Hate was just a legend,
War was never known.
People worked together
And they lifted many stones.
Then they carried them to the flatlands
But they died along the way
Then they built up with their bare hands
What we still can’t do today.
And I know she’s living there
And she loves me to this day
I still can’t remember where
Or how I lost my way.
He came dancing across the water
What a killer.
— Neil Young
In the Tlaxcala district of Mexico City, there is an old basilica and a new shrine, both dedicated to the Lady of Guadalupe who, according to tradition, appeared four times in that area to a native Indian named Juan Diego. For Mexican Catholics and the Catholic faithful in many of the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas, this is the holiest ground in the hemisphere. But it was not always so.
The true holy ground was a small hill behind the basilicas. The Aztecs called the hill Tepeyec, and so it is known today. Tepeyec was consecrated to Tonantzin, the earth and fertility Goddess, whom they called Our Lady Mother and who was also a Moon Goddess.
Atop Tepeyec stood Her temple, where Aztec royalty visited, to receive divine revelation. Her worshippers made great pilgrimages here, just as Mexican Catholics now make annual pilgrimages to the Basilica which replaced the temple.
In 1531, things were not going well for the Spanish conquerors. The native peoples were rebellious, resentful and not at all receptive to the religion that the Spaniards were attempting to force upon them at sword’s point. The Spaniards had taken their land and riches, killed and enslaved tens of thousands in the process, and were intent on destroying their native religion.
As Patricia Monagahan writes in The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, “In 1531, an Indian farmer named Juan Diego was passing by the hill called Tepeyac outside of Mexico City on his way to an early morning Mass when he heard birds singing overhead, whistles, flutes and beating wings.
“Then he saw a maiden dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess. She spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language, Juan’s language, and had skin as brown as cinnamon.”
Her message was simple. She told him that She wanted a church to be built in Her honor on this hill, wherein She would receive and compassionately console all Her suffering children.
Patricia tells us that when Juan brought this message to the bishop, he “was not impressed and demanded some proof. The Lady told Juan to climb the hill and gather an armful of roses, Castilian roses, which should not have been blooming then. But when Juan opened his cloak to show the Bishop the miraculous roses, he was surprised to see the Bishop fall on his knees. On the cloak was an image of the virgin as she appeared to him, surrounded by an oval frame of stars. Of course, the chapel was built.”
So which Lady was it? The Aztec Goddess, or Maria, the mother of the Christos?
Is there really, ultimately any difference? The Goddess, by a thousand names, saw the bloodshed, the misery, the destruction of Her people, both brown and white. Because of Her miraculous appearance, the Lady pointed to a way of reconciliation, even though it meant the destruction of the old ways.
Yet in many respects the old ways survive. Although the Catholic Church may claim their victory over the ancient religion, a closer look may just as easily declare that She gave Her people a way to worship Her without further persecution.
And so, to this day, they do.