The ecstasy in crowds

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As it has been this time of the year, tomorrow’s front pages will have awesome photos of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, even a million perhaps this year, incredibly packed together as they follow an image, considered miraculous, called the Black Nazarene.

It is a statue so unusual in Christian iconography: Jesus Christ, black-skinned yet still with European features, suffering under the weight of the Cross where he would be crucified, yet garbed in kingly robes of medieval monarchs and wearing a three-rayed crown.

Touching the image, even just the holy carruaje (carriage) that carries it, the ropes that pull it, or even your handkerchief that a procession attendant uses to touch the statue for you upon your request, or your mere participation in the procession, will result in the granting of some boon. I can’t forget a participant’s reply two years ago when asked by a TV reporter why he has been such a  “devotee”: “The first time I joined, I earned enough money that year to buy a Tamaraw FX. Next year I got a Revo.  This year, I’m hoping to buy a Fortuner.”

As a reporter most of my life, I can say that over the years, the Black Nazarene crowd has become much bigger. But I don’t think this is because of a resurgence of faith, but because the media each year glorify the event, reporting celebrities as devout followers of the Black Nazarene and casually reporting as fact devotees’  claims of miracles and prayers answered —  encouraging more and more people to  join the procession.  Just 10 years ago, the procession was a minor story, given just a 3- or 5-minute coverage on TV news. Last year, as it will be this year, it was the main news story, with at least 30 minutes of airtime devoted to it, including scores of interviews with participants.


The yearly Black Nazarene procession, participated in by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos, is considered by religious Catholics as yet another proof of God’s existence and the correctness of the Catholic faith. “How could so many be wrong in their devotion,” they ask.  More importantly I think, participants themselves report experiencing ecstasy, even religious enlightenment, just by joining the Traslacion and suffering from being nearly compressed out of air in the packed crowd.

However, such phenomenon, which involves thousands of devotees packed in a procession that winds through the city’s streets, or assembling in one holy site, isn’t unique to Christianity.  You wouldn’t guess what countries are known for having such phenomenon of huge religious processions that have over the years become tourist attractions:  Japan, India and Taiwan.

 Clockwise from upper right: Procession for the goddess Mazu in Taiwan; Hadaki Matsuri or  “Naked Man Festival” in Japan; Janasthani, or celebration of Indian god Krishna’s birthday and the Black Nazarene Traslacion in the Philippines last year

Clockwise from upper right: Procession for the goddess Mazu in Taiwan; Hadaki Matsuri or  “Naked Man Festival” in Japan; Janasthani, or celebration of Indian god Krishna’s birthday and the Black Nazarene Traslacion in the Philippines last year

Matsuri

Japan, in fact, is known for its centuries-old festivals (matsuri), in which images or representations of Shinto gods and goddesses are put on carriages and pulled, in the way the Black Nazarene is, along a city’s or a town’s streets, followed by thousands of devotees.

I’ve seen one in Kyoto (the Gion Matsuri), and it is an awesome event, with giant floats so elaborate they have been called mobile museums.  In a way, just like the motivation of devotees in the Black Nazarene procession, the Gion procession is part of a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fires, floods and earthquakes.

A most unique kind of matsuri are the Kanamara in Kawasaki City and Hone in towns near Nagoya city, in which the image of veneration is a giant phallus, symbol of fertility for a bountiful crop–or human–harvest.  Probably the most photographed festivals are the  Hadaka or “Naked Man” matsuris held in several sites in Japan.  The event involves thousands of men wearing only loin-clothes in the cold of mid-winter jostling to catch sticks thrown by the priest, which are supposed to make their year a lucky one. (Shown in accompanying collage of photos.)

One variation that reminds one of the Black Nazarene involves the town’s designation of a “holy man,” who is carried in a procession from one major temple to another. A “devotee” who succeeds in getting through the dense crowd and touching him is supposed to be extremely lucky in the coming year.

India’s mostly Hindu festivals for centuries have been attended by tens of thousands of devotees that some have become deadly in recent decades, because of stampedes and even terrorist bombings by rival religious groups.

The most important of these is the Kumbh Mela, in which the Hindu faithful gather to bathe in sacred rivers, mainly the Ganges.  It is considered to be the biggest peaceful gathering in the world, in which an incredible 20 million and more people assemble in one place. (Thirty-six died in a stampede in a Kumbh Mela event in 2013.).  Another well-known festival is the Jamasthini that celebrates the birthday of Hinduism’s most revered god Krishna, who was believed, centuries before Christianity, to have been, like Jesus, a God-man. (Shown in accompanying collage.)

