Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico

Article excerpt

False Mystics: Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico. By Nora E. Jaffary. (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 2004. Pp. xvii, 258. $49.95.)

Based on Inquisition proceedings in colonial Mexico, this book provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who crossed religious, political, social, and sexual boundaries in the years 1598-1799. While an excellent resource for scholars of Mexican colonial history, it will also appeal to more general readers. False Mystics gives a snapshot of the inner workings of the colonial Mexican establishment; it clarifies the ways in which theological concepts were expressed and received, and it even elucidates changing theories about hysteria, mental illness, and medicine in general.

One of the most interesting and useful contributions of Jaffary's book is her explanation of the difference between demonic obsession and demonic possession. The former could be a sign of genuine sanctity, while the latter would most often result in a verdict of guilty for accused mystics. This is just one example of the fine line that sometimes separated the genuine from the false in the eyes of the inquisitors. Jaffary does a good job of explaining how those inquisitors may have assessed the evidence presented to them.

Given the relatively limited number of cases (102) and the fact that these were adjudicated over a two-hundred-year period, Jaffary is able to find intriguing patterns of behavior on the part of both accuser and accused. The author very competently illustrates the role of gender and class in the lives of her subjects. She also does a good job of illustrating the influence of blacks and Indians on the Spanish elements of the population, but sometimes the links between Indians and Spaniards seem hazy or very conjectural. …

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