The more I look into the Christian syncretisms that developed in Mesoamerica with American thought, the more comfortable I am in asserting that the syncretisms were rooted in the deep and understanding appreciation of the Mesoamericans for the Christian mysteries. This wasn’t naive or protective (hiding ‘real’ Mesoamerican deities behind Catholic facade), but a visceral awareness that the celestial mysteries animating their religious understanding also animated the Christian mysteries.
In short: it wasn’t a Mesoamerican syncretism so much as a Mesoamerican synthesis, one mutilated by the inability of Europeans to appreciate and reciprocate the Mesoamericans’ insights. It seems, too, like this insight is portable, to other instances of ‘syncretism.’ So that what we are seeing is not ‘cultural’ in the sense we use the term, but ‘scientific’ (as a 19th century German might have used the term)—rational, comparative, synthetic.
Which touches, again, on my rambling on appropriation. Far from serving to protect cultures, an opposition to appropriation often serves to isolate and enervate them. Yes, be careful with them, be thoughtful, but to deny the possibility or value of comparison and synthesis? That’s on the way to some nasty intellectual and spiritual segregation in my book. If we ask what’s wrong with ’empire,’ it is that empire impedes and distorts the synthetic potentials of cross-cultural communication.
More to the point, though, what is it that Mesoamericans recognized that made this possible? They could see that there is a stellar root to spiritual experience, that what animates the saints and what animates their complex play of divinities is the interplay of celestial forces within the nexus of our life (the fifth direction in most Mesoamerican thought being the center, the crossroads of a life; think of sanctification as the enlivening of that center in the world beyond our center).
Moreover, that sense was animated by visionary practices through which the Mesoamericans engaged directly with those forces. They sacrificed, yes, but they also bled themselves, employed entheogens, fasted, prayed, and studied to put themselves and their being in direct alignment with the celestial forces rippling through creation. Their ‘religious’ products describe scientific events, no doubt, but they also describe the spiritual experiences of individuals who have trained themselves to enter into sympathy with those events and transmit the potencies within those events to others in their community.
The potencies are subtle and invisible, and what we see in the visible representations of those potencies are efforts to project those invisible forces into a visible resonance chamber. The visible figures are not the faces of the gods, but the masks of the heavens, and one of the oldest masks is surely the body of the person undergoing the work. The face of a sailor on the waters of the heavens whose individuality has been worn down by the winds of the sky. Astral immersion if not astral travel.
Reading Star Gods of the Maya, this seems like part of what makes the Maya texts so opaque. Yes, of course, there is the difficulty of simply correlating astrological contents using slivers of the original (mostly destroyed) archives of the Maya. There is also a gap in praxis, the gap between a people whose understanding of the heavens was inseparable from a visionary engagement with them. I wonder if science fiction, science fantasy, and speculative fiction might be the closest (somewhat dim) cousins we have to this sort of work.
It makes it difficult, too, to look to the African diaspora of the Americas and separate out what is African, what is European, and what is a fusion of one or both with an older substrate of American thought. In the disaster that was the post-Columbian contact, at least some of those Americans eager to preserve what they could of their lore would likely have latched onto the experiential star lore of Africans and Europeans, too, grafting what they could into it. Because they are all addressing a fundamental astral reality, separating out American from African and European becomes difficult and even counter-productive if we are looking toward a future rather than a past.