“Praying to the Devil to keep them safe”

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At the beginning of October, I was fascinated to read this BBC feature dealing with the active worship of the Devil in certain working mines in South America, then earlier today, by another one of those cosmic coincidences, I learned that my son Jack has been to see one of these mines for himself.

The conditions in the mine in the BBC article sound horrific, so it’s little wonder that one of the workers there is quoted as saying “Outside the mine we are Catholics, and when we enter the mine, we worship the Devil.” My own grandfather worked in the mines in south Wales, but as he went underground in search of coal after he’d fought in the Great War of 1914-1918, I imagine that he regarded the Welsh mines, dangerous as they undoubtedly were, as by far the lesser of two evils.

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At the same time as they pray to the Devil, the Andean miners also worship a deity known as Pachamama, a benevolent Earth Mother, to further safeguard them from the dangers they face beneath the ground, while I understand that her effigy or likeness appears in the photograph above, behind the right hand of the Devil and the left hand of a human visitor to their terrible realm.

The dangers faced by the people who are forced to work in these mines as a means of keeping body and soul together are clearly so formidable and ever-present that the workers gladly place their faith in diabolical and pagan entities as a means of ensuring their survival, as the solace and security offered by their Christian faith are clearly insufficient. It reminds me of stories I’ve heard over the last few years of Christian clergy attending pagan ceremonies here in Britain in an attempt to understand why these gatherings hold an increasing appeal for so many people at a time when church attendance continues to decline.

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Surprisingly enough, even the Italian mafia in some of their previously secret initiation rites are now known to use what a BBC reporter describes as “an elaborate, neo-pagan” vocabulary. One example of this is where those being initiated are advised to respond, when anyone asks them where they’re from, by saying “My father is the Sun and my mother is the Moon.” Our ancestors who worshipped at Stonehenge millennia ago evidently held very similar beliefs and there are clearly some fantastically potent qualities to the archetypes of pagan gods and goddesses that make them resonate with us still, all these thousands of years down the line, even in our Age of Scientific Enlightenment when we’re landing spacecraft on comets.

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2 Responses to “Praying to the Devil to keep them safe”

  1. Dan H. says:

    To be honest, I can’t say that I blame them. I’d be looking for all the help I can get, when working in conditions like that, with people stupid enough to use dynamite underground, especially in a place already riddled with old workings. The generally-accepted technique for hard-rock mining is to drill a number of holes, pack each with a small charge of gunpowder or similar low explosive, and then detonate them in sequence so the ones round the outside go just before the ones in the middle.

    That cuts the edges of the blast zone, then the rest of the charges shear a section of rock away fairly cleanly, without smashing a large area to bits.

    Dynamite by contrast is a high explosive, and shatters rock with a shock wave. One dynamite charge does the same work as several gunpowder shots, but also heavily cracks all the rock around the blast zone, and does so unpredictably. When workers go back in to shovel out rock and ore, they never know if the roof will come down when the debris is removed. This alone probably pushes up the danger factor tenfold if not more.

    The area there looks treeless. British mines traditionally used pine pit props, which when they fail under compressive forces fail slowly and noisily. A steady knock, knock, bang sound meant the props were failing, and getting out quick was a really good idea (this is where the legend of the Cornish mine Knockers comes from). At a rough guess, that mine will be very poorly propped, with false floors held up with whatever they could find, which won’t be much. Another old trick is to stack the waste rock (known as deads) up inside the mine, to save carrying it out again. Explorers of historic mines quite often refer to this habit as “hanging death”, as the pit props holding up such stacks slowly rot over time.

    If you then add in a lack of any plan of where has been mined out, and also put in completely untrained miners with no concept of health and safety, together with frankly idiotic practices and no ventilation worthy of the name, and it all ads up to death-on-a-stick.

    Were I faced with that, I’d be wanting all the supernatural help I could get, and I’d be looking to move into the mining support industry as soon as possible, if not before.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robin Melrose says:

    Yes, pagan elements in Christianity is a fascinating subject. As we’ve said before on the “real” EI site, St Melor was worshipped at Amesbury, and his story is very close to the story of the Irish Nuada, AKA the god Nodens worshippped at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire. Michael the Archangel was a popular early saint. He was associated with high places, bulls, and caves, and conducted souls to the next world. There was an early church of St Michael at Malmesbury in Wiltshire (an Iron Age hillfort), on Glastonbury Tor, which was probably a sacred place in the Neolithic on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, a tidal island which was probably sacred in the Late Bronze Age, and St Michael de Rupe, an Iron Age hillfort on the western edge of Dartmoor in Devon. It wouldn’t surprise me if St Michael replaced an Iron Age hillfort god, possibly the underworld god that Julius Caesar calls Dis.
    The Virgin Mary was also very popular in the medieval period, from as early as the 7th century. By the 11th century, six feasts of the Virgin were celebrated in England. In fact, England was the first country in Western Europe to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: the feast is first found in a calendar of the Old Minster, Winchester. We’ve talked on the “real” EI about prehistoric goddesses, and I’m sure they existed. In early Welsh Arthurian tales there is a shadowy character called Mabon son of Modron. Modron was originally Matrona, goddess of the River Marne, who is related to the triple goddesses known as the Matres or Matronae. And Guinevere, who figures in eary Arthurian tales, was most likely a triple goddess.

    Liked by 1 person

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