“Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”—Proverbs 31:6,7
2. A Brief History of Drinking
3. Women and Wine in Christian and Buddhist Scriptures: Mary and Mulian’s Mother
When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now”11
When Mulian remembers his mother through drinking a bowl of wine, meant to symbolize the blood of childbirth that his mother shed for him in her birth, Mulian is able to offer, through ingestion, a reciprocal gift of blood repaying his childbirth debt. Like Jesus in the Christian story, Mulian is also called to action by his mother (albeit in a very different way) through the reminder of how she has already paid her debt for his life, and now he must return the favor through the drinking of wine. Chinese women who have given birth during their lifetime are generally believed to be trapped in a pool of blood following their death, because the polluting effects of childbirth blood have not been counteracted (, pp. 89–90). The post-partum period after a woman gives birth is considered to be a period of imbalance and heavily Yin, and the “solution” to counterbalance this post-partum stage is to eat chicken, eggs, chicken broth soup, and wine, all believed to help the woman regain her strength, and recover from her childbirth; they are also foods and drinks considered to be heavily Yang. However, these foods counter the woman’s Yin state in life, and do not extend to her death when she is expected to pay off her debt for the childbirth blood. Mulian, as male and yang element, and the offering of wine, also heavily yang, balances out the yin/female/childbirth blood, with a debt repayment and reenactment of life, rebalancing the cosmos. While the mother gave birth to her son, it is the son who must now rescue his mother from death. The story of Mulian illustrates the complex role women play in the Chinese religious cosmology, and why wine remains one of the central components for both Chinese funerals and memorialization rituals. Mulian’s mother is a considered to be a hungry ghost,13 and it is only through the son’s remembrance of her life that she can be redeemed. The balance, thus, is asserted in this passage between male and female, parent and child, life and death, wine and blood.When Mu-lian heard this [that his mother was trapped in the Blood Pool Hell], he was very sad and he asked the warden, How can we repay (bao da) our moms (a niang) for the kindness of giving birth to us in order that they may leave the blood-pool hell?” The hell warden answered, “Teacher, you only need to carefully be a filial son or daughter, respect the Three Jewels [the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma], and for the sake of your mom, hold Blood Bowl Feasts for three years, including organizing Blood Bowl Meetings (xue peng sheng hui) to which you invite monks to recite this sutra for a full day, and have confessions (chan hui). Then there will be a prajna boat to carry the mothers across the River Nai He and they will see five-colored lotuses appear in the blood pool, and the sinners will come out happy and contrite and they will be able to take rebirth (chao sheng) in a Buddha Land.(, p. 206)
4. From Text to Ethnography: Women and Spirits in Mexico, China, and the United States
All of the earth-mother goddesses were associated both with exuberant fertility and horrifying death, the earth as both womb and tomb of life (, p. 422). [De] Sahagun records the Aztec belief that Cihuacoatl, despite being the patron of women giving birth, walked at night “weeping and wailing, a dread phantom foreboding war” (, p. 3). Coatlicue, the divine mother who gave birth to gods and humans, was also thought to feed on human corpses and was called the “dirt devourer”.15
Santa Muerte and Mary work together in tandem—Mary forgiving the deeds that Santa Muerte performs, and Santa Muerte performing miracles that Mary cannot (or rather will not) perform. Supplicants refer to Santa Muerte with the same names given to Mary—Holy Mother, Saint, Protector, Mother of Mine, Mother of Tears—and anyone hearing these titles may at first confuse them with Mary. However, one aspect that stands out among prayers to Santa Muerte is the assertion by Santa Muerte followers that her power is stronger than even God, something that is never seen or read in prayers to the Virgin. In the Prayer to Santa Muerte, for example, titled “Mother of Tears,” petitioners pray the following: “In the name of the All-powerful God, more powerful is the mother of tears. I ask for your help, I beg you to cease the bad luck [surrounding] my house. Give me money, work, and good luck. Mother of tears, protect me from danger, protect me from evil, mother of tears, rescue me from this abyss where I find myself and give me protection from all affliction and evil. I dedicate myself to you today; hear the prayer I place at your feet. Amen.”19 The name given here to Santa Muerte—the Mother of Tears—begins like many prayers to Mary, tying together the role of mother as one who both suffers (in tears) and comforts (the suffering). However, it soon becomes quickly apparent that this Mother of Tears is not Mary, because we are told that she is even greater in power than the all-powerful God. The prayer is at once both an invocation for, and an inversion of, the traditional understanding of Mary, with gender, death, and power all shifting places in Santa Muerte. In another prayer, the “Prayer to Saint Death,” (see below) there is a similar inversion of this power—when the petitioner at first prays to All Powerful God for placing Santa Muerte in her path, and then shifts audiences to Saint Death, requesting forgiveness, patience, protection, and guidance.In my mind, the dialectical relationship resembles something like this: Mary forgives us for the very things we ask Santa Muerte to do and Santa Muerte protects us when doing the very things for which Mary forgives. Seen in the light of Marx’s dialectic the prayers that include both Mary and Santa Muerte make sense, the two deities don’t threaten each other, rather they co-exist, each covering and guarding their specific divine territories, leaving it to supplicants to navigate the complicated paths that lead to a Catholicism that encompasses the gospel of prosperity, however one cares to define that prosperity.18
