Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Burning of Zozobra and Other Scapegoat Rituals -Disinformation

Originally published September 12, 2013 via

The 89th annual Burning of Zozobra, a 50 foot effigy of “Old Man Gloom,” was staged last Thursday in Santa Fe, NM.  The ceremony is a part of the Fiestas de Santa Fe, a festival celebrating the 1692 reconquest of the city by Spanish colonists in 1692.  My wife and I were planning on going this year, since we only live about an hour away, but a combination of heat, laziness, and the newest episode of Breaking Bad kept us at home in the air-conditioning.  Over 30,000 people showed up to the burning this year.  We weren’t missed.

Zozobra (named after the Spanish word meaning “anxiety”) was created by local artist Will Schuster in 1924.  The original was a 6 foot tall marionette, constructed of cloth and wood, which represented the worries and difficulties of the residents of Santa Fe.  Schuster received his inspiration from a ritual practiced by the Yaqui people of Mexico, known as the Burning of Judas.  This ritual was performed during the week of Easter as a part of the Passion Play, in which the effigies of Judas and other villains was hanged on Good Friday and burned on Easter Sunday.

Before the Zozobra burning, participants fill the marionette with pieces of paper representing their troubles from the year before, such as unpleasant court papers, ticker tape from poorly made investments, and unattractive selfies. While the giant burns, so do last year’s bad memories.

Whether they knew it or not, the thousands of people gathered for the festival were taking part in a “scapegoat” ritual, where the blame of a perceived evil is laid upon a single source, and the destruction of that source brings a kind of equilibrium.  Variants have been practiced in numerous cultures throughout recorded history.

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