Religion and belief in Perú

Religion and belief in Perú

The dominant religion in Perú is Catholicism. There are many fine guides to the beliefs and practices of this, and it is certainly not the purpose of this section to lay out Catholic theology. Perú is, however, a country which many visit in the hope that it will change them. They want to feel the tendrils of ancient thought, and to have mystic insights on the misty spires of Machu Picchu. They want to be drummed and drugged into insight in the dark jungle. Frankly, we do not feel competent to offer a guide to this. As a consequence, this section does not pretend to be a balanced survey of religious thought in Perú. Rather, its purpose is to help the reader understand what is going on when they encounter a ceremony, or perhaps when they encounter a strange-looking rural festival. The approach is anthropological, not theological.

We offer four sections.

The influence of each section on what follows - and in particular, of the peasant religions at the time of the Inca on current Catholic practice - is particularly important to grasp if you want to understanding the country and its people.

Pre-Inca religions

There were no single, unified or predominant religions before the time of the Incas, although the Chavin-Huantar civilisation spread largely mysterious statues and carvings the length of the coast. (There is a lengthy section on history elsewhere that describes these and other cultures in more detail.) The Chavin cult was associated with the reverence of jaguars, and carvings showing jaguar-priests and half-man, half-cat are widespread on the coast. We know next to nothing more about this long-lasting religion and culture, although the role of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi, T. peruvianus) seems to be emphasised in various glyphs.

San Pedro cactus blooming next to Huantar ruins

The Paracas-Nazca culture created the equally inscrutable geoglyphs, huge drawings in the desert which were created by removing the darker surface rocks. These appear to have been processional, and suggest that the religion of the time was concerned with animal deities such as spiders and monkeys. There is much evidence that these cults were concerned with the arrival of the Spring waters from the mountains, but none that they had a grip of astronomy or calendars. People were buried in a foetal position, wrapped in grave goods. These textiles give us some sense of their life and beliefs: heavily focused on the sea and the land, offering homage to a myriad of deities, supporting a priest caste. and we know that a substantial number of notables had their heads deformed at birth. This was almost certainly done for religious reasons, as we also know that to survive, these people had repeated trepanation, in which the skull was pierced with flint knives to expose the brain. High cerebrospinal fluid pressures are associated with visions, as are artificially low ones, as exemplified by contemporary movements which drill holes into the skulls of their devotees in order to to achieve the same result.

A bird glyph; or dinosaur?

The Chímu culture of the Northern coast traded with groups both to their North and South, and it appears to have been eclectic in its belief. Its art work was, however, a supreme achievement for the Americas of the time. It celebrates humanist values of comradeship, eroticism, affection and the appreciation of natural form. They were suppressed by the Incas in 1476 AD.

Spring rites, Puno district

Important Andean cultures emerged around Lake Titicaca, where the Aymara culture grew. Its views were to influence the Inca, who came from the same roots. However, they were also influenced by the Huari civilisation, which reached along the Andes to the North. Both had institutionalised religions which were used to legitimise conquest, to command obedience and to suppress dissent. Both, however, share a sense of the sacred that is associated with locations, which are said to be "huaca". This term has been debased in contemporary Perú to mean a prominent archeological site. Site raiders are, for example, called huaceros. In fact, however, this form of pantheism has more in common with the Islamic idea of "baraka", where certain places, phenomena and human relationships are said to hold mystery.

The Inca faith

The Inca developed a formal, organised religion as an instrument by which to generate solidarity and conformity. The peasants retained a parallel ethos based on huaca, local and tutelary deities. Organised religious thought recognised deity in the sky and Sun, in the fruitfulness of the Earth and in the depths, beneath the Earth. The practice of formal faith therefore revolved around these three principles.

The initial state religion focused on Inti, the sun god. His aspect was that of glorious maleness, power and force and he was thought to be the progenitor of the first Inca. He was, however, subject to a founder god, Viracocha, who was the creator, the patron of civilising arts and the master of change. Viracocha was a 'deep' figure, and something of an absent ruler until politics gave him prominence. Pachacutec Inca, who gave the initial impetus to the Inca empire, saw Viracocha as a personal deity. He developed the cult very strongly, identifying himself explicitly with the god. He appears to have identified the regime that he had supplanted with the Sun god Inti, and so demoted both his worship and the political importance of his priesthood.

We have, therefore, met the creator god and the Sun god. A third god, Inti Illapa, represented thunder, and more significantly, rain and fertility. His sister was the Moon. She had a separate domain which we shall meet in a moment. These two were followed by less elite groups, who sought personalised and interventionist deities, rather than grand abstractions and state religion.

