The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1995, Volume 41, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain.

By Fernando Cervantes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. x + 182 pages. $22.50. Buy this book.

This work provides fresh and important insights into colonial Mexico’s religious and social world through a careful examination of the various manifestations of what European clerics attributed as “the devil’s work.” Whether it was natives performing rituals with animals as sacrificial victims or peoples of various ethnicities and social stations purportedly forming pacts with Satan, the devil’s handiwork was the subject of intense scrutiny by the Holy Office of the Inquisition during much of the three centuries comprising Mexico’s colonial past.

Some individuals took great pains to convince themselves and their peers that they had formed a pact with the devil so as to create an oppositional ideology to colonial rule, a system of imperialism that was closely identified with the Christian God. Still others claimed that they had secured such demonic alliances not to express political or cultural resistance but to achieve personal empowerment; by so doing, the colonists claimed, the devil had assisted them in undertaking activities as varied as sexual seductions and herding livestock.

Drawing extensively upon case records from the Inquisition’s archives, Cervantes adroitly describes and explains many of the varied expressions of diabolism throughout New Spain. While some readers may find the author’s elaborately constructed theological and philosophical interpretations to be occasionally tedious, the book is an important contribution to the growing body of scholarly literature about religio-social life in colonial Latin America.

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