Day of The Dead Celebrations in Michoacan (Part 4)
By Lic. Benjamin Lucas Juarez.
Unlike Western cultures for whom myths equal fictional stories that lack truth and are therefore irrelevant as a source of information about the historical past of a town, the indigenous world and the Purépecha in particular, think of the myth as an essential part of the set of explanatory arguments that enable the understanding of the past, the present and the world itself. The origin of the world, the presence of the gods, the water, the hills and man is explained by the original myth that says creation began with little ash pellets.
Thanks to the myth, man explains to himself why the rites exist and is able to give a voice to the symbols.
By the logic of the myth -which is explainable-, the Purépecha not only believe but assert that when someone dies, his or her body is buried but the soul is still living and meets with grandparents and gods and is able “to return” from that life to be together with his or her people and once more.
In the myth, the place where the souls live is an ordinary place, not a place for eternal rest with no work or suffering as suggested by the Catholic religion. In uarhicho, the souls keep working on their crafts; they work, they walk, they eat, they sleep, they get tired, they get angry and they celebrate as well. According to the elders’ tales, they need our help to meet certain needs. Sometimes they lack work tools, food, candles for lighting, clothing, toys (if they are children); and all that can be given to them on the day of the souls, when they come to visit and take everything that is placed in the offering with them.
When they arrive, they come in a subtle and familiar way, not at all related with the images of supernatural and grotesque beings, which are often broadcasted in the media.
Nature works together with this and reinforces the myth with its own language: at the end of October, little white butterflies start to flutter along the banks of the flowery paths and communities. “Don’t frighten them, they are the souls arriving”, say the grandparents. Prickly pears, pumpkins and Cempasúchil flowers (tirínguini or apatsekua in Purépecha) have grown and blossomed in the backyards. Cempasúchil flowers stand out from the rest because of its vivid orange color. Corn is almost ready for harvest in the fields. A harvesting cycle is nearing completion and all these elements will be present at that special place in which the celebration will be made to welcome the souls, which will be the first to enjoy the harvest.
Continuing with the myth, it is known that the souls bring back sacred messages and are sacred messengers themselves because they are closer to God or to the gods. Therefore, the meeting place is an altar decorated as such, for them to share their divine essence with relatives and friends who have gathered around to eat together in celebration. The soul is offered holiday food, bread, fruit, atole, etc. But, also, flowers, incense, candles and holy water.
After the soul has gotten together with his or her loved ones, shared blessings with them and ate the holiday food, the soul loads all of the things placed in the offering before returning to uarhicho. These will be his or her provisions for the entire year and not until the next celebration will the soul be able to return again to renew community ties.
In some communities, the soul is offered some animal made out of wood or wild twigs so the soul can take all the things that were offered more easily from this world to the other.
But, what happens with the souls that no one awaits and had no offering laid out for them? According to tales, they arrive sad and go back crying, picking up the scraps and crumbs of those who were celebrated.
These myths are told by grandparents in the afternoons as preparations are taking place so both little ones and grown ups listen and understand why they must make an offering and celebrate the feast of the souls.
Image credits: My Opera