Un blog de mitos, leyendas, costumbres y tradiciones de México

Entradas etiquetadas como ‘Mexican beliefs’

Celebrating the Dead in other parts of the world

CELEBRATING THE DEAD IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

and the Day of the Dead in Mexico

We arrived at don Evaristo’s ranch on October 27th. We wanted to get back home for Halloween, because some friends of ours were planning a typically American Halloween party for 31st October. When we arrived at the ranch, doña Almanda was quite busy working on what she called “El altar de muertos.”

“What’s that for?” we asked her.

“Ah, it’s our way of celebrating our dead relations,” she said. “We make an ‘altar’ for them every year.”

In the United States, we all celebrate Halloween, because of our Anglo-Saxon background, but most Americans don’t really know about its ancient, pre-Christian origins, in both Europe and the Americas.

That evening, after another great dinner, we sat in the living room by the fire while doña Almanda made hot, sweet cinnamon tea. It was then that don Evaristo started to tell us about the Día de Muertos in different parts of Mexico. He even showed us photos from every state he mentioned.

“And are there any folk tales or legends specially related to the Day of the Dead?” asked Emily.

“Well, there must be some, but I’ve never heard any.” Don Evaristo answered. “In this case, I think the traditions themselves are just as interesting as any tales. For example,” he continued, “ancient cultures like India and China also have ceremonies like ours in essence, though the rituals may be different. Indeed, many cultures have a fixed date to honor the dead. The main reason for these ceremonies is really to keep the ghosts of the dead from troubling the living, and, of course, to show affection for the departed.

“In India, among the Hindu, the Ñr~ddhas, or ‘rituals for the ancestors’ last for ten days. On each day, people give the spirits food to give them strength to free themselves from each of the ten hells they must pass through, on their way to eternity. On the first day of the new autumn moon, the head of each Hindu family performs ceremonies for the dead of the last three generations. Additional ceremonies are performed on the day of dead.

“As I said, this special day exists in many countries. There are general ceremonies for the souls of all the dead, such as All Souls’ Eve in Christian countries, or the Feast of the Hungry Ghost, in China. And also there are more specific ceremonies, dedicated exclusively to immediate ancestors, heroes, etc. In this category, you have Memorial Day, in the United States, for example, in which those who died in battle, or who died at sea, or even who died in great disasters are honored.”

Don Evaristo’s explanation gave us some idea of how important this day is all over the world, and how certain beliefs may be universal. For the first time, I really understood the true meaning of our Memorial Day. We didn’t go back home for the Halloween party with our friends. We decided to stay on with don Evaristo and doña Almanda and learn more about the folklore of the Day of the Dead in a Mexican cemetery instead.

It was awesome! Such color, such beauty, such joy, such life! And all in honor of the dead! This is something every foreigner to Mexico should experience!

Written by Homero Adame and translated by Pat Grounds. Originally published in the English textbook Orbit 3. By Homero Adame, Pat Grounds and Carol Lethaby. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2000. Pp. 54-55.

Myths and legends from the State of Colima: The Ghost Train

THE GHOST TRAIN

Folk story from Manzanillo, Colima

We were all having a festive dinner at don Evaristo’s ranch, because the next day we planned to leave. It was already time for Easter vacations and Emily and I wanted to go to the Copper Canyon, in Chihuahua. So there we all were, chatting pleasantly to doña Almanda and don Evaristo about our vacation plans.

“Ah! So you’re going by train!” said don Evaristo, enthusiastically. “Hardly anybody travels by train in Mexico nowadays.”

“Why is that?” Emily asked.

“Well, times have changed,” don Evaristo replied. “Now people prefer to drive to places, to take a bus or even to fly. The passenger train is just about history now. But it so happens that I know a very nice folk story about a train,” he said.

“This story is common in many parts of the country. It’s even told in areas where there never was a railway, like in the municipality of Arista, in the state of San Luis Potosi,” don Evaristo began. “What’s more, this type of train story is by no means unique to Mexico, since the ‘ghost train’ is a neo-motif in the whole world; that is to say, a new motif in universal mythology. Trains were only invented early in the 19th century, you see, and only a few years later, people started telling tales that involved trains in different countries. Written by Homero Adame.

