Costa Rican (and Central American and Latino, for that matter) culture is filled with fascinating superstition, taboos, legends, and metaphysical-beliefs. “La Masquerada” is an event once a year, usually in August, that pays tribute to these folkloric (and sometimes foreboding) characters that originated from a combination of local aboriginal culture and Spanish occupation. With the rural lower-class, they can still have significant belief attached to them. They are accepted as a bilateral cultural addition to the staunchly Catholic following. What’s fascinating to me is that many are a superstitious warning or deterrent to the very negative-but-real stereotypes associated with the culture itself. Infidelity to one’s wife, promiscuity, perpetual drinking and partying, antipathy or distance from religion, God, or family.

Some examples in the photos below:
1. El gigante/la giganta (the giant): Representing the rich Spanish occupants from generations past.

2. El diablo (the devil) deceiptfully laying traps to make some stray from the path

3. La pelona: the skull-bearing representation of death

4. La segua: a lovetorn half-horse, half-woman siren that baits adulterous men and deters promiscuous women

5. La llorona: the ghost of a woman whose lost love has caused her to be seen crying, wailing, and shrieking at riverbanks.

6. El cadejos: a young boy cursed to live as a dog for eternity by his own father for his unruly drinking ways.

All are very expressive and folkloric and have their own independent cautionary tale.

I’ve been thinking that there’s very likely no small coincidence that western foreigners ply their snakeoil, charlatanism, and fraudulence here manipulating and taking advantage of those very superstitions, taboos, and legends. Most often in the form of fraudulent yoga gurus, shamans, astrologers, cults, energy-channelers, and healers. If it’s not taking at home, go where it will, right…remember that belief is half the battle and placebos can become very real for the misleading shysters with financial gain on their mind. I’ve met many here over the years, they’re extremely easy to smell and tend to avoid people from “back home.”

Note that I’ve studied and been curious about this aspect of Central American culture for years. I’ve attended a cult ceremony and gone through some of the rituals (saumerios, “cuarentenas”, invocations, etc.). Been to see a shaman. Attended a number of masqueradas. Learned about these supernatural urban legends. Interacted with a number of the people peddling mysticism and the metaphysical. Now, regardless of my views on the authenticity of any of it, I respect it as many people here do and to mock that which gets many through their day and the intrinsic beliefs of many locals, especially as a foreigner, would be disrespectful and invoking animosity and bad “karma.”

That being said, there is a clear niche where peddler and receiver co-exist and a market is created. If a consumer feels that the product will increase their odds, add value to their life, give them power or protection, or give them greater spiritual-connectedness, is anyone really being swindled? Who has the right to say. As a Westerner living here, I find it far more beneficial and informative to understand the powers-that-be than mock them with my “1st-World” superiority. Remember, there’s nothing more powerful entity in life than belief and many an entitled foreigner’s fortunes have ended poorly here for misunderstanding their playing field.

And, as a self-described student of human behavior, I find the “dark”, mystical, metaphysical aspect of a culture intriguing and more than a little revealing in understanding the reason people think the way they do. It’s a peek into their psyche and why they act the way they do. Dismissing or mocking that which isn’t personally believed or understood is always a tactical error. Knowledge of foreign belief-structures helps mitigate, prevent, disrupt, and foresee potential forks in the road. Brushing-off the potential to gain that knowledge can put a target on one’s back.

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