View Full Version : Carnival in the North-West of Argentina

02-25-2016, 05:43 AM

I've recently returned from my vacations in the north-west of Argentina. It is a huge desert with an extremely low population density and jaw-dropping landscapes.
The usual towns there have a population of 500 to 1,000 persons.

It happened by chance, but I've had the luck of arriving to one of those towns during the Carnival celebration and I was amazed. The inhabitants were the descendents of the original aborigines of the zone... Argentina has been extremely cruel with the aborigine population (i.e, the aborigines of the south were completely exterminated in a nazi style, probably because their lands were fertile). The ones in the North-West probably had a better luck than the ones in the south because their lands don't have mines with something that was worthy at the colonial times (they are of worth now because they contain Lithium... and Barrick Gold is currently doing disasters there and poisoning the water with cyanide).

They were converted to Christianity, but they preserved some pre-colonial traditions, especially the cult to the "Pachamama" (Earth as a Goddess, very similar to the Greek Gaea).

What was interesting for me was how they developed their own version of Christianity in a syncretic blend with their ancestral religion.

The Carnival there is focused on worshipping Satan.


But... What is Satan for them? The ruler of the underworld and the Husband of Pachamama (Goddess Earth), Satan is the male who is in charge of fertilizing the Pachamama.

During the celebration all the males of the town disguise themselves as Satan, a very colorful version of Satan, that's the only disguise you'll see there. The females don't wear disguises.

The celebration is as follows:
A human sized doll of Satan is buried in a tomb, though the tomb is not covered with dirt (or earth), but with stones. The Carnival begins with the Satan disguised males descending from a mountain (where they are hidden) and then unearthing the Satan doll (they remove the stones and throw Chicha and Coca Flour inside). In some towns there isn't a doll and Satan is simply unearthed by removing the stones, but the tomb is "empty" from a material point of view and an "invisible" Satan leaves the tomb simply by the removal of the stones.
Finally, in other towns the tomb contains a Pachamama doll and not a Satan doll. The Pachamama dolls are always carrying a baby in their hands, probably as a sign of their fertility:


Once Satan is unearthed, the ceremony involves a dance between the Satan disguised males and the females. The "Satans" have a tail that finishes in a phallus shape and clearly has a phallic symbolism.


During the celebration the males hit the females with that phallic shape and there's a lot of focus on finding a partner. You can hear them saying a lot of times that the girls have to find a husband and that the males have to find a wife. So that's the other focus of the ceremony: finding a husband or a wife (I didn't hear much about "boyfriends" and "girlfriends"... probably the local tradition is more focused on finding a life-partner than in casual sex... The celebration itself is very sexual, but also quite focused on the idea of husbands and wives and not really "boyfriends" and "girlfriends").

There's also offerings, which are thrown to the hole created by the tomb, they are offering to the Pachamama. In most cases it is Chicha (an alcoholic drink that is created by chewing maize and spitting it on a vessel to create a fermentation. Only the females are allowed to create Chicha, the males are not allowed to do it) and flour made of Coca. There's also a lot of "games" involving throwing Coca flour at each other.

There is also a dance... the music sounds like a mess, a bit similar to the flutes of Jajouka.

And when the Carnival finishes, Satan is buried again to meet again his wife, the Pachamama... and keep it fertile till the next year.

This is a video I found in youtube of the opening of the Carnival, when the Satans descend from the mountain:


I was absolutely amazed because of a lot of reasons:

-The fact that Satan is not "the bad guy", but simply the husband of the Earth and the one that makes it get "pregnant" with the very reduced diversity of plants that can grow in that desert.

-The fact that the Satans chasing the women and the women letting them being seduced by the Satans made me think of the rites of Dyonisus/Bacchus. I am quite sure that if I had traveled back in time to Ancient Greece, I would have witnessed something very similar.

-The fact that they all consider themselves "Christians", but they have a celebration dedicated to Satan and worship Satan without thinking of Satan as a "rival" of God... but the male partner of the female Earth.

