The Day of the Dead

2020 Kirby Vickery November 2020

By Kirby Vickery on the November 2020 Edition

I find it intriguing that two cultures could put together ceremonies to be celebrated at the same time during a year and dealing with the same aspects, more or less similar ceremonious methodologies, and reason for a festival, one not having any concept of the other’s existence and in two different very different time eras. I should explain.

Our spreading western celebration of Halloween comes originally from the Druid (Priest class) of the Celtic people. It had its origins in the festival of Samhain (Fall equinox, harvest, etc.) among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. All this started during 5500BCE to 4500 BCE. During the late Bronze Age, the Catholic priests enfolded the ancient pagan rituals into modern comitatus chivalry [As an example, look what happened to Beowulf. Ed] and the story of Samhain was all but lost, with people running around paying little ones tribute to keep their alter egos from running the stock off or burning the outhouse down.

Much later, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Olmecs passed on to the Maya, who passed on to the Toltec, a developing creation story that culminated with the Aztec around 1195 CE. It was at this time in Europe that the Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy were making their split and North America was seeing the great Mississippian culture run its course.

In     Aztec  mythology,    Mictēcacihuātl     (Nahuatl     pronunciation:  literally  “Lady  of  the  Dead”)  is  Queen  of mik.teː.ka.ˈsí.waːtɬ Mictlān, the underworld, ruling over the afterlife with Mictlāntēcutli, her husband. Her role is to watch over the bones and preside over the ancient festivals of the dead. She now presides over the contemporary festival of Halloween as well.

She is known as the “Lady of the Dead”, since it is believed that she was born, then sacrificed as an infant. However, the Codex tells that she grew up a beautiful woman (see below). Mictēcacihuātl was represented with a flayed body (skeleton) and with jaw agape to swallow the stars during the day. Her name has morphed into Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.” Please don’t misunderstand me. That’s not her position title, but her actual name. Her title is The Goddess of Death.

According to myth, Mictecacihuatl was once alive countless ages ago and a member of an ancient pre-human race of beings who lived when the world was new. But, her time in the living world was short since she was sacrificed to the underworld as an infant. After her death, she grew to adulthood as a magical skeleton deity of immense power. She has lived through count-less cycles as a goddess of bones and death and the dead, rising ultimately to become queen of the underworld. One of her foremost duties as the ruler of the dark realm is to guard the skeletal remains of extinct earlier races.

In the past, Mictecacihuatl failed in her duties and Xolotl, god of sickness and lightning, stole one of the sacred corpses of those who lived long before – which the gods of the sky then fashioned into living modern human beings. Now, Mictecacihuatl must also guard the bones of dead humans, for she believes that our remains could be used by capricious sky gods to build an even more ruthless group of alien new beings.

There is one odd but interesting fact about Mictecacihuatl and that is that she loved flowers and one in particular. The Mexican Marigold is a very fragrant and bold orange flower with a storehouse of medicinal qualities. It was used more in the ancient times than today: “May combat certain cancer cells. Calendula’s (scientific name for Marigold) antioxidant content may provide anti-tumor effects. Test-tube studies suggest that calendula’s flavonoid and triterpene antioxidants may fight leukemia, melanoma, colon, and pancreatic cancer cells.” (credit: see below). Another site tells of it reducing inflammation and being used as an antibiotic. Sort of a pre-modern CBD oil and there are ads all over the internet where you can purchase all sorts of stuff made from the plant that will make you live forever while being totally healthy. There is an interesting story of why and how that happened.

There were two young Aztec people, Xótchitl and Huitzilin, who were neighbors as children and grew up together to become lovers and later married to live together in a perfect world primarily because they were together. They did everything together and one of their favorite things to do was to climb to the high mountains and vistas near where they lived. The clean atmosphere, soft but warm grass with fantastic scenery, would lull them into sleep almost every time they went up. They really loved these little day trips into their ‘special’ places where they could also watch all the animals play and feed in these meadows. They would leave flower offerings to Tonatiuh, the Sun-god, while swearing eternal love for each other.

As time passed, Huitzilin was called to war as most all young Aztec men were from time to time. Tragically, he was killed and Xotchitl took it pretty hard when she found out. She pined for a few days and then forced herself up and out of the house to take a long walk into the mountains where they had spent so much time. While she was up there, her grief rose within her and she collapsed into the grass in which she enjoyed the company of Hiutzilin.

After a time, Tonatiuh took great pity on her because her sorrow was so intent, even he could feel it. He decided to grant her wish to join with her lover again and sent a special ray of sun that transformed her into a flower as golden as the sun it-self and reincarnated her lover as a hummingbird. When Huitzilin the hummingbird approaches Xóchitl the flower with his beak, her twenty petals bloom, filling the air with cempasúchil’s distinctive and powerful scent.




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