Sitting among the spirits on the evening of November 1st, I watched people take photographs of and with beautifully decorated graves on the island of Janitzio. Though I didn’t know the words, I listened to a mixture of Spanish and one of the four Aztec languages surrounding the lake (as unrelated to each other as the many languages of Guatemala, as unrelated as any of the hundreds of languages of North America), as two women spoke next to me. The words danced together, sometimes bubbling and warm, sometimes deeper, like an ancient chant. All words hold power. At the moment, I felt like I was listening to existence being created and recreated with every syllable.
I sipped a hot apple/cinnamon/hibiscus drink, called ponche, from a ceramic mug, and poured some on the ground for the spirits to drink the essence. We had talked with a man who lived on the island and owned a restaurant. His wife cooked delicious food, and ponche. He said he loves when people come to appreciate the culture of the area. People dress in traditional colorful garments all year, hand stitched with images of flores and mariposa. I’m wearing one as I write this. It has a red flower in the center that looks like a heart. I watched women in long dresses walk through the graveyard. My mind might have been primed, but it felt as if they were protecting the space.
The man from the restaurant had said that, as the night wears on, visitors tend to loosen their concept of respect in the name of alcohol. Decorations on the graves get knocked over. Objects wander off that should stay put. He attributes it to money, for money makes people think they are immune to things. It makes me sad. Money is useful for many things, but I tend to lean toward his way of thinking. Maybe it’s just the election in the states right now that is swaying my thinking. Maybe it’s a social experiment I heard about. At the same time, I know plenty of people with money who will drop anything and share everything. I know people who drink and laugh, and people who drink and break things, and people who do both. The point is, everything everywhere gets complicated and there are so many perspectives that I don’t think only one thing about anything.
Overall, I like to focus on the beauty, because that’s what I want to see, and that’s what I want to increase. Not ignoring the difficult stuff, but putting energy toward what I want to see more of makes more of that stuff.
And there were women who were protecting the space. Maybe they were visiting. Maybe both. In my mind, initially, entering the graveyard would bring everyone to a solemn state. People talked and laughed and took pictures. People sold churros. I thought of how I would feel if I put beautiful flowers – cempaxóchitl/flor de muerto/marigolds – and candles on the graves of my loved ones who have passed on, and people came to take pictures. I think I would be honored, especially if the people left some thoughts of gratitude, life, death, the in-betweens. I thought back to every time I visited Nonnie and Poppie. I’ve only visited their graves with other family. We always laughed. We always cried. We always told stories. We always hugged. I love hugs.
One thing that everyone on the island had in common – whether they were partying, feasting, buying, sitting, walking, trick or treating – was that each and every one knew death existed. And we all celebrated life in our various ways.
I was three hours from Standing Rock, faced with a difficult decision. Mook’s and my road trip from Michigan to Guatemala had, through Listening and Following, led us to the Unity Concert in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where mostly people of the Lakota Nation (and an open invitation to all) had come together to strengthen each others spirits. The main purpose this year was to then go to Standing Rock to protect the land and water from destruction and pollution. I healed with medicine women, attended a spirit/sweat lodge, danced to powerful music, laughed, cried, and went off to have a private ceremony with the forest. We were so close to standing for justice, in a place I’ve always loved, with people who have my deepest respect.
We eventually decided to stick to the plan, the only plan for the whole trip: to get to dia de los muertos on time, to a place that honors this moment of the year in a traditional way. In addition to remembering ancestors in this way, and honoring death, I felt my energy was needed here. With so many people thinking that cursed wall is a good idea – with anyone even considering locking a person who looks Mexican in a porta potty and dropping said porta potty off across the border as a real idea – I needed to go do some seeking and some sharing for myself, for my peace of mind and heart.
Last year, I met a man in Nicaragua who had come to USA legally. He was a gardener. I love gardening. I know many people in USA who do not. The job still needs doing. That man was approached one day by police, at a moment he wasn’t carrying his papers. He was locked up. They insisted he was Mexican and took him to a jail on the Mexican side of the border. It took years until an amnesty group came across his case and helped him return to Nicaragua, where he now works as a tour manager for one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of canyons.