These major figures were surrounded by a host of others, originating from three sources. First, some figures such as the rain goddess - as distinct from male Inta Illapa - are explicitly Inca, and no doubt descended from local apus or other gods of place. Second, conquered tribes brought - were forced to bring - their cults to Cusco as godly hostages, and there were around 300 such shrines in place at the empire's peak. It was also deemed appropriate to leave some of the more important cults alone, such as that at Pachacamac, near contemporary Lima. (This site was sacked by Pizarro's men early in the conquest, in search of gold. It and was found instead to house a shrine filled with the foul odours of sacrifice, dedicated to a dark, many-eyed wooden object of great antiquity. Naturally, the smashed it.) For present purposes, however, it is worth noting that a larger and more imposing Inca shrine had been built along side the Pachacamac temple as though to offset or overtop it. The third source of deities were the peasant religions, which we shall encounter in a moment. These are more gentle, intercessionary figures: the haughty Sun does not care about sick cows and dry fields, after all.

The priesthood was extremely powerful, although naturally subject to the Inca, who was after all a god. The upper reaches of the priesthood were born of noble blood and selected and trained for the task while still young. The lower ranks - those who actually dealt with the population at large on a daily basis - appear to have been commoners. The religious were entitled to a third of all production, equal to that of the Inca, although how this was divided between the many branches of religion is not clear. No doubt this was highly political and yet another mechanism of control. There were certainly a very large number of them in the Inca empire: one large temple at Cuzco is recorded to have had around 4000 priests in residence at its peak.

Priests had, essentially, two jobs. The first was to fulfill the calendrical duties, which were many and complex, involving rigidly defined ceremonies, fasts and other events. This occupied the 'noble' branch. The second activity consisted of enforcing orthodoxy, and specifically orthodoxy of thought. The Inca maintained a society in which the individual was subsumed in every way to the collective, and the collective to the state. How you behaved was absolutely prescribed, from dress to conduct, from the daily schedule of life to behaviour in adversity. It was, however, the job of the priesthood specifically to control how an individual thought.

To understand why this was considered so important, we need to understand what is now called 'magical thinking'. Modern societies are used to the idea of sequential causation: the rain falls, and as a consequence I get wet. My attitude before or during the my getting wet plays no part in the fact of its having rained. Magical thinking, by contrast, notes associations: I am soaking wet and hating it; and it is raining. The events and my attitude to them are somehow deeply connected. Therefore, if I feel badly about life in general, then I may play a part in making it rain. Bad thoughts may, therefore, attract bad events.

Magical thinking sees only connections and not the causal direction of these; and often places most stress on emotional events rather than those which we see as physically causative. It may be raining because I am feeling bad about life; or it may fail to rain when required as a result of my (or our, communal) generally negative thoughts. Droughts, disease and dereliction therefore follow on from or are associated with community dissent. If individuals or communities have 'bad' thoughts, therefore, bad events will follow. It is this association which the Inca priesthood had to manage.

Much of this duty consisted of sniffing out "bad elements" in a community, people who were responsible for anything from conventional crime or communal bad feeling to wider acts such as bringing drought or causing crop disease. The aim was to pluck out the offending element and so restore harmony in the ayllu. This was achieved by their identification and subsequent reform - through public or private confession, about which see below - or by onerous punishment or death. [Please see the section on society, here, to understand the deeply held communal conformity that governed - and governs - Andean ethics.]

Given the existence of human sacrifice, and the pervasive death penalty for quite minor offences, it follows that the Inca state church was a potent force for conformity and obedience. (Penalties could be commuted if one had wealth: a human could give his name to a llama to be sacrificed in his place, if he owned one.) Sacrifices were undertaken by smashing in the victim's head with a star-shaped stone.

One could also blunt a punishment by pre-confession: that is, by going to a priest and saying that one was about to steal, or to do one's utmost to stop the rain from falling. A lesser punishment or penance was then prescribed - perhaps the sacrifice of a guinea pig, or cuy. Priests were expected to prescribe a penance, and then to "suck the badness from a man's core, and spit it on the ground", as on the right. The Spanish saw this as a particularly reprehensible parody of Christian ritual. They also disliked the Trinity with which this section began, and a host of other fancied mockery.