Communist China had banned such festivals, but these have survived in Taiwan, the biggest and most famous being the eight-day festival and procession revering the sea goddess Mazu, attended by tens of thousands of Chinese and local Taiwanese (In accompanying collage of photos.)

Sea of human bodies

What is it about crowds, or more accurately, in a sea of human bodies, that has been a feature of human cultures?

It is, as many philosophers and psychologists have shown, one form of “self-transcendence.”

That is, humans are so imprisoned in their own selves – their tiny fields of perception and consciousness and in their petty problems – that identifying especially physically with a crowd in worship, in ritual dancing, in EDSA-I kind of political event, and even in rock concerts, makes them forget their small selves, to experience a sense of liberation, an ecstasy in being submerged in the crowd.  The religious would express it as unity with the Divine.

The famous novelist and psychedelic-drug investigator Aldous Huxley vociferously criticized it, though, as crowd-delirium, vulnerable to manipulation by both religious and political demagogues.

Watch an El Shaddai event, and you will realize that the reason it is attracting so many Catholics is its dancing and singing and Brother Mike’s skill in having them do something at the same time  (“Raise your hands, Amen!”) that he creates that ecstasy of crowd-participation in a Black Nazarene procession experience.  Look at the documentaries on Nazi events in which party members cry out in perfect unison as if one body, “Sieg Hiel!”, and you will realize that Hitler was also a master  in the use of the ecstasy of crowds.

When I saw the Gion matsuri in Kyoto, I very quickly realized that these events that created ecstasies in crowds served to strengthen the sense of community, especially since the events were organized and the floats built by residents in a block or two.

I don’t think they do, though, in the case of mammoth crowds such as those of the religious festivals in India and in our Black Nazarene, because the huge size of the assembly ensures anonymity for the participants.

The phenomenon of such huge religious festivals, instead, gives deeper, even scientifically-based, meaning to Marx’s notion of religion as opium for the people, especially so if the people are made to believe their wishes would be granted if they could endure the suffering of being packed in a sea of humanity.

I doubt very much that they serve to build our sense of nationhood, or even help the participants deal with the hard realities of their lives.

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14 Comments

  1. “We don’t.

    Do you have pictures of your loved ones? Have you ever looked at the picture of someone while talking on the phone to them?

    Statues and pictures of people we love are not idols.

    Statues and paintings of Jesus and the saints are just like pictures of the people we love and respect.

    The King James Version of the Bible states in Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”

    Why were the Jews commanded not to make graven images? Graven images were the standard method of pagan worship. They were representations of false gods.

    This is a very clear command.

    However God commanded the Jews in Exodus 25:18 and 1 Chronicles 28:18–19, “And thou shalt make two cherubims of gold, of beaten work shalt thou make them”

    And in 1 Kings chapter 7 Solomon made bulls and other images out of precious metals.

    It seems obvious that the Jews did not worship the cherubims and Solomon did not worship the bulls he had made. These images did not violate the command of God. Therefore, an image not made for worship is acceptable.

    In Numbers 21:8-9, “And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered.”

    And in John 3:14-15, Jesus says in correlation, “And just as Moses lifted up the [image of a] serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

    How can a statue of our Lord Jesus Christ dead on the cross be considered an idol to a false god? A crucifix is the message of the Gospel without words held up for all to see, a visual reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus, no different from a painting, a…

  2. Understanding Person on

    Bakit naman nila alam ang mukha ni Jesus? Ang nasa tuktok ng rod na kung saan kapag may nakagat ng ahas ay nabubuhay pagtingin sa ahas na tanso ay inialis at ipinagbawal na din kahit sa old testament pa! maliwanag pa sa sinag ng araw.
    Ok, Titus 3:10. Bahala tayo sa araw ng paghuhukom, total naman each of us is accountable before God. Ipananalangin ko pa rin naman ang naliligaw sa pananampalataya. Sa akin naman rebuke and not judgmental…LOVE kasi ang tawag doon, utos kasi ni Kristo yun eh. Mag-share, kung ayaw, di ayaw. Pero God knoes our heart. Romans 10: 1-2.

  3. Vicente Penetrante on

    Ask former Vice President Castro, he would surely agree that “such beliefs do help participants deal with the hard realities of life.”

    Belief is conviction and people have convictions ‘right or wrong.”

