the festivities.

In many ways, this festival could be compared to the fairs that are hosted every summer in countless cities and towns across the United States. However, one element makes it distinct; the spiritual component. Most residents of this town are Catholic, at least in name. Throughout the week of celebration, daily mass is held in the Catholic church in honor of San Marcos, and the fiesta is a time to seek the favor of the patron saint. Certain of the worship practices, though, are strangely non-Catholic. This is because the dominant religion of the Mixtec people is folk Catholicism, a highly syncretistic belief system which weds the ancient animistic beliefs of the Mixtec with newer, imported Catholic practice.

The Mixtec people are known in their own language as “the people of the rain.” Prior to their forced adoption of Catholicism, the chief deity in the Mixtec pantheon was Savi, the god of the rain. Savi was petitioned every year for good rain to grow the crops the Mixtec people needed to survive. When Catholicism was forced upon the Mixtec, it did not replace their animistic beliefs and practices. Rather, the two belief systems were melded together and continue so to this day. Savi, the rain god, came to be seen as one and the same with San Marcos, the Catholic patron saint. Shamans are regularly sought out for healing and prophecy, and Catholic saints are entreated for the same needs. When the Day of the Dead is celebrated in November, a Catholic priest and an animistic shaman pass through the graveyard together, each praying for the spirits of the departed. When the Catholic church was designed and constructed, the architects incorporated three pinnacles into the design; not to honor the Trinity or certain saints as one might expect, but, rather, to symbolize the jaguar, the eagle, and the snake, three animals considered sacred in Mixtec mythology.

Though the April festival is held in the name of the Catholic San Marcos, some of the activities obviously honor Savi, the rain god. Certain high hills throughout the region are viewed as sacred to Savi and little booths or altars are visited to petition him. About this time every year, the elected authorities of each village are responsible to see that sacrifices and petitions are made to Savi to “ensure” sufficient gentle rain for a successful growing season. Animals are sacrificed and other offerings are presented to plead Savi’s favor. These are not seen as meaningless traditions, but activities vital to the survival of the people. Residents in our town mention a time about ten years ago when the authorities neglected to conduct the annual sacrifice. The following rainy season brought an unusual number of drenching downpours which caused landslides throughout the region.

Whatever we may think of the beliefs and traditions of the Mixtec, for them they are part of their way of life. What we may view as ridiculous or incongruous, they see as reasonable and essential. Just as Paul said of the Corinthians that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor. 4:4 NET), so the Mixtec need the light of the gospel to renew their minds and revolutionize their thinking. Pray for those walking in darkness. And pray for the few among them who have come to the light.

— LH

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10