Exorcism of bad thoughts

Priests were otherwise celibate. One of their duties was to find attractive young girls from across the empire, and to bring these into Cuzco for formal training as aclla cuna, or chosen women. These lived in isolation, they provided support for the priesthood through weaving and the like. The unsanctioned loss of their virginity ordained that their village - or more properly, their allyu - should be destroyed and all its inhabitants killed. The relatives of the seducer received the same retribution.

Around 1500 such girls lived at Cuzco. Some would live out their lives in isolation, notably those of noble blood. Others would be deconsecrated at puberty and married off to high officials, who were thereby both honoured and subject to a spy system. A significant number were, however, sacrificed at the major festivals. The Inca could also have his choice of them, and it was not for nothing that Pachacutec was known as the Father of his country. (As a footnote, children born of this union could not succeed the Inca. Rather, the Inca had to sire a child on a close family relation: a mother, a sister. This, too, appalled the Spanish, whose royal family of the time were, of course, obviously very far from being inbred.)

The greatest festival was Inti Raymi, which took place on the shortest day of the year, in June. Officials were expected to come from all over the empire, in costly style. Attendees fasted for three days. They then met the royal ayllu - less a family than a power-alignment - in the dark before dawn, in the central square of Cuzco. The first rays of the Sun struck the Inca, who offered a cup to the god. The crowd blew kisses to the sun as this happened. The cup was then poured into a channel through which maize beer flowed to a communal tank, from which the crowd could drink. Attendees then presented the priests with gifts. The Spanish saw this, too, as a mockery of Holy Communion.

Sacrifices followed, chiefly of black llamas. Soothsayers used the entrails to read the pattern of the year ahead, just as they did in much of the Mediterranean and near East for millennia. A flame was lit, using the rays of the Sun and a concave mirror aligned to focus on a tuft of red wool. This "god's fire" was maintained by the aclla cuna in Cuzco for the next year. The ceremony then moved to the children of the Inca, who were first given beer and then served beer to the adults. Festivals involving beer in less formal circumstances then began and continued for nine days. The processions home must have looked somewhat battered.

Death was seen as a gateway, and tombs often contain grave goods. However, the Spanish commentators who are our chief source of information about the Inca had nothing to say about the nature of these beliefs. The Inca had no writing, but the oral tradition suggests that they saw birth and individuality as an unwelcome and temporary separation from an oceanic group identity, to which one returned at death. "I came from the greater ayllu and I return to it." Crimes against the ayllu - we would say, against society - blemished the individual, much as the Hindus and some Buddhists equate the kurma loading down a soul with striving, ill-humour or other forms of attachment to an illusionary existence. In the case of the Inca, such blemishes would flaw the re-incorporation of the individual in the whole.

Pagan events near Ayacucho

The poorer people were inclined to worship the Moon, sister of Inti Illapa, the goddess of all the things that matter to farmers. She was also patroness of all things feminine and connected with reproduction. Vagina-shaped tunnels were notably sacred to her, as were caves into which rivers ran or the Moon could be expected to shine. (There is a fine example of this near Cusco - see here.) Her followers emphasised the importance of huaca, local sources of a sacredness that emerge from rocks, trees, caves and the like. The great snow peaks were particularly full of huaca, being where the apus (the lords of sacred places) lived. Many places are seen as inherently dangerous, emanating forces that can cause illness or bad luck. They were to be avoided or approached only with care. Journeys that passed places guarded by apus would need their approval and consent.

The Mother Earth (Pacha Mama) was a further addition to the pantheon of the poor, where she remains today, vaguely confused with the Virgin Mary. [See here for more on this.] She is, both disguised and directly, much revered the Andes today. In the central region, for example, many communities celebrate the harvest by dressing a tree with presents, balloons and ribbons, and then dancing around it in honour of Pacha Mama. The tree is then felled and the children gather up the gifts. New trees are then planted to honour Pacha Mama.

The shamanic tradition

The Inca - and the Spanish after them - tended to see the selva, the jungle, as a vast ocean of malevolence, within which dwelt people of strange powers.

This tradition has deep roots. The much earlier Nazca culture had used jungle animals as symbols in their religion, and their textiles still show shamans dressed more for the tropics than the chilly coast. At least some of the potency which has been attributed to the shamans, the wise men of the jungle, can be linked with the power of psychotropic drugs that are obtained from the forest, chief amongst them ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca is made from a mixture of several tropical plants, usually involving Banisteriopsis caapi, Psychotria viridis and Diplopterys cabrerana. The first of these is a vine, shown on the right. The active ingredient is found in the in the bark of the stem. The other two contribute their leaves, and the whole concoction is boiled for a lengthy period to create the brew.