He spoke about as much English as I spoke Spanish. I want to work on Caoba Farm in Guatemala, and learn what it’s like. Is that so bad to go somewhere, learn, sustain, experience, grow?
I wanted to gather some solid evidence of the beauty of latino/latina culture for learning purposes, as well as personal interest. I came here with stereotypes, knowing I had stereotypes, intending to break those stereotypes, and succeeding. These places are complex. There are riches that can’t be counted in dollars. There is love, and joy, and spirit, and vibrant colors, and passion for life. And the food. Si.
And, whew, this next episode of Vecinos is almost done. I hope you’ll watch it. Que lindo.
Last night we created an ofrenda on top of our van-home. As I stood there, I smiled with tears in my eyes, and remembered the spirits of the people I miss. I wrote their names in purple, a color that should be included on the alter. As also customary, this honored the cardinal directions, and earth, air, fire, water. There were food offerings in case the spirits were hungry from their long journeys. Our ofrenda was made with love and respect, knowledge of tradition, flowers from the market and me fumbling through Spanish to purchase them from their grower. It was incredibly healing. I miss my loved ones. I can’t hug them any more. I don’t think I’ll get over it completely, and I don’t feel I have to. Why should I have to get over love? This is one reason I’m drawn to the ways of dia de los muertos. The memories stay alive.
I still feel torn about physically abandoning Standing Rock when we were so close.I love clean air, clean water, and any movement toward environmental and social justice for all. ALL. Plant, animal (not just human), air, water, land. In my eyes, all land is sacred. Anything put there that doesn’t honor pachamama makes me uncomfortable. But I usually keep quiet because I don’t know the whole picture, the whole story, and there are reasons for everything.
Still, I’m a dreamer. And I’m not the only one.
I sit here in Dos Veintidos cafe in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, waiting for the rain to let up, enjoying desayunos, smiling at the fact that sometimes I tell people I’m learning Spanish breakfast, rather than learning Spanish slowly (desayunos vs despacio) – while being grateful for everyone’s patience. Dia de los muertos has held my heart since I was young and watched The Halloween Tree for the first time, a cartoon that explores how various cultures honor death.. and the one part about witchcraft, which meant knowledge before it meant magic (and what really is the difference?). Finally, I have the opportunity to experience this sacred time of year with people and in an area rich in tradition. Below is some valuable information that was shared by Grace Alveraz Sesma. I encourage you explore further as well by clicking on her name.
DIA DE MUERTOS, HONORING OUR ANCESTORS, CELEBRATING THEIR LIVES
(2003, UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity)
“The reverent observance of Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead, which is about 3,000 years old, is seen throughout Mexico, and increasingly also by people of other ethnicities and backgrounds who lacking a ritual of their own to honor their loved ones who have walked on before them, have found a heart-home where they can honor their ancestors and other loved ones during Dia de Muertos, one of the most important of holy days for Mexican people.
Loving our ancestors the way we do, we are happy to share our beautiful rituals with persons who approach these special days with reverence, lightness of spirit, and an understanding that Dia de Muertos is not Halloween, but rather a sacred remembering… a sacred witnessing of the joys and sorrows of our ancestors, and a celebration of the strength of spirit of their descendants to preserve the soul of this sacred pre-contact tradition that has it roots in the indigenous nations of Mexico. This is how we celebrate our bone-deep understanding and acceptance that death and life are cyclical…. That life is ephemeral and continues in another form after death. And that it possible for those who have died to return to spend some time with us and celebrate life through our loving ofrendas (offerings).
Before Spaniards invaded Mexico in 1519, these high holy days took place in what today are the months of July and August. The festivities were dedicated to Mictecacihuatl known as the Lady of the Land of the Dead. That is one significant difference, among many, between Dia de Muertos in Mexico, and Halloween. Today, many Mexihca groups in Mexico and the United States celebrate Dia de Muertos during the months of July and August with traditional Native Mexican ceremonies, altar making, and dance over a period of several days.