-And, of course, I thought a lot of the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades... !!!
The carnival in the north west of Argentina has a very similar story (a fertile mother with a daughter and a marriage with the male ruler of the underworld... The only difference is that the marriage in Greece was between the daughter and the God of the underworld, whilst in this celebration it is the mother the one who is married to this God).

It was an amazing experience to witness that Carnival... and seeing this version of Christianity in which Satan is worshipped, but it's not a celebration of "Satanists" (in the style of the Church of Satan or any modern satanic organization), but Christians who respect the Christian Trinity too and also give a lot of importance to Jesus. I.e, the celebration of the carnival does not include at all any kind of cursing against God or Jesus, it's not about that at all.

02-25-2016, 06:41 AM
Thanks for sharing... very interesting tradition, never heard about it... and 'Satan' never looked more sexy and colorful... What a refreshing take on this aspect of world mythology :)

02-25-2016, 09:49 AM
Thanks for sharing... very interesting tradition, never heard about it... and 'Satan' never looked more sexy and colorful... What a refreshing take on this aspect of world mythology :)

I'm not surprised that you didn't hear of it, I haven't heard of it either before and I live in Argentina.

I've been very lucky because I saw the celebration in a very small town and there were some 50 Satans, 50 women and 2 tourists (my girlfriend and I). The video I posted above has probably too many tourists (we arrived to this small town simply because we were travelling by car in a 4,000 meters high road and a black cloud made it very hard to keep on driving, so we had to stop and find a place to sleep there... and then the next morning we woke up and we heard that there was a Carnival celebration and we went there without knowing what we were going to see).

We were a bit shy at first and we were clearly seen as outsiders... but then I invited my girlfriend to dance next to the Satans and in a matter of minutes they were also throwing coca flour at us, which was a sign of acceptance.

The videos I find on youtube are a bit less interesting because they are in bigger towns were the Tradition is also becoming a "show" for the tourists. This is an actual photo of the celebration I saw:

http://s30.postimg.org/4k2ilmqi9/11204949_10208861478122038_8055428907834443434_n.j pg

http://s15.postimg.org/vzx37kmuj/12718057_10208861479002060_1623078180983382515_n.j pg

(It began outside this house, but the dance took place inside the house... probably because the weather was very hot and it would have been a real torture to dance outside under the sun).

My biggest surprise was that I couldn't stop thinking about the most Ancient Greek culture and the later Alexandrian culture, specially Gnosticism.

I was amazed when I saw these "Satans" behaving like Satyrs or Dyonisus/Iacchus... Or the chaotic, wild and fertilizing side of nature.

I was also surprised when I saw the Satans and the women throwing coca flour at each other. It made me think of an author I like a lot: Georges Bataille and his theory about the origins of Religion.

Bataille says that we became civilized when we organized ourselves to work and created an order that allows this work to take place (laws)... but that Religion began as a transgression of these laws. In a normal (organized) situation nobody would throw his main source of food, specially not in a desert where food is almost a luxury.
Bataille says that Religion begun with the idea of a sacrifice, a transgression of the usual order (or the organized world of work which is based on accumulating goods, not on "wasting" them).

It was also like an epiphany to see how "Satan" was quite similar for them to the Gnostic demiurge, specially the Gnostic traditions which have a more "benevolent" vision of the demiurge.

You know, I've read a lot of academic essays on Gnosticism, the Nag-Hammadi books, I participated in Gnostic Churches, I've read about the non-Christian versions of Gnosticism, the mysteries of Eleusis and probably the whole of the neo-platonic authors... whilst the persons who participate in these rites certainly have no idea that these texts exist... and I felt like an ignorant there, which is a marvelous experience.... understanding how some persons have the marvelous privilege of not needing to "study" a Tradition because they ARE that Tradition.

Some more Satans opening a Carnival in a different town, this time coming out of a symbolic cave instead of descending from a mountain:


02-25-2016, 11:22 AM
It was also like an epiphany to see how "Satan" was quite similar for them to the Gnostic Demiurge, specially the Gnostic traditions which have a more "benevolent" vision of the demiurge.