Each ayahuascero tends to have their own recipe, both for its production and delivery mechanism. The decoction is normally drunk, although snuffs, ointments and rectal infusions are all known. The result is, however, the delivery of a complex mix of alkaloids, called yage in Colombia and ayahuasca in Perú and Ecuador.

Banisteropsis caapi

Ingestion produces two measurable results in the minds of most healthy individuals. The first of these is increased suggestibility or, as its enthusiasts put it, lowered personal barriers and increased openness. One feels ones core of identity and inhibition to be dissolving. Second, it generates complex hallucinations. These range from coloured fringes to one's vision to deep disturbances in the way which the mind emotes and handles concepts. Visual hallucinations are often angular and jagged, much in the manner of traditional textiles.

The deeper consequences are less tractable to language. A common response is a sense of antiquity and continuity, and of the objective reality of the living amd social systems in which one is enmeshed. There is a collapse of one's ability to segregate categories and ideas. A neurophysiologist would probably look to an impact in the temporal lobes, which handle both the categorisation of our senses and the cataloguing of our ideas about categories.

The use of drugs is usually combined with drumming and chanting. A great deal of scientific work has been done on the physiological consequences of these practices, which are essentially similar world-wide. There seems to be a standard physiological response which they produce in people who use them. Cortisols and other stress hormones are lowered, and the immune system appears to benefit. To quote one published study: "The positive psychological effects of shamanic drumming relate specifically to respect to stress and anxiety management, to the control of mood disturbance and to the promotion of subjective well-being."

Start Please click the button to hear a shaman's chant during a rite of cleansing.

Be that as it may, the combination of drugs, chanting, belief systems and a great deal of practice undoubtedly change an individual. Practitioners are called "shamans". The word 'shaman' comes to English from the Tungus language, via Russian. In Perú, they are called brujos (witches) to their back and curanderos (healers) to their face. Almost all practitioners are male, although there are many women who practice fringe spiritual practices, notably in Lima. Naturally, they are called brujas.

Anthropologists distinguish shamanism from priesthood by two measures. First, shamans are not a part of an organised system. They act as individuals, apprenticing themselves to masters, and their client base tends to be local. Second, their motivation is ecstatic and personal - they undertake their rites for their own benefit, only incidentally offering a service to others. Shamanism has been called the "technique of ecstasy." Ecstasy expresses itself in mystical flight, in the transmigration of the soul into an animal, in the control of fire or wind. Individual shamans will specialise in one of these, and local tradition tends to dictate which. Peruvian shamans are chiefly concerned with flight and with animal transmigration. They tend to be less interested in formal heavens and underworlds than shamans in other cultures, and whilst they may have a mystical identity - jaguar, eagle - they do not have a pantheon of helpers that (for example) Himalayan lamas are able to call upon.

Shamanic ecstasy is usually achieved after great and strenuous training. As with all mental disciplines, practice makes perfect. Most shamanic systems of initiation involve "breaking" the mind - the image of an unruly horse is frequently used for this - such that it does not rush about when it should be still. This is a painful process, involving self-degradation, physical abasement and endless patience. Drug-induced shamanism is, to a degree, a short-cut to these trials. People who visit Perú will find that there are people who have taken the hard road, and there are people who entertain tourists with some potted mysticism, a bit of drumming and some drugs. Some have even taken to substituting imported hallucinogens in place of true ayahuasca. What is plainly the case is that people who are seeking transcendence are unlikely to be enlightened on a ten day tour, and that it takes years to break the barriers beyond which the practitioners insist lies true insight. What may get broken is the visitor's health, insofar as the decoctions are occasionally mixed with ditch-water. People with a history of mental instability are known to have difficulties in coming to terms with the affects of ayahuasca.

Shamanism is, like any source of religious insight, open only to subjective assessment. However, anthropology shows us two global phenomena:

This second observation offers a handle by which to separate out the true shamans from would-be priests, imposters and those playing to the gallery. The shaman act for themselves and, if seen to be dedicated and successful, may or may not acquire a coterie of admirers. The other group see the tools of shamanism as the roots of a profession, which they use to support themselves by selling services to the community. People are thrilled and surprised when the genuine shaman volunteers to take the soul of a specific dying individual to where it needs to be; and the are shocked and astounded when the professional priest declines do so. However, the genuine figure is quite rare.