“Now, coming back specifically to Mexico, these ‘train tales’ are generally related to the days during and after the Revolution, when many trains were robbed and derailed. One good example took place in Linares, Nuevo Leon, when the train going to Monterrey, from Tampico, was really robbed in an isolated part of the state. Many different folk stories were born from that one event.

“Anyway, the story I’m about to tell you apparently occurred between Guadalajara and Manzanillo, in the state of Colima. And it’s not about a robbery. At least, I don’t think so. Written by Homero Adame.

“Legend has it that one night, the Picture taken by Homero Adametrain to Manzanillo left Guadalajara exactly on time. All the station staff and telegraph officers saw it depart. The train was not very full that night, but it was expected to stop in a number of places, including Ciudad Guzman, in Jalisco, and Colima City, before reaching its final destination. The telegraph officer in Guadalajara wired his colleagues with a smile, informing them that, for the first time in many moons, the train had actually left on time that evening!

“Early the next morning, the train full of passengers arrived, equally punctually, in the Port of Manzanillo. All the passengers got off the train, and at first sight, everything seemed quite normal. Except for one small detail: the train didn’t stop at a single station on the way. Not only that, nobody, but nobody at all saw the train at any point on its route! Written by Homero Adame.

“It was a complete mystery. Not one telegraph officer or station employee in places like Sayula, and Ciudad Guzman in Jalisco; or in Colima and Armeria, in Colima, saw the train that night. It didn’t make any of its scheduled, obligatory stops. On every platform, a stationmaster waited, assuming that the train had been delayed, even though they knew from the Guadalajara telegraph office that it had started its itinerary on time.

“But that is not all. Legend has it that the train left Guadalajara half empty, but when it arrived in Manzanillo, it was packed full of passengers! Where did all those passengers come from, if the train did not stop anywhere on the way?

“Well, the obvious thing to do was to ask the passengers, right? So, after a day or two, when speculation was at its highest point, a newspaper reporter interviewed some of the passengers. To his great confusion, everyone he spoke to said they could not remember a thing about the journey! They couldn’t even remember getting on the train, and certainly nothing about the trip! It had been so peaceful, people said, that they had slept all the way. They only knew that they were going to Manzanillo and to Manzanillo they arrived, right on time.”

“That’s a really strange story, don Evaristo,” said Emily. “But all the same, I hope that our ride to the Copper Canyon is not on a ‘ghost train’!” And we all laughed merrily in the candlelight… Folk story found at https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/myths-and-legends-from-the-state-of-colima-the-ghost-train/

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Written by Homero Adame and translated by Pat Grounds. Originally published in the English textbook Orbit 3. By Homero Adame, Pat Grounds and Carol Lethaby. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2000. Pp. 85-86.

.Book by Homero Adame

.This story has been published, in Spanish, in my book “Mitos y leyendas de todo México”, by Editorial Trillas.

The book is for sale in all Trillas’ bookshops, but it can also be ordered through their online store (just follow the link).

The direct link to the book is this one: Mitos y leyendas de todo México.

Myths and legends from the State of Hidalgo: The Turkey

THE TURKEY

Folk story from Alfajayucan, State of Hidalgo

Don Evaristo’s apparently endless repertoire of stories from all over Mexico never ceases to surprise us! In a single evening he can choose any topic, such as animals, saints, or witches, or whatever, and then go on to tell us stories about that topic, from numerous different states, for hours!

The other night, for example, Don Evaristo started telling us some terrifying stories about sorcery, witches and wizards. For some reason, my pocket cassette recorder, which usually records everything, didn’t record a single thing that night! Maybe it was afraid too! However, I do recall one particular story, from a place called Alfajayucan, in the State of Hidalgo. And this is more or less the way that Don Evaristo told it: https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/myths-and-legends-from-the-state-of-hidalgo-the-turkey/

“Now, we all know that there are many animals of the night, which some people believe really to be witches or sorcerers, who know how to take on the shape of an animal. This practice is called ‘nagualism’, and it is a fairly common motif in Mexican mythology.”