While I don't personally adhere to a 'more benevolent vision of the Demiurge', I can nevertheless appreciate the diversity of various traditions, such as the one you discovered and documented :)

02-25-2016, 11:55 AM
Satan = the serpent
Demiurge = the God in the Garden


Interesting "article" nonetheless.


02-25-2016, 12:34 PM
Yes very interesting perspective, especially how it relates to Greek mythology.

Did you hear whether this is a 'new years' celebration, or a celebration in preparation for the spring equinox?

02-25-2016, 07:16 PM
While I don't personally adhere to a 'more benevolent vision of the Demiurge', I can nevertheless appreciate the diversity of various traditions, such as the one you discovered and documented :)

Gnosticism has many versions or branches.
What I meant is that the Demiurge for the Sethian Gnostics was clearly evil, whilst for the Valentineans it was a "mix" of good and bad things... and some Pagan Gnostic religions even have a "good" Demiurge, but it's still a Demiurge and different from God (i.e, Yazzidis... or even the anti-Gnostic and yet Gnostic ideas of Plotinus and Porphyry).

I don't really adhere to a specific idea when it comes to the Demiurge and I accept the diverse points of view.

Yes very interesting perspective, especially how it relates to Greek mythology.

Did you hear whether this is a 'new years' celebration, or a celebration in preparation for the spring equinox?

That's a hard question!
This is an oral tradition and it even changes from town to town (i.e, the Tomb seems to be an important part in all the celebrations, but in some towns the Tomb has a Satan buried in it, in other towns it has a Pachamama).

I've received an explanation there... and when I returned home I was still fascinated so I watched in youtube different home-made documentaries with interviews to locals of the north west of Argentina about the Carnival. They are, of course, in Spanish, so I didn't post them because most people here doesn't speak Spanish.

The persons who participate are "Christians" and they follow the Roman liturgical calendar... but in one of these interviews there is a man explaining: "The Carnival is our most important celebration of the year; for you the important celebrations are Christmass and New Year, for us it is the Carnival".

This is, for sure, a pre-colonial Pagan tradition that adopted a semi-Christian symbolism and managed to find a place in the Roman liturgical calendar... so technically it's not a "New Year" celebration, but it works as if it was a New Year celebration... and it is also a fertility rite that works as if it was like a "Beltane" celebration.

Frazer in his incredibly amazing and incredibly boring book ("The Golden Bough", of course) speaks about the 1st May celebrations and the rite of the walking trees. I wrote a terrible essay about it and about Austin Spare 16 years ago (read it with compassion! I was too young, too intrepid and not too wise! http://salonarcano.com.ar/contenidos/literatura/english/ensayo/waling_tree/index.html ).

Maybe there isn't an accurate answer to your question. I think this Carnival is what remained from a pre-colonial (Pagan) New Year celebration and a Fertility Rite that was a preparation for the Spring Equinox... but the celebration had to be placed somewhere in the Roman liturgical calendar and the "Carnival" was where it found its place.

My closest friend when I was a teen lived with his family and at their house there was a woman from Jujuy (the main province of Argentina where this type of Carnival takes place) who worked as a maid. I do remember that instead of asking for vacations during Christmas and New Year (which is when "we" usually have vacations here), she always requested vacations for the Carnival and travelled to her home town.

So it is not exactly a "New Year" celebration, but my wild guess is that this is what remains of a pre-colonial "New Year" celebration.

I found some articles written for tourists which describe the Carnival in Tilcara, a bigger town in Jujuy:

(The one I saw, in a town that is smaller than Tilcara, didn't involve a "secret location" for the tomb... the tomb was placed 10 meters away from the house in which the dance took place... and it was clearly not performed to please any tourist -my girlfriend and I were the only non-locals and we were there just by chance, because I black cloud caught us in the middle of the road and it was impossible to drive anymore during the night, so we slept there, then woke up and we found that there was a Carnival! I cursed that black cloud and now I thank that black cloud!!! ;) ).