This thin volume is a compilation of 17 classic and almost “inaccessible” writings (p. 15) on agrarian ritual and other customs, usually involving esoteric belief systems or practices, in what is today the state of Guerrero, Mexico. The theme that holds this loose grouping together is the survival of pre-Hispanic practices. As the compiler puts it, “La religión agraria escapa a la iglesia [Católica].... Es sólo barniz cristiano lo que cubre las festividades indígenas” (p. 11).

Like many compilations of writings, the result is mixed. Included are early colonial accounts by Fray Juan de Grijalva on the persecution of what the Spanish called “idolatries,” or pagan practices (1535), and Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón on native superstitions and customs (1626). The latter describes nagualism, ancestor reverence, and the worship of the sun. Alarcón’s information on the first two themes is invaluable as a backdrop and context for the more modern studies on the same two subjects in the volume. The remaining chapters are mostly reprints of previously published articles that report ethnographic studies of rituals and customs after 1940.

There is much here of interest on native beliefs and rituals. Recurring themes include shamanism (Roberto J. Weitlaner, Marion Oettinger); native gods and spirits (Alejandro Paucic Smerdu, Pedro Carrasco Pizana, María Teresa Sepúlveda); nagualism (Ruiz de Alarcón, Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán); divination (Oettinger); religious syncretism (Mercedes Olivera); and acculturation (Eustaquio Celestino Solis). Some emphasize the survival of native practices (Carrasco Pizana, Sepúlveda, Olivera; Aguirre Beltrán; and Celestino Solis); others see the Catholic church gaining ground (Paucic Smerdu).

Some contributions, however, such as the 1982 article on manojos (literally, handfuls) and cadenas (chains) by Peter van der Loo, are too detailed to follow easily. This and other essays often assume that the reader has detailed knowledge of specific literature, as in van der Loo’s reference to the Códice Fejérváry-Mayer (p. 51), or that the reader is fluent in Nahuatl. Other entries, such as Paucic Smerdu’s on the Mixtecs, are included without reference to when the research took place or when the resulting study was originally published. Likewise, Oettinger and P. Amanda Parsons transcribe an interesting shaman’s book, titled Idolatría . . . secretos de la mitodología del pasado, which certainly is meritorious and valuable; but they fail to indicate even an approximate date for this document.

Some writers wax romantic; others give abundant description but weaken on analysis. Maps are missing in all but one (Weitlander's) study. Lastly, the collection is very uneven and disparate in quality. Contributions vary from excellent, well-written, lengthy ethnographies (“La sombra y el animal” by Aguirre Beltrán and “La ceremonia llamada ‘levantar la sombra’” by Weitlander) to a prayer (“Plegaria tlapaneca,” translated by Schultze Jena L.) that is less than a page long and lacks context or gloss.

Some of the articles are very suggestive, and invite comparative notes, which could have been provided in a summary statement. Unfortunately, the compiler did not take the opportunity himself to draw some rather clear connections between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century practices and their surviving versions in the twentieth century. Nor were any broader ethnographic or regional comparisons made. Van der Loo, for example, explains cadenas as “cadenas de hilos con nudos” (p. 49). These sound very similar to Peruvian quipus. Other authors mention a general tendency to worship rain or water or its sources; this is a phenomenon common to the Andean peoples in the seventeenth century as well. Offerings and hierarchies of officiants, as described by Paucic Smerdu, Sepúlveda, and Oettinger, also recall Andean practices. In Guerrero, as in Cajatambo (Peru), for example, the chief priest is also the local leader (cacique or curaca). Mayordomos are chosen, who finance the ceremonies as the last official obligation of a community religious cargo system that has parallels in other places in Mexico and Latin America. Such a concluding chapter would have made the book valuable to a wider audience.