It is apparent in the end of the prayer, that when the petitioner says “I will never forget that you are nearer now and this gives me a happier life than the Creator that gave life,” that the traditional hierarchy of Mary below God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been reversed, and Santa Muerte may, in fact, be more powerful. What is invoked in this prayer is Santa Muerte’s role as mother, as creator and giver of life, the role traditionally given to Mary.All Powerful God, I give thanks to you for putting Saint Death in my path. Holy Mother of mine, I give thanks to you for your help that delivers me and for giving those of us who are lost, your love, I beg you not to leave me, to watch over my path and over all of my family and over all that I love and care for. Mother of mine, please forgive me if occasionally, I am confused, have doubts, or do not trust [you]! It is not you, but [caused by] the people that surround me, forgive me if occasionally I do not trust in your great power. Teacher, I will attend to you when my enemy is near or when the sadness I feel becomes very great. Teacher, I will never forget that you exist, and that your presence is always with me in all ways and in all places, defend me from all things that want to harm me, Mother of mine, [and] I hope that even in my dreams I will be able to see you, and that no matter how hard it seems to see you, feel you, and hear you, I will never forget that you are nearer now and this gives me a happier life than the Creator that gave life. I give thanks to you, Mother of mine for watching over me and for all of mine, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.20
Offerings at her altars, as well as her nicknames and wardrobe, reveal a saint that is cosmically Mexican. In other words, adherents view her as in some ways a supernatural version of themselves. Tequila, beer, cigarettes, and chocolate are placed at her altars in the belief that the White Girl likes consuming the same food, drink, and smokes that devotees enjoy. And like her adoring followers, she occasionally drinks to excess. In Morelia cult leader Vicente Pérez Ramos claimed that his skeleton saint likes to “get hammered,” sometimes drinking her favorite brand of tequila, Rancho Viejo.(, p. 56)
The ritual utilizes wine as a way to ensure that the deceased has been fully transformed into an ancestor, and can no longer come back as a spirit to harm the living.23 Both Miska and Ahern assert the danger of mothers in the Chinese kinship system—women who are considered outsiders to the families they marry into—who are needed to extend kinship lineages, and yet through their relationships with their children, are also viewed as possible threats to the very family they are responsible for extending [16,34]. The tie, then, of the polluting effects of childbirth blood with the dangers of vengeful mothers seeking retribution on their families as spirits after death, is believed to be muted through the blood bowl ritual of drinking wine. The ritual both affirms and negates the relationship between mothers and their children—viewing these relationships as both dangerous and polluting—while also affirming the strong bonds and kinship ties between them.The ritual, as I saw it performed, involves setting up a small stool in the courtyard, under which sand is piled. Painted duck eggs and colored pennants are arranged in the sand. A bowl filled with wine is placed in the corner of the sand pile beneath the stool. This stool with its flags and sand represent a fortress guarded by demons of the underworld. Imprisoned within the fortress is the soul of the dead woman, wallowing in a pool of blood, represented by the bowl of wine. In order to secure her release, her descendants drink the bowl of wine, symbolically drinking the blood in the pool of hell. Once done, her soul is released from this torture, and her passage through the underworld to rebirth is expedited.(, p. 90)
5. The United States: Baptist Branding and Temperance
WHEREAS, Families bear the responsibility for rearing healthy and loving children, providing creative life styles free from stress and all drug dependencies; and the family is the main target of the alcohol beverage industry with massive home advertising campaigns; and Family life is under increasing stress due to the use of alcohol in the home, resulting in more divorce, battered women, child abuse, birth defects; and Over 561 alcohol related deaths occur each day; …and seven and a half million youth between the ages of fourteen and seventeen who have alcohol related problems; and Expectant mothers need to be aware of the dangers of consuming alcoholic beverages during pregnancy; …Be it therefore RESOLVED, That we challenge families to consider what alcohol is doing to them, and to be aware of the uncritical way alcohol is accepted in society with little attention given to it as America’s number one drug problem; and Be it further RESOLVED, That we educate the children in our churches to abstain from use of alcoholic beverages and the abuse of drugs; and…That Southern Baptists renew their commitment to minister compassionately to those who have drinking problems and to relate to their families in redemptive ways.