  4. Amen! The media exploited it too much since they play gods to so many stupid Pinoys. When I was in college in the early 80s hindi naman ganyan at very solemn pa. Now its look like a pagan celebration wherein some pagan naglalambayog pa ala-Tarzan sa Black Nazarene Cross. Remove the media overplay it will back to its regulat solemn religious ritual.

  5. karl Marx’s quote, ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ or as Charles Kingsley aptly puts it – “We have used the Bible as if it were a mere special constable’s hand book, an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded, a mere book to keep the poor in order.”

    We are a nation of poor people, made poor by our belief that everything and anything emanates from the Supreme Being or God, being a religious person is a good starting point, it makes a conscious-centric person, able to perform cognigitve psychological wisdom. While the act over indulging in its reveries can only create fanatical crowd lost in the real sense of the definition of religion.

    Religion – for all its goodness has become a decadent tool of bondage, with which untrustworthy group of people use as a tool, to continue a country’s cultural oppression and under-development.

  6. Understanding Person on

    Awesome to the reply ad responses of thinking guys/gals. Exodus 20, and Deuteronomy stated that you canot create images in any form, neither from Heaven, upon the Earth, under the Sea…karumaldumal yan sa tunay na Dios. Tsk tsk tsk kawawa talaga ang mga bulag gaya ng mga pari; sabi nga ni Jesus: pabayaan ninyo sila, ang bulag at ang inaakay ay kapwang bulag at pareho silang mahuhulog sa hukay. It’s time for people to read the Bible. It’s inerrant, perfectly written book (biblios) for the salvation of mankind. Hallelujah to the Ever Living and Powerful God that I served, and will serve!

    • Justaskingseriously on

      Sana and understanding person ay gaya ng person who understands. Baka understanding in the sense na ang mga bulag ay talagang walang paraan na magiging “seeing”. Yon ay hindi understanding ngunit condescending. Halatang halata na naniniwala sa biblia ang understanding person. Nabasa kaya niya ang Colossians 1:15? Jesus is the “image of the invisible God”. Now being visible as a baby at birth and as a Messiah making the blind see, would it be a blind act to make images of Him? It would be a gross misunderstanding to adore His image, hindi ba? Kaya ganon yata ang understanding na nagiging condescending sa mga bulag na gumawa ng image. Adoration and veneration ay magkakaiba. At walang amount of understanding ay makakapasok sa loob nga bulag kung andon ba ang adoration o ang veneration. Sino ngayon ang tunay na bulag?

  7. Such crowds – on account of “gods” – really shows beyond dispute that many people are still living in ‘medieval times’ mindsets. Sigh!
    Amen, Mr. Tiglao. Amen!

    :)

  8. you call seeing all these people following the black nazarine awesome, i call it stupidity. These idiots just want to kiss the feet of a statue. They want their clots rubbed on the statue so they can then rub themselves. How stupid is that. Im sure the 10 commandments are a part of their religion, but worshipping an idol, isnt that wrong. But hey its ok to be stupid in the philippines right.

    • rufino santos,jr. on

      Are we idiots?respect our belief just like we respect yours.you can say many negative things about our devotion because you could not feel what we have in our hearts.anyway you are not affected by our belief so please leave us!

  9. The second commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:4–5, reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

    You shall not worship them or serve them.” Likely, this refers back to the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and specifically forbids the creation of idols.

    But it is equally dangerous to create an image of God Himself. God has given us reminders enough of His power and glory (Romans 1:20) without man attempting to use created things to represent the Creator.

    Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/graven-image.html#ixzz3OH32ndSZ

    • Justaskingseriously on

      Exodus 37:7-9 images of 2 cherubim on each end of the ark of the covenant. Numbers 21:8-9 an image of a saraph was made and mounted on a pole and anyone who was bitten and looked at it was saved from the venom. It all boils down to: Do you understand what the commandments really are? And do you really believe that Jesus is the image of God? Is it against the command to make an image of Jesus? It might be interesting to see if you have a selfie or a picture of your loved ones.

  10. Ang tao ay binigyan ng sariling pag-iisip,puso at matang nakakakita at tinga na kakarinig!hinditayo ginawang robot! Binigyan ng lahat ng bagay upang maunawaan kung ano ang dahilan ng kanilang pagkalalang at batas upang ito ang lakaran!
    Bawat isa ay mananagot sa bawat gawin niya! At binigyan nagpag-iisip upang mamili sa ikabubuti nila!
    Sabi nga!find your own risk!sungay mo sunong mo,buntot mo hatak mo!
    Ibig sabihin bahala kayo sa buhay ninyo,matatanda na kayo!!hehehe!