As a result of colonization, for most people, Dia de Muertos now takes place on November 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Typically, November 1 honors the memory of children and infants and is known as Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) and as Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels). In some areas, white candles are placed on the altar in their honor on October 31st. November 2nd honors adults and is known as Día de Muertos and Día de los Santos Difuntos (Day of the Holy Dead). Forced conversion of Native Mexican people by the Catholic Church, and appropriation and changes to our religious customs to conform to European beliefs is why today we see some similarities in the observance of All Souls Days and Dia de Muertos, and between the cultures of countries colonized by Spain — which is why we now also share a common language, Spanish.
Dia de Muertos is when we gather to pray for and invite the spirit of friends and family members who have died to come and enjoy some time with us, within whose hearts they yet live. We build altars to their memory at home and in public places. Some altares are simple and some are elaborate. Some people hold all night vigils at the cemetery where their loved ones are buried, taking time to lovingly clean headstones, place candles and bouquets of cempaxochitl (marigolds) on graves, toys (for infants and children), pan de muerto, tamales, drinks, and incense burners filled with copal. It is not uncommon to see entire families take lawn chairs to the cemetery and sit for hours recounting favorite anecdotes and memories of special days, and hire a small norteño or mariachi group to play the favorite songs that our beloveds enjoyed when alive. It is both a sad and joyful time.
As I invite you to honor your own ancestors in your own way or tradition, I also ask that if you decide to celebrate Dia de Muertos that you please keep in mind that this is a religious, spiritual, and culture-specific observance and should be approached with respect. I realize that there are other countries who observe what appears on the surface to be similar customs, but those do not have their origins in pre-invasion Mexico, nor the same rituals, elements, and meaning of items that are used in ceremonies. One example is the symbolism of using hummingbirds and butterflies in DDM decorations, which often refer to our belief that they are the souls of our ancestors and family members making themselves known to us. I am referring in this post only to Dia de Muertos of Mexico. Ritual elements taken outside of that and used in a winter solstice celebration for example, or other non- Dia De Muerto observance, could be considered disrespectful or offensive to members of Mexican/Chicano/Native communities, and in some cases, cultural appropriation when done by someone without a foundation who is not a member of the original community. Cultural appropriation is commonly defined as taking one or more elements of a religious or cultural ritual and using it in a different context from which it was intended. I offer this advice in the spirit of mutual respect and to help you celebrate with us with a good heart and a good mind.
In the coming days I will be posting photographs, videos, and articles on Dia de los Muertos and hope that what I share helps you celebrate the life of your loved ones while at the same time honoring this important tradition, which is the religious and cultural legacy of the ancestors of Mayan, Zapotec, Nahua, and other Native peoples of Mexico.”
— Maestra Grace Alvarez Sesma, Curanderismo, the Healing Art of Mexico
More on Dia de Muertos….
Facts and Misconceptions About Mexican Día de Muertos. (it is not Halloween)
“Día de los Muertos, or Día de Muertos, as it’s more commonly known in Mexico, is an Indigenous Mexican holiday that traces its origins to two 20-day festivals that were once a part of the Mexica (Aztec) ceremonial calendar. The first, Miccailhuitontli, which means Feast to the Revered Deceased, is believed to have been celebrated between present day July 12 and July 31. It honored deceased children. The second 20-day festival, Huey Miccailhuitontli, or Feast to the Greatly Revered Deceased, was likely celebrated from present day August 1 to August 20. This festival honored deceased adults. In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Mexico’s “Indigenous festivity dedicated to the dead” as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” — http://thinkmexican.tumblr.com/…/facts-and-misconceptions-a…
Pan de Muerto recipe from, Mexico The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte: http://www.sweetpaulmag.com/…/pan-de-muerto-from-mexico-the…
Dia de Muertos events and supplies: http://mexicansugarskull.com/support/about.html
“I think that it’s important to support local Mexican bakers, artisans and craftspeople who make the Dia de Muerto sugar skulls, alebrijes, and the many other popular Dia de Muertos decorations. When purchasing supplies online I prefer to do so from companies that support Mexican/Mexican-Native artists. This was one of the motivating factors behind my 2013 petition protesting the Dia de Muertos trademark efforts by the Disney Corporation: it filed 10 applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for “Dia de los Muertos,” that included applications pertaining to toys, cereals and jewelry. Had their trademark application been successful, it could have negatively impacted the livelihood of thousands of Mexican artisans, chefs, and other “mom and pop” cottage industries.” —Grace Sesma, http://articles.latimes.com/…/la-et-ct-disney-dia-de-los-mu…)
¡Viva Nuestros Fieles Difuntos!
