Religious freedom has a long history in Mexico, dating back to 1860 when Juarez abolished the Catholic Church's supremacy and opened the door for other religions to officiate their systems of worship. This freedom was officially recognized in the Constitution of 1917, and in the more than 58 years since then, it has been embraced by a diverse array of religious associations.
Today, there are approximately 3,500 non-Catholic religious groups legally operating in the country, according to INEGI, with many belonging to various branches of Protestant Christianity. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the diversity of religious expression in Mexico.
Hinduism is not a single religion, but rather a confederation of religions with no official, authoritative doctrine. With over 800 million adherents worldwide, the majority of whom reside in India, it is one of the world's most diverse religious traditions. While it may be rare to find Hindus in Latin America, a group that has captured a significant following worldwide is the Hare Krishnas.
With a presence in six cities across Mexico and approximately 5,000 followers according to INEGI, this congregation - officially known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) - offers a unique spiritual experience that includes chanting, festivities, and playful acts. The group's central focus is on devotion to Krishna, a central figure in the epic poem Bhagavad Gita and the representation of the consciousness of God.
Krishna is considered the eighth avatar of Vishnu and the supreme personality of God. ISKCON's founder was the Bengali Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, who arrived in Mexico in the 1970s. Many of the followers live a monastic lifestyle, studying Bengali and leading a life of strict prayer and celebration. The group's main center of operations is located in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City.
During Felipe Calderón's presidency, the war on drugs and cartel conflicts turned Ciudad Juárez into one of the world's most dangerous places. Over six years, more than ten thousand people lost their lives to violence. While the city has seen a reduction in violence since its peak in 2010, the damage remains irreparable.
In this bleak context, a group of Christian superheroes known as Los Angeles Mensajeros emerged from the Psalm 100 church. These young people dedicate their days to visiting crime scenes and police stations, dressed as angels and holding signs with messages such as "Murderer, God forgives," "Sicario, repent, Christ loves you," "Zeta, seek God's forgiveness," and "Chapo Guzman, time is short, repent."
They represent a new wave of evangelicals in Mexico, recruiting ex-gang members, ex-prostitutes, and ex-narco-traffickers and helping them find hope and redemption in Christ. The group's leader, Carlos Mayorga, is a communicator who has introduced these performance practices to attract the media's attention and spread the Word of God in his community.
The New Age movement, an expression of a global religious sensibility, has sparked a fascination with spirituality rooted in nature, ancestral wisdom, magic, esotericism, and alternative healing. Since the 1980s, this movement has intersected with various syncretic religious traditions. In Mexico City, there has been a surge of interest in the biblical figures of angels and archangels, with chapels and temples dedicated to these beings cropping up across the city.
One of the main groups dedicated to angel worship is led by Lucy Aspra, a Venezuelan woman living in Mexico who has established two temples: La Casa de los Angeles and La Fortaleza de San Miguel. These spaces offer courses, therapies, and rituals that mix elements of Catholic liturgy with a contemporary interpretation of Judeo-Christian angels that resonates with modern esotericism.
While it's not considered a formal religion, this movement has gained popularity among middle-class urban women, who combine it with other belief systems. Self-help books, angelic Reiki therapies, and angelic tarot readings all contribute to this unique way of relating to traditional angels from a modern perspective.
Despite its apparent distance from Mexican national reality, Wicca - a variant of magic - is thriving in certain cities throughout the country. Celtic Magic, a group of practitioners of the Wicca or Celtic-Faery spiritual tradition, teaches the magic and ancestral witchcraft that originated in Northern Europe.
These "new witches and warlocks" have left the forests and now live in cities, basing their beliefs on the duality present in all things - active and passive energy. These forces manifest in many forms but ultimately can be circumscribed to five universal elements: air, fire, water, earth, and spirit.
Practitioners use these elements to work their magic, despite their teachings emphasizing nature and forests. Interestingly, despite this emphasis, most of their followers reside in cities. The leaders of these covens are typically highly educated women, with many having university degrees. This spirituality is seen as a feminist response to patriarchal and macho-dominated dominant spiritual traditions.
Wiccan groups meet in covens, and there are many denominations to choose from. The movement's openness towards sexuality and diverse ways of living have made it especially appealing to LGTB+ people, with many from this community finding acceptance and community within these groups.
Shamanism is a group of traditional beliefs and practices that focus on communicating with the spirit world. The shaman is the practitioner who may heal illnesses caused by evil spirits or leave their body to enter the supernatural realm to seek answers. Shamanism is based on the idea that invisible forces or spirits that govern the visible world have an impact on people's lives.
In Mexico, magical-religious elements and rituals from ancient indigenous groups have survived, not only among indigenous communities but also among mestizos and whites in both rural and urban Mexican society. Numerous groups follow specific shamans, and the local traditions and beliefs give rise to a wide variety of shamans.
