The Origin of Milagros Offerings
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Rev. Wendy Van Allen, author of the new Relighting the Cauldron.
Over the centuries when the Roman Catholic and later Christian churches supplanted the Pagan religions of Europe, we know that many pre-Christian traditions, such as well offerings and blessings, were re-Christened and absorbed by the Church and continued as folk customs and traditions, even up until today. As a result, many of these customs and beliefs were then claimed by Christians to have always been their own, and we Pagans often find it tiresome to point out that the origin of these types of practices has nothing to do with Judeo-Christian theology or religion.
It is important to recognize that this same pattern happened when Christianity was brought to the Americas by the Conquistadores and early European settlers. One such example are the offerings known as Milagros. These are tiny representations of prayers depicting petitions for health, wealth, or other kinds of fervent personal requests, often cast in metals such as tin or silver, and offered to God, Jesus, Mary or the saints by affixing them to holy relics. Believers pray over these offerings for a miracle (which is the translation of the word Milagro) to help them overcome illness or misfortune or to achieve some kind of personal success.
While traveling in Peru, I visited the Túcume Archaeological site, a site discovered in the late 20th century that was a holy location for a succession of ancient people. The earliest culture, also known as Sicán, was a civilization that developed between 800 AD. and 1375 AD., in the north coast of Peru. I discovered that the Milagros practice predated the Spanish conquest. Archaeologists uncovered thousands of delicate and exquisite examples of Milagros that were buried in the tomb as offerings. They depict all varieties of prayers and petitions for items of every day life: sewing shears, farming implements, fish, birds, deer, sacred animals, and various body parts. New World archaeologists often stress the importance of the people of the highlands of Peru and the Amazonian basin, who were highly advanced, as possibly the ancestral people to later cultures ranging throughout South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. All of these areas through the Spanish conquest are now predominately Catholic. And the practice of Milagros has continued.
The practice of Milagro offerings, therefore, may represent an example of absorption of Indigenous tradition into the folk customs of the Church. It also may relate to similar practices known and practiced throughout the ancient Roman empire by the Pagan people of Europe whom it absorbed. Either way, the practice is a good illustration of the ancient concept of sympathetic magic as well as the shamanic concept of reciprocity. By offering an item of value in the shape of the afflicted limb or the desired object, a believer makes a worthy exchange with their deities seeking to be relieved of their suffering or to gain something of importance in their life.
Our thanks to Wendy for her guest post! For more from Rev. Wendy van Allen, read her article, “Wisdom from the Amazon.”