My friend Don P’s people group, like most in our area, is quite animistic. Animists have a far greater awareness of spiritual realities than the average westerner. As I spent time with Don P on Saturday, he shared some interesting things:
First, he told me a story about the small lake they have in their village. The lake is–or at least used to be–enchanted, according to the locals. He said the water would move as if it were alive, and sometimes a wave would come up and grab people and drown them. Two Catholic priests came to their village many years ago, and the first one was grabbed by the lake and drowned. The second priest went and knelt beside the lake, Don P said, and began to pray over it. After he did, the enchantment was broken. The water ceased to move as if it were alive; now it is still like a normal lake.
Don P went on to relate a story his grandfather told him. He said the village used to have five lakes, but now it only has two. Maybe a hundred years ago, a village belonging to a neighboring people group was fighting with Don P’s village. According to Don P’s grandfather, they had people who were good at casting spells and putting curses on others. Through witchcraft, they were able to take some of the lakes from Don P’s village and have them brought to their own village. From a distance, they also caused the (Catholic, I think) church building in Don P’s village to catch on fire.
One other interesting conversation we had was about belief in naguals (pronounced na-wals). Most villages in our area that have this belief say a nagual is a person who turns into an animal at night. In Don P’s village, it’s a little different. They don’t think naguals are people; they think they’re devils. He said a nagual looks like a person, but its knees don’t bend. He went on to mention that his wife had just seen one a couple of days before near there house. It was howling. I asked how she knew it was one, and he said because it was shaking a large tree back and forth. The tree is far too big for a person to shake.
Anecdotes such as these are common in the villages of our area. Though the people are Catholic in name, their religion far more closely resembles animism, because they hold many of the beliefs they had before the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The advantage in sharing the gospel with animists (and there are disadvantages, too) is they don’t have to be convinced of spiritual realities. They are already aware of them.