Art: Lady of Duality by Rick Ortega, Painted Word Productions
I’ve been struggling with the meaning of culture most of my life, but especially lately. I don’t want to offend anybody, but the culture that I have been told is mine doesn’t always seem to hold my values. There are gems here and there, but the mainstream part of it is not anything with which I connect. So, who am I?
Two of my grandparents are full-blood Italian, second generation in USA. One is full German. One claimed to be German, but her maiden name indicates French. She is a mystery, and took her own life long before I was born. I would have loved to meet her. Pain runs in my family. And also love. I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to heal the pain part with the love part. Progress, backsliding, more progress. But that’s personal choice more than culture, so back to that.
I spent three months studying in Italy to try to connect with my Italian roots. Both of my Italian grandparents were still alive at that time. I learned a lot about cathedrals, fashion, amazing food, language, art- both fine and performance, siesta time, shops closing on Sunday, cobbled roads, buses, trains, markets, the hill-stairs called scalette, and clock towers.
I spent several weeks in Germany. My mother went to school in Berlin for a year and we went back for her reunion when I was in 8th grade. I spent another bit of time there for a Hurricane festival. I learned about beautiful backyard gardens, hostels, islands full of peacocks, language barriers, walls, and more about buses.
So, am I Italian, German? I’ve connected with a few roots. I’ve lived in USA for several generations. Am I native to North America, though not indigenous? (despite a quarter of maybe from my mysterious grandmother)
I started learning about the enormous number of the worst sorts of injustices that have happened and are STILL happening in the country in which I was born (see: Dakota Access Pipeline, Run4Salmon, the cutesy kitty with a headdress who is the chosen gatekeeper of the spirit world advertisement in National Geographic (WTF National Geographic, I thought you were cool)). I lived in Mt Pleasant, where the horrendous boarding school in that town was closed down the year before I was born. I heard a story from someone that went there. A teacher beat a kid to death in front of the class with a hook that pulls down maps because he was speaking his first language in school. I heard more stories, but I feel that is sufficient. I’ve spent so much time ashamed of being white/caucasian – that’s what I’ve been told to fill in on any standardized form – and trying to sort out race and culture and justice and injustice, that it has broken me and scattered my pieces to the winds. My experiences at the Unity Concert in South Dakota were very healing (more in a previous entry, more in a later entry, too).
I still feel torn about continuing on this road trip, rather than joining with people who went to Standing Rock. I love to stand with justice. But I can’t be in all the places where all the injustices are being sorted out, and I’ve learned and experienced so much along the way. And here in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, I am learning about a lot of beauty. I am learning possibilities. There was a speaker last night who was saying that there’s all this money and whatever in other places, but here there are riches. The sacredness is being honored. And I see it every time I connect eyes with someone as we pass each other on the street, and we smile, and there is such deep beauty it makes me want to sing. And in a moment, I will go back outside to experience dia de los muertos (which is singular in writing but plural in actual days) and honor death and life as they are honored in Michoacán, and hope I’m not insulting anything cultural. So far, we’ve been met with mutual appreciation.