Conflicts of Interest
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- 1While I realize it has somewhat fallen out of fashion to offer universal constructs, I do this by relying heavily on William Paden’s notion of “aspectual focus,” while also remaining cognizant of J.Z. Smith’s emphasis on difference, examining a comparison of seemingly disparate phenomena through a focal lens of alcohol, women and death. See [1,2].
- 2I have focused on the Santa Muerte example (rather than an example from mainstream Catholicism and the many examples related to the Virgin Mary) for two reasons: (1) focusing on the intersection between women and alcohol in Santa Muerte reveals a paradigm in contemporary folk Catholicism in which Santa Muerte reflects the internal double of the Virgin Mary; and (2) the recent work on Santa Muerte tends to focus on the practices of folk religiosity, somewhat neglecting the textual evidence, and I wanted to provide the reader (initial and brief) access to this rich body of material.
- 3See (, p. 169) more on this. Liebmann’s history of alcohol—sixty years old this year—remains one of the better cultural histories of alcohol in the field today.
- 4One of the more interesting aspects of Douglas’ study of alcohol is its use as an alternative economy. Alternative economies are those systems that use other sources as a form of currency. In this case, food and drink became part of a popular barter system that allowed one to exchange food commodities for other goods. This included all sorts of foods, grain staples, and alcohol. Alcohol could be stored and preserved which made it a consistent commodity on the barter market. Since Douglas, the history and study of drinking has remained somewhat marginal in academia, and the majority of studies on drinking analyze it from the perspective of behavior or health outcomes. The Drinking Studies Network is an interdisciplinary group of contemporary scholars who are conducting work on alcohol from a historical or cultural perspective .
- 5“The rituals of male drinking and socializing together in coffeehouses and bars, although emphasizing masculinity, are directed toward obscuring male dependency on the female members of their family. By excluding women from coffeehouses men reinforce a doubtful female subordination.” (, pp. 7–8).
- 6Judith Bennet’s study notes that beer brewing and selling was largely located in the realm of women's work until 1350, but by 1600 beer brewing and selling transitioned to men’s work. Bennet relates these changes in part to society’s shifting views of the role of women. She writes that a marriage contract was viewed as a socially secure way to enforce broader social contracts involving money (in other words, the husbands could be counted upon should the wife somehow evade her legal and contractual responsibilities), and that in this way, beer brewing gradually shifted to the realm of men’s work. For more, see .
- 7Early monastic communities offered beer and ale to travelling pilgrims visiting their monasteries, considering it an act of hospitality, gradually developing the sale of alcohol as a powerful alternate economy. For more on the history of this, see .
- 8In fact, according to a study conducted by the Wine Market Council, 80% of all wine purchases in the United States today are made by women. For more, see .
- 9Even notions of “drunkenness,” and definitions of inebriation are subject to cultural and societal interpretation.
- 10The production of alcohol by slave economies and plantations did not merely aid the slaves, but added to the wealth of the plantation owners. However, it also gave slaves a marketable skillset that allowed some slaves access to an alternate economy that added value to their everyday lives, which (some) plantation owners recognized also kept slaves tied to their land and increased their loyalty. For more on alternate slave economies see .
- 11John 2:3–10, NIV Bible.
- 12This passage also parallels Matthew 20:1–16, the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, in which a master pays all those who work in the field the same pay—even those who arrive later in the day. The message in both of these reveals that the fruits of salvation do not vary, those “late to the party” also receive the good wine.
- 13In Chinese religion, hungry ghosts (餓鬼 èguǐ, the Chinese translation for the Sanskrit preta) are beings that reside in one of the six Buddhist realms of existence (Buddhist hell). Literally depicted as beings with pinhole openings for necks, and cavernous bloated stomachs, hungry ghosts can never satiate their desires and are metaphorical representatives of beings who have deep desire, addictions, or obsessions. Hungry ghosts are believed to come back to haunt the living when the rituals for the deceased have not been properly observed, and in this way the story of the hungry ghost is really about the ties between the living and the dead. For more on hungry ghosts see .
