The Guadalupes

Invisible Guadalupe, Betsy James

The soul of the conquered
enters that of the conqueror.
Carl Jung

Throughout history, conquerors have destroyed the temples of the conquered and have built, on the same spot, sanctuaries to their own gods. What happens then is a syncretism: a partial—and often dynamic and unpredictable—fusion of belief systems.

Until the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, on the place where the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe now stands was a temple to Tonantzín-Cihuacóatl. Neither meek nor maidenly, this Aztec moon-and-mother goddess was an aspect of Coatlique, who wore a skirt woven of live serpents and a necklace of severed human hands and hearts.

The syncretism of these complex spiritual systems—Mesoamerican and European—infuses the art of Mexico and New Mexico, where vivid, non-European renditions of the Guadalupe are seen on every hand. A tremendous local energy pours through them, as the so-called “New World” enters the “Old World” and engenders a fresh and powerful image.

Mexico and New Mexico have been my home for decades. I’ve painted more than a hundred Guadalupes. The symbols of crescent moon, winged child and radiant glory, constantly changing, give form to life in this land where cultures meet, fertilize, and energize each other.

Guadalupe as Black Madonna, Betsy James


Rose-Briar Guadalupe, Betsy James


Soul-Boat Guadalupe, Betsy James


Guadalupe as Nothingness and All, Betsy James

All material on this site, both text and graphics, is ©Betsy James, and may not be used commercially without her permission.

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Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert

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