I connect with plants a lot. They can’t write articles telling me I can’t do planty things because of years of injustice that made things like cultural appropriation separate from cultural appreciation. They don’t judge me for wearing something unfashionable or having whatever body type or letting my living space get messy. They sit around and feel the sunshine and rain, and make food. They’re sometimes jerks too because they sometimes take each other over and choke each other out. But mostly they’re pretty cool to each other. So maybe plants and people aren’t so different. Life. Still trying to figure it out.
We have put a great deal of time and energy into gathering these pieces of joy. Music, opinions, moving pictures. Thank you everyone. Much love.
And much justice to the issues concerning the protection of ancestral and sacred lands, of water, of life. My heart to the Lakota Nation and protecting the Black Hills against the Dakota Access Pipleline, and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and protecting the salmon and their sacred grounds near Redding, CA. #waterislife #run4salmon
We celebrated the completion of our first two months on the road yesterday with tostadas and a long sleep. Our only goal this trip was to arrive in a place in Mexico where dia de los muertos is honored in a traditional way. We questioned many people, and the Mexican state of Michoacán was the hands-down recommendation. So, in Manzanilo, we are close enough to go slow and still make it in time to have a chance to honor the day in a way that has called my heartstrings since I was very young. We’re not exactly there yet, but we’ll listen to the little voice that whispers of the beauty of the world, and, Universe willing, we’ll get to have an experience to remember.. not to negate any of the amazing experiences so far, ones that fill me with hope that we’re evolving in a most beautiful way, revering art, laughter, togetherness, feasts, hospitality, meditation, magic, personal power, justice, joy, plants, water, love, stones, sacred fire, wonder, solitude, mindfulness, healing, and all aspects of this interconnected thing we call life. Politics and gunky choices have disappointed me beyond belief, but have created a platform for people to stand up and say something, people who might have remained silent and watching if certain embarrassing moments hadn’t occurred. Lots of dirty laundry has been hung out to freshen up, and my heart smiles at the freshening.
I sit and write this in the first hostel I’ve stayed in since Guatemala, and the same feeling sits with me. Curious people exploring different ways of life, sharing stories, tips, and tricks. I missed this. I missed tiendas. I missed serious tacos. I love not knowing where I might be in the next few days. I’ve lived most of my life in such an unplanned way because every time I try to plan something, the goddesses and gods laugh. Pencil plans are fine. I kept our pencil plans on the same calendar, and penned in what really happened. It’s nice to see the maybe and the reality. We’re supposed to just be getting to Utah, but had that been the reality, I think we would miss dia de los muertos. So, go with the flow, and be a rock when the flow needs to change. The real power is knowing when to do what, be the rock or be the flow.
Above: Death Valley and some of Bryce Canyon. That creek of salt in Death Valley had life growing in it, little amoeba things and plantish things. Life will find a way.
Below: Fairyland Canyon, Utah. In Turkey, these landforms are called fairy chimneys. They do look like they’re from the Otherworld.
Below: Zion. We mostly drove through this national park because there were so many people that we couldn’t even park to explore most places. The north end trail was lovely and was rather solitary.
Below: re-creation of an old pit home in Boulder, Utah. I try to use the most respectful names for anyone and everyone. The name Anasazi has come to mean ‘ancient people’, but since it has historically been used to mean ‘enemy ancestors’ by people of the Navajo nation, two more appropriate names are debated. Either Ancestral Pueblo Peoples, or Hisatsinom, a name used by Hopi. So sayeth Wikipedia.
And I was looking for cliff dwellings, which are only in Mesa Verde, and were only built and used for about 80 years. Learning.
We are all influenced by choices made by our predecessors. Some say it goes back seven generations. I maintain it started a bit further back, like Big Bang time, or before. Not necessarily that that was a choice, all perhapses of Creative Influence aside, but that happened and everything since then has brought us to exactly where we find ourselves right now. The waste product of the first cells – oxygen – killed them off, but is a necessary component to the breath of most living things these days. Mitochondria happened. Cells ate cells, and the cells that got eaten persevered, and are now a key component to the energy of living things now. Certain groups of people moved around, claimed space, drew lines, fought over those lines, drew more lines, repeat. A lot has happened.