On one hand, there are traditional healers or magicians in indigenous communities who follow their spiritual traditions, often close to herbalism or pre-Hispanic rituals but mixed with Catholic imagery, and who do not refer to themselves as practicing shamanism.
On the other hand, in urban mestizo environments, many of these rituals and beliefs have been reinvented and elaborated upon. This has led to the upper middle classes using indigenous groups' rituals, plants, and procedures as a form of spiritual practice, elevating shamanism to a higher level of sophistication.
Psychic Surgeons see themselves as a brotherhood united by their desire to help others. Their main spiritual figure is "El Hermanito Cuauhtémoc." The group originated with Barbara Guerrero, better known as Pachita, a famous psychic healer in the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Parral, Chihuahua, around 1900, Pachita passed away in Mexico City on April 29, 1979.
She was the most renowned "psychic surgeon" in Mexico and internationally and was the subject of investigations by Mexicans and foreigners alike. From a young age, Pachita healed people using medicinal herbs and teas but later began performing operations. She claimed that the spirit of Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, took over her body to heal through her, referring to him as "El Hermanito" (The Little Brother).
Today, 33 years after her death, the spirit of El Hermanito still appears to Pachita's followers, and she visits her disciples. Pachita's grandson is now the recipient of El Hermanito, making it a family legacy. He is assisted by a group of "disciples" during surgeries. The cult is shrouded in a peculiar ritual; attendees gather in a house at night with all the lights turned off.
According to the group, El Hermanito doesn't appear in artificial light and could harm the medium. The spirit is invoked through chanting in the darkness, and when El Hermanito enters the medium, his voice changes and he moves from patient to patient, deciding whether to speak with them, cure them, or operate on them.
Disbelievers claim that it's all a staged performance and that the isolation of the senses helps enhance the experience. However, hundreds of people claim to have been cured of complicated illnesses, and individuals from all walks of life endorse this system of spiritual healing, contributing to the group's closed and secret following.
Trinitarian Marian Spiritualism
Trinitarian Marian Spiritualism is a religious movement in Mexico with 35,995 declared spiritualists (according to INEGI). It's an adaptation of the philosophical current known as Spiritualism, or the Spiritist Doctrine, which originated in mid-19th century France and is based on the writings of French spiritualist Allan Kardec.
In Mexico, this doctrine was influenced by local shamanic culture during the Porfirian era, leading to the formation of a new religious cult. The movement focuses on the idea of spirits inhabiting human beings who practice healing and deliver messages from beyond. Over a hundred temples in Mexico follow this trend, where congregations attend cátedras and healing sessions.
The cathedra refers to the medium's unification with divinity in meditation, entering into ecstasy to synthesize light in their mind and convey a message to the congregation. Spiritualist mediums develop this faculty through many years of discipline, preparation, dedication, faith, and sincerity with the spiritual world and their commitment to the faithful.
The rites and symbols used are a combination of Catholic tradition, 19th-century French Spiritualism, and the spirit of Freemasonry, resulting in a distinctly Mexican syncretism that has grown and survived throughout the 20th century. Mexico City has the highest number of temples concentrated in suburban and peripheral neighborhoods, particularly in Ecatepec, Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, and Chimalhuacán.
Many believers combine this cult with Catholicism, as the same spiritual figures are revered in both religions: God the Father, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. Each temple is free to adapt its doctrine to local customs and practices.
The New Jerusalem
The New Jerusalem is a messianic millenarian town located in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán. Its inhabitants, who are devoted to the Virgin of the Rosary, believe that the end of the world is imminent and that only they will be saved. It is a fanatical religious community where women wear long cloaks, and marriage, sexual relations, alcohol, and mass media are forbidden.
The community prays that the end of the world will not come during these apocalyptic seasons. Although its heyday was in the late 1970s and 1980s, it still has a community that remains faithful to its principles. Schisms and expulsions have occurred, and the community has been implicated in crimes such as murder, rape, and drug trafficking. Nevertheless, the atmosphere of faith and beatitude within the community remains intact.
The Bishop of San Martin de Tours rules the place, and a visionary, apparently his daughter, continues to receive messages from the Virgin of the Rosary. Nothing happens without the approval of both characters. The community's practices are inspired by pre-Second Vatican Council Catholicism with a local touch.
In addition to the Virgin and the Saints, they venerate their characters, such as Lázaro Cárdenas or a former visionary named Agapito, whom they consider to be saints. The community ordains its priests, deacons, and nuns.
With a population of 5,000, 70% of the inhabitants have some form of religious consecration. Dissident groups that have been expelled from the community want to regain their properties and fight for education and Mexican law to be implemented within the community.
Full Citation: Alejandro Andrade Pease.” Breve Recorrido Por Algunos Cultos Mexicanos No Oficiales | Alejandro Andrade Pease, www.revistadelauniversidad.mx/articles/2dd8f62c-291f-4fb0-a599-e0262f647530/breve-recorrido-por-algunos-cultos-mexicanos-no-oficiales. Online