According to the dictionary, syncretism is the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought. Catholicism is heavily syncretic. Christmas, Easter, All Saints’ Day, and Corpus Cristi are all examples of major holidays that were heavily influenced by non-Catholic religions. Much of syncretism stems from attempts to ease people into Catholicism and make them followers of Christ without completely usurping their culture and routine. That’s not to say that the early Catholic missionaries were overly concerned with people’s feelings or rights, it’s just easier to force smaller changes on people. Ecuador has a lot of very interesting examples of syncretism. The first one that I experienced first hand was the Limpia. It was very clearly a post-colonial Ecuadorian practice, as the women were using local herbs and chanting in Quichua, but at the very end I received an ash cross on my forehead. Ash crosses are a very Catholic; they symbolize the cyclicality of life and death (“From ashes to ashes, from dust to dust”) and the permanence of God amidst the effervescence of life. They are traditionally used on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Lent. The way they are made even has symbolic relevance: the palms from the last year’s Palm Sunday are burned to make them, further emphasizing cyclicality. I don’t know why they are included in the Limpia but it doesn’t surprise me. The close tie between life and death isn’t a strictly Catholic idea and it’s possible that the Limpia uses the ashes as a reminder of that as well. I’m not sure how I feel about syncretism. It has been used to force people into following a foreign religion and as part of a larger scheme of oppression, but it has also allowed the preservation of at least some post-colonial practices. I think that syncretism works so well because when you look closely at the barebones of many religions, they contain a lot of the same ideas: don’t be a jerk, life is temporary, everybody dies, humans are inherently flawed so be willing to forgive, seek comfort in the divine, etc. In my last paper, I said that I strongly opposed both ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. I think the best approach to dealing with other cultures is to be more syncretic: finding the good and the bad in every culture and mixing the good parts to make yourself a better person. I just have to try to avoid the pitfall of telling other people how to live their lives.