We are in a powerful place because we are alive right now. We’re making choices that the future will taste. How do we want to flavor that future? I want to make it delicious. I want it to have clean air, clean water, deeply loved land, constructive use of fire/destruction, mindful use of creation/building, and love. Unconditional, beautiful, delicious love.
(Captions for the photos below in sunwise order from the top left: Turtle Watching, Hugs with Peter Yarrow: Supporter of Justice and Love, Look at those Rocks, Big Beautiful World)
These wisdoms were shared as Medicine Road spent a profound moment with each of the women in a healing circle, where I was grateful participant. There are times when things that are shared in the circle stay in the circle, and there are times when so much pain exists in the world that the ideas need to be shared out. These resonated with me because either I am, or have been, in situations where these ideas are, or would have been, very helpful. And, of course, all issues are more complicated than I have written down. I just can speak from experience.
It’s not your fault. We always have a choice to be close or far from Creator (also could be read as a place of love/integrity/etc), and if someone hurts you, don’t take the guilt of If Only I Was A Better Person.
I was taught these are only two responses to scary things: fight or flight. But there is also freeze. All can be useful, all can be harmful. And it takes a lot to change the one that was accepted in your household, the one you learned, and the one that may or may not be useful anymore. It takes a lot of effort to change, but it can happen.
We are given gifts. Some of us are sensitive. That hurts a lot. There is a great deal of pain in the world right now. Sometimes we block the sensitive, but if you can’t feel, you can’t do your job. (my addition: sensitives, support each other. There is a lot of beauty that can come from it)
The Bear has taught us many things, and a lot about medicinal plants. Human and Bear bodies use many plants similarly. So, the Bear has been studied, and knowledge has been gained. The Bear is also a Bear, so, to stay safe and uneaten, watch the Bear from a safe radius. Take that as metaphorically as you will.
Fear means we are not currently filled with Creator, and dark bubbles can fill us. Love fills and heals those dark bubbles.
Look at the root of the pain/learned dynamic of dealing with things, and Choose.
Sometimes you have to let go of (perceived) support, even if it’s the only thing you think you have left. Sometimes that (perceived) support is keeping you down.
I always thought being grounded was necessary. But being grounded sometimes makes it harder to Listen. Be able to get back to grounded, but it’s not the only way.
We may feel instantly overwhelmed, and not always know why. There are many energies around, and if you get worried or something similar, they can all rush at you at once, and overwhelm you, sensitive soul. Scent is powerful to bring you back to steady. Burn sage or cedar. I like lavender oil (or, better yet, the flower itself.
Everyone has to.. figure out.. the Love. Say they cause you pain, and you accept that pain because you think you’re helping. You’re actually making it worse, because they’ll have to deal with it later (such as when they’re leaving their body at the end of life, they’ll feel the pain they caused you and the pain you felt afterwards that now has that root).
Choose your partner carefully. Women have internal knowledge of holding space – whether we have children or not. Men can connect with that nurturing aspect. Who do you want to hold your space?
It’s not the outcome, it’s how you walk. We are all given gifts, special talents. Their strength depends on how we carry those gifts.
If you deny love, you have less energy. I get in that mode sometimes, and I see myself doing it, and sometimes it takes a while to figure out, but that’s ok. The darkness has limited energy, and can get you if you’re down. It can keep knocking you down. But get up. Let’s look at our wounds as strength because it means we keep getting up. If they can’t convince you it’s your fault, they’ll go hide.
Your brain eats emotion, the chemicals that are released. If you want to change your thinking, your cycle, your brain will get hungry for what it’s used to eating. It’s just like when we try to change our diets. Your hungry brain tries to put you in a position where it can get that emotion. Perhaps part of this is self-sabotaging behavior. Try changing your brain’s diet for two weeks, and it should get used to its new diet by then.
Other people’s stuff isn’t your burden to bear. Holding space is much different than bearing their burdens.