Shamans shade into curanderos - healers - and brujos - witches, who can be forces for good or evil. They also elide into religious ecstatics, such as hermits, and the frankly mad. Figures from the North of the country are generally regarded as being the most potent. They are valued as assuring the health of the community and feared for their capacity to cause harm. It is worth noting that the romantic image of the saintly shaman acting feely for public good is usually false. The assistant to the shaman will exact a large fee in cash or barter for a treatment. A typical fee to remove a curse - see below - will be the equivalent of a home made shotgun or two pigs. Northern shamans have power in the form of tsentsak, a form of semi-autonomous power which they can project. These are sometimes visualised as little spears and sometimes as sentient helpers. They reside in the shaman's body and are sent out on missions. They can lodge in the body of someone who has been cursed, and then another shaman will have to suck it out - see above, the Incas. Alternatively, the tsentsak can be sent on a curative mission. The possession of tsentsaks is something that is innate, rather than something for which one trains. Few women have them, and white or mestizo people have more potent ones than the local population. Disease is either contagious - something attributed to the arrival of the white people - or caused entirely by tsentsaks. These are called wenae.

The control of a person's tsentsak is mediated through the use of drugs. The most common is the Bannisteropsis-derived mixture described above. Brugmansia arborea and the poisonous Datura arborea are relied upon as additives for difficult cases. Divination can use these or the cactus-derived compounds described earlier.

Divination is not, in fact, a religious act although it may - and often does - call on the paraphernalia of religion. Societies in which former certainties are afiling often support large numbers of diviners, Perú certainly can claim a huge spectrum of diviners, many of whom also act as healers of body and situation. Some of these have world-wide reputations, at least in relevant circles, and are consulted accordingly. Coastal diviners use all manner of often very gaudy techniques, often associating themselves with particular shrines or places with huaca, which is to say, sanctity. A commonly-used approach is to work themselves into a chanting frenzy, and then spit copious amounts of distilled liquor onto the ground in invocation. They then channel the evoked and energised spirits; no pun intended. Sierra-based diviners, by contrast, use fewer props, act in a quiet(er) manner and typically rely on the throw of coca leaves, which of course make complex patterns when they fall on the ground. Activities in the jungle have already been discussed.

Peruvian catholicism

As indicated in the introduction to this section, it is not the job of this guide to describe the fundamental beliefs of Catholicism. Instead, we focus on how the Peruvian Catholic church is distinctive. The further one gets from Lima, the more distinctive it becomes.

Start Extremely beautiful church music has evolved, particularly in the North. Please click on the controls given below to hear two recordings from Cajamarca cathedral.
Start A chant or alabanza, also in Cajamarca, eventually drowned by the sounds of its old bells.
La compaña, Cusco.

Over 95% of Peruvians profess themselves to be Catholics. Many see the Church primarily as a necessary instrument of social control. ("If there were not the religious, then who would keep the stupid under control?") Many attend ceremonies more as a social tradition than as a religious commitment. This said, there is a huge body of belief which expresses itself in anything from special dress to powerful group outpourings at events such as the procession of Santa Rosa de Lima. Churches are full in most areas, and the poorer the area, the more that this is so.

The hierarchy of the church became firmly embedded in Peruvian life in the 450 year since the conquest. Schooling has a strongly religious element, and parents are expected to conduct their children through the rites of the church. Belief - and ethics, and patterns of behaviour - are therefore innate. The church has been a major force for both stability and conservatism. During the era of latifundismo (massive landholding by the few) the church was both land holder, marginal comforter of the oppressed and bulwark of the status quo. The confessional served as the local secret police in more than one occasion.

Perhaps because of this, Perú was a focus for the radical movement that arose in the 1970s, the Theology of Liberation, named after the 1973 book by Gustavo Gutiérrez. This book suggested - and not for the first time in the history of the Catholic church - that Christian duty was to oppose oppression, and to work for the poor. This became entwined with various revolutionary movements, not least the murderous Sendero Luminoso. The upshot is that church in Perú has lost much of its political influence and, to a degree, some of its moral authority. As with anywhere else, there are branches of extreme reaction and of open radicalism. Visitors will be gratified by the graceful system of worship that has evolved in, for example, Cajamarca, where near-operatic singing combines with drums, guitars and other less than traditional instruments.

The poorer and less educated people in Perú have a powerful sense of their identity as being connected with their community. (There is much more on this to be found elsewhere.) People feel a desire to serve in community functions that emphasise this solidarity. Successful contributions generate prestige and political weight. This need plays itself out in public events, in which rural Catholicism plays an enabling role.

