False Mystics


False Mystics

Deviant Orthodoxy in Colonial Mexico

Nora E. Jaffary

Engendering Latin America Series

276 pages


May 2008


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

False Mystics provides a history of popular religion, race, and gender in colonial Mexico focusing on questions of spiritual and social rebellion and conformity. Nora E. Jaffary examines more than one hundred trials of “false mystics” whom the Mexican Inquisition prosecuted in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While the accused experienced many of the same phenomena as bona fide mystics—visions, sacred illness, and bouts of demonic possession—the Mexican tribunal condemned them nevertheless.
False Mystics examines why the Catholic church viewed the accused as deviants and argues that this categorization was due in part to unconventional aspects of their spirituality and in part to contemporary social anxieties over class and race mixing, transgressions of appropriate gendered behavior, and fears of Indian and African influences on orthodox Catholicism. Jaffary examines the transformations this category of heresy underwent between Spain and the New World and explores the relationship between accusations of "false" mysticism and contemporary notions of demonic possession, sickness, and mental illness. Jaffary adopts the perspectives of visionaries to examine the influence of colonial artwork on their spiritual imaginations and to trace the reasons that their spirituality diverged from conventional expressions of piety. False Mystics illuminates the challenges that popular religion and individual spirituality posed to both the institutional church and the colonial social order.

Author Bio

Nora E. Jaffary is an assistant professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal.


"False Mystics is an important addition to the current dialogue on individual spirituality and institutional practices in colonial Mexico. . . . Jaffray provides a fascinating glimpse of the lives and beliefs of a non-elite sector of colonial society and demonstrates their important role in shaping the spiritual landscape of urban New Spain."—Kathleen Myers, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Nora E. Jaffary, an assistant history professor, takes an esoteric subject that could well have remained a mere historical footnote and, through clear, vivid writing and exhaustive research, crafts it into a fascinating book that offers a new lens on church and state in the Spanish colonial era.”—Richard Harris, Southwest Book Views

"Jaffary most often does an excellent job parsing her sources to show the ways in which the mystics represent their notions of ritual and religion."—Pete Sigal, American Historical Review

False Mystics is a valuable and enjoyable addition to our knowledge of colonial Mexico, as well as offering an intriguing contribution to recent debates in the fields of gender, race and religion.”—Caroline Dodds, Ecclesiastical History

“[False Mystics is] fascinating and break[s] new ground in the study of popular Catholocism in New Spain.”—Ellen Gunnarsdottir, Journal of Latin American Studies

“Nora Jaffary’s detailed and readable book stems from her close study of the records of a hundred or so trials of ‘false mystics’ by the Mexican Inquisition during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.”—British Bulletin of Publications

“Nora Jaffary challenges much of the conventional wisdom about the nature of ‘popular religion’. . . . Jaffary makes her most important contribution to scholarly discourse when she treats religious deviancy and gender.” —Ronald Jay Morgan, Itinerario

Also of Interest