“Yes. There are similar beliefs among some of our American Indian tribes, too.” I said.

“Of course there are!” Don Evaristo replied. “Don’t forget that most elements of mythology are universal. That’s why stories with similar content are told all over the world in different cultures. Anyway, the typical animals occurring in ‘nagualism’ are coyotes, crows, and owls.” He continued.” In Mexican mythology, there’s also the turkey – the ‘guajolote’, as we call it here. In many parts of the country, you can hear tales of ‘guajolotes’ who are really men or women who practice the art of ‘nagualism’.” Tale written by Homero Adame.

“Can you give us an example, please?” Emily asked.

“Well… there’s one place in the State of Hidalgo, Alfajayucan, where many people say they have seen a huge, strange light in the dark. For example, they may be just walking across a field at night, when suddenly this enormous light shines out from nowhere. And, according to some beliefs, those lights are used to disorient the person, who immediately feels lost, even if he knows the path perfectly well. As a result of his confusion, he gets really lost and can often walk all night without finding his way home. However, there is a magical way to break the spell.

The person has to embrace a tree and stay there with his eyes closed for as long as he can. The light turns into a ‘guajolote’ and starts to hit its victim really hard with its wings. Shortly after this, the ‘bird’ will go away and the person will finally find his way home.” Legend written by Homero Adame.

“What happens if that person opens his eyes and sees the turkey?” I asked.

“Well, according to some legends, if he sees the ‘guajolote’, he will also see the real face of the sorcerer or witch, but the sad thing is, he will not live long enough to tell anyone about it!”

“Is that true?” Emily asked.

“That I cannot say.” Don Evaristo replied. “But legends are legends, and many people say they know of people who were found dead, embracing a tree, their bodies bruised by some inexplicable blows – the blows of the ‘guajolote’s’ wings, perhaps?” Folk story found at https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/myths-and-legends-from-the-state-of-hidalgo-the-turkey/

  • Written by Homero Adame and translated by Pat Grounds. Originally published in Activate! 2, by Carol Lethaby, Homero Adame and Pat Grounds. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2003. P. 134.

If you wish to read more Mexican legends, just follow this link, surf and enjoy!

Myths and legends from San Luis Potosi: The ahuichote

THE AHUICHOTE

Folk story heard in Las Carboneras, Matehuala, San Luis Potosi

A long time ago, I was doing some work in the highlands, in the Altiplano Potosino, and of course I took great interest in the local myths and legends. Every evening I spent time talking to the local people and hearing their stories. It was very surprising to learn about an ahuichote ― a sort of animal spirit that announces death. In the Aztec folklore there’s a mythological animal called “ahuizotl”, but its description and its purpose has nothing to do with the ahuichote (also referred as “ahuizote”, “agüichote “or “güichote”) I found in the Altiplano. In the end I concluded that this spirit was “new” to universal mythology, and should be included.

Anyway, I heard different stories of this ahuichote, and all of them spoke of how such spirit was the messenger of Death. One night, while drinking hot chocolate by the fire place, and old lady told me: “Years ago, for several days we heard a strange howl and we knew something bad was going to happen. A couple of days later we learned that Chencho died in Monterrey. His corpse arrived at midnight and we all went to his poor house to veil him. All the time we were veiling Chencho, we kept hearing a strange noise. It was like a cry of a coyote, but not quite the same. It was an inhuman howl; not from this world. We could hear it, and we all knew what it was. Yes, it was the howl of the ahuichote itself, because he was saying that there was a dead person in the village. And that dead person was Chencho, who was from this village but living in Monterrey. The ahuichote cried all night. Legend written by Homero Adame.

“Next morning, after the service offered by a priest from Matehuala, we all went to the cemetery for Chencho’s funeral. And the frightening howl of the ahuichote was harder and sadder than ever. When the grave was covered with soil, the howling stopped. We didn’t hear the ahuichote again that day, and not for many days.

Here we all know that when the ahuichote howls, somebody is going to die”. Homero Adame’s folk story found at: https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/myths-and-legends-from-san-luis-potosi-el-ahuichote/

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You can find more Mexican myths and legends on this link: Mexican folk stories.

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