Each settlement celebrates annual "patronal" festivals - Saint's days. The cost of doing this can be heavy, and in large cities like Ica or Cuzco, expenses can be crippling. The municipality tends to chip in with a major contribution, and the church organises collections. There may also be a religious brotherhood (hermandad) that contributes. As an example, the Señor de los Milagros festival is Perú's largest religious celebration. It takes place in Lima in October. The cost of it is largely funded by the brotherhood of the Señor de los Milagros. Equally, regional administration and departments of government express their identity and solidarity through festivals around patron saints. The armed forces, for example, celebrate the day of their patroness, la Virgen de las Mercedes across the country. The government of La Libertad region has la Virgin de la Puerta. The city of Lima has Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martín de Porres. These celebrations are highly spectacular and it is worth checking out the dates of them.

Festivals may be sponsored by the municipality, by private individuals or by some hybrid of this. The motives for getting involved as a sponsor are complex. People may want to advance of consolidate their social standing. Those who the community feel should step forward are, however, placed under considerable social pressure until they volunteer. Such volunteers are called mayordomos. They enlist their ayllu members to organize the celebrations. In turn, they "own" the prestige that comes from a successful event.


Local festivals are intricately mixed up with Incan and other traditions and beliefs, something known as 'syncretism' (sincretismo). We have already discussed the distinct, animist faith of the peasants during the Incan period. Snow peaks contain apus, or lords of place. Other places show huaca, or sometimes dangerous sacredness. The earth is Pacha Mama, closely identified with the Virgin Mary. Despite the immediate attempts to supplant all things Inca with Spanish practices, it had nonetheless been a deliberate policy of the Spanish to blur the boundaries between local beliefs and Catholicism. Former temples were often used as the site for churches, Saints were identified with Inca deities and bible stories were mixed with local mythos.

Local festivities have a Catholic veneer, therefore, but they celebrate local social needs and local patterns of belief. Harvest festivals as much thanks to Pacha Mama as they are vehicles for the Catholic message.[See here for a photo-essay on a festival at Andamarca. Here, the Earth Mother is besought for water, with priestly blessings on the ceremony.] Saints are often apus in thin disguise.

In addition to this, secular Spanish traditions such as riding festivals and bull fighting have become mixed with Andean traditions associated with ensuring the fertility of llamas, the burying of gifts for the Pacha Mama or the offering of alcohol to the apus. Undoing the influences on a simple country festival is a semioticist's dream. As an example, the town of Tarma celebrates Easter with a fine ceremony. People come from miles around with baskets of flower petals, and each ayllu marks out a length of the street which is to be used later for processions. Each team create pictures using flower petals, which cover the width of the street and extend for 5-10 metres. These pictures may be religious, pre-Christian in inspiration, semi-political or all of these mixed together. The most common are highly detailed images on biblical themes, often copied from illustrated bibles and religious texts, but with Andean additions and pagan motifs. Around midnight, after a church service, the figures of saints and catafalques containing waxen bodies emerge from the church, covered with white arum lilies, twinkling lights and candles. These are taken in procession across the petal murals whilst fireworks are let off. Once the images and coffins have returned to the church, the town parties until dawn on chicha beer and roast cuy, guinea pig. Gifts are buried in the earth and libations of alcohol are poured over them.

Such rituals are replicated all over the country, each evolving and changing. The poor districts around the capital are home to many magical-religious cults of a vaguely Catholic nature. These are changing and mutating at enormous speed, often entwined with shamanism and the use of drugs.

Other faiths

Protestants make up a small fraction of the population: perhaps 4%. Missionary activity, particularly amongst the Mormons, has intensified amongst the urban poor. Protestantism is seen as a route away from the "overheads" of Catholicism, and also as a declaration of individuality and self-betterment. The collectivism of Peruvian society has, in its lowest reaches, had a stifling affect on enterprise. If the group cannot do better, runs the unwritten law, then nobody shall be allowed to succeed. Catholicism, at least in the flavours discussed above, tends to reinforce this. For example, relatively wealthy people are, effectively, fined by their community in order to finance festivals. Joining the Protestant churches is often a way of slipping this net. However, this is more practical in the large towns than in the villages.

The key focus for missionary activity has been the jungle, where the issue is less one of conversion from one flavour of Christianity to another than conversion from paganism. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has developed a long-standing relationship with the Ministry of Education that they should take on the education of various tribal groups in the Amazon. This is not without controversy, as much because this is a US organisation as for its Protestant affiliation. However, its regional influence is strong. If you travel deep in the jungle, you will almost certainly encounter the missions and make use of their practical services.