- 14In Exodus 7:20, Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood, signifying the arrival of the first plague on the Egyptians and the Jews’ status as God’s chosen people; the turning of water into wine both serves as a reference to this act, while also signifying the future sacrifice to come. “Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood” (NIV Bible).
- 15For more on this, see (, pp.31–32).
- 18Email exchange with Robinson Herrera, 28 March 2016.
- 19“En nombre del Dios Todopoderoso más poderoso, madre de las lágrimas, yo invoco tu ayuda, te pido para quitar la mala suerte de mi casa. Dame dinero, trabajo y buenasuerte.Madre de las lágrimas, protégeme del peligro, protégeme de todo mal, madre delas lágrimas, clamo a ti en este abismo donde me encuentro y te pido que me protegede toda afflición y el mal. Consagrarme a ti en este dia y poner mi petición a tus pies(estado su petición) Amén.” .
- 20“Dios Todopoderoso, te agradezco haber puesto en mi camino a mi Santísima Muerte. Santísima Madre Mía, te agradezco toda tu ayuda que me brindas y nos das a todos los que te lo pedimos con amor, te pido que no te apartes de mí, cuida de mi camino y el de toda mi familia y el de todos los seres que amo y quiero. Madre mía, perdóname si algunas veces me desespero, dudo o desconfío, ! No de ti¡ sino de las personas que me rodean, perdóname si alguna vez desconfío de tu gran poder. Maestra, a ti acudiré cuando mi enemigo este cerca o cuando el dolor que siento sea muy grande. Maestra, nunca olvides que existo, has que tu presencia siempre este conmigo en todas partes y en todo lugar, defiéndeme de todos aquellos que quieran hacerme daño. Madre mía, concédeme que aunque sea en sueños yo te vea y nunca olvidare que lo que yo creía tan lejano como es el verte, tenerte y escucharte, ahora esta tan cerca y eso me hace el mortal mas feliz que el Creador le hay dado vida. Gracias te doy, Madre mía por cuidar de mi camino y el de todos los míos, en el nombre Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo. Amen.” .
- 23The distinction is an important one in Chinese religion, and marked by ritual differences: Wolf writes, “Gods are contrasted with ghosts and ancestors; ghosts are contrasted with gods and ancestors; and ancestors are contrasted with gods and ghosts. For example gods are offered uncooked (or whole) food, ghosts and ancestors are offered cooked food [because they were at one time human]; ghosts are worshipped outside homes and temples; gods and ancestors are worshipped inside; ancestors are given an even number of incense sticks; ghosts and gods are given an odd number of sticks” (, p. 7).
- 24“That we, the members of the Southern Baptist Convention, reassert our truceless and uncompromising hostility to the manufacture, sale, importation and transportation, of alcoholic beverages in any and all their forms. We regard the policy of issuing government licenses for the purpose of carrying on the liquor traffic as a sin against God and a dishonor to our people. We furthermore announce it as our conviction that we should by all legitimate means oppose the liquor traffic in municipality, county, State, and nation. Furthermore, we announce it as the sense of this body that no person should be retained in the fellowship of a Baptist church who engages in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors, either at wholesale or retail, who invests his money in the manufacture or sale of alcoholic liquors, or who rents his property to be used for distilleries, wholesale liquor houses, or saloons. Nor do we believe that any church should retain in its fellowship any member who drinks intoxicating liquors as a beverage, or visits saloons or drinking places for the purpose of such indulgence” .
- 25Interview with anonymous source, 24 March 2016.
- 26Pevey, Williams and Ellison confirm similar findings with their sociological study of women’s bible classes. See .
- 27The alcohol content was reduced, but not negligent; this is evident not just in archeological explorations of sediment in wine jars, but also in the many writings of Paul, who argued that consumption of wine should be for the stomach (i.e., its antimicrobial properties), rather than its ability to induce an altered state. The wine in Jesus’ time, then, was indeed alcoholic. For examples of the typical construction of the argument against Jesus’ turning water into alcoholic wine, see  Boatman argues that, “The wine, or grape juice used in the New Testament by the Lord would be the same as us drinking sodas, tea, or Kool-Aid instead of water.”
- 28Andrew Stern offers an excellent analysis of the symbolism of cross vs. crucifix in afterlife conceptions. See .
- 29See  for more on Baptist identity.
© 2016 by the author; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).