Mexican-Catholic Protection Ritual

“I remember a religious custom which I think my paternal grandmother brought with her from Sonora, Mexico. It utilized a dried palm frond that had been blessed on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Good Friday which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the New Testament Jesus is described as entering Jerusalem seated on an ass where he was greeted by crowds of people, cheering and waving palm fronds in welcome. Thus was fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Isaiah.

In the religious Mexican folklore I refer to, the dried palm frond blessed on Palm Sunday bore special power. That is, at the onset of a thunder and lightning storm (a sometimes powerful phenomenon in Arizona), a small piece of the palm frond would be burned to ward off any potential lightning strike.

It worked. Our home was never struck by lightning.”

Today, my informant regards this practice as a superstition, rather than a religious practice. Yet, this unusual ritual seems to exemplify the fine line between religious ritual, folk ritual, and superstition. Although not specifically sanctioned by the Catholic Church, this practice was clearly a spiritual experience for my informant’s family, as they believed that the palm frond bestowed their home with divine protection. At the same time, however, this practice seems rather like homeopathic magic–it employs palm fronds due to their association with Jesus in the New Testament.