Guest Post : The Days of the Dead by Chris Pollard

The Day of the Dead is probably the most famous Mexican festival, but what many people outside Mexico don’t know is that it is actually officially two days: 1st and 2nd November, and often starts the night before when the souls of deceased children return to visit their families, with the souls of adults returning on the following day, and all the souls coming together on the 2nd. However, in many parts of Mexico it takes place over several more days, beginning on the 28th October.

In this version, each day is dedicated to the memory of those who died in different ways, with the exact correspondence of each day varying slightly from place to place within Mexico. October 28th is dedicated to the memory of those who died in accidents, and in some areas also to those who were murdered, whilst in other regions it commemorates those who drowned. October 29th is set aside for children who died unbaptised and so remain trapped in limbo, although in some regions these are remembered on the 30th or 31st, and the 29th is dedicated to those who drowned, or altenatively those who died in accidents.

The 30th commemorates either the children in limbo, or women who died in childbirth and people who died of old age, whilst the 31st may be dedicated to children in limbo or to murder victims or suicides, or to the souls of those who die of old age. Then on November 1st it is time to commemorate either those who died as adults, or all souls together. Usually November 2nd is the day to celebrate all the deceased together.

So, why such a strange and confused system? This is actually due to the continuation of an ancient tradition from Aztec mythology that has survived in somewhat garbled form. For the Aztecs there were several possible locations for the afterlife, and which one you went to depended not on your moral behaviour in life, but simply on how you died.

Tlalocan, the watery paradise full of trees and flowers, ruled by the Rain God Tlaloc, was the first paradise, and received those who drowned or were killed by lightning. Tonatiuhichan, or Ilhuicatl-Tonatiuh dwelling place of the Sun God Tonatiuh, was the highest paradise and welcomed warriors who died in battle, women who died in childbirth and the victims of ritual sacrifice. Chichihualcuauhco “Place of the Breast Tree” was where the souls of babies went, to drink milk from the breasts that grew like fruit on this tree, before being reincarnated on earth. Mictlan was the common underworld, ruled by Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancíhuatl, Lord and Lady of the Underworld.

There were in fact several more afterlife locations, but these seem to have been lost along the way. Nevertheless, all of Mexico celebrates the souls of dead children and dead adults on separate days, and pays their respects to Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl at this time of year.

*

Chris Pollard lives and works in Mexico. He gave me my Santa Muerte statue as a gift for which I am grateful.

Advertisements

The Goldleaf…

My first column – NOTES FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE – is over at The Goldleaf, an arts and entertainment paper out of Georgia, US.

It is a version of my last Damned Fingers column…

Check out – Robin Postell – The Goldleaf editor’s personal site: HERE.

Goldleaf_picmonkeyed Goldleaf2

The Death Of Three Colours – cover sketch

TDo3C
Drawing by Gerry Carnelly

As I go deeper into the twinkling gloom, I see a faint glimmer moving around in the smoky dimness ahead. The light increases in intensity until the bright form is flitting around me. Its inner light shines upon its skull, ribs and spinal column; the illumination flowing out towards its wings and tail. Crackling with the electrical charge of imaginary feathers. A large skeletal owl that flashes a greeting.

What is your name?” I ask it.

Búho,” it speaks, “My name is Búho.

Inside its ribcage a fire burns with an incandescent intensity as I stroke its skull. Feeling a tingling charge of affection. We separate and he allows me to hold onto his tail as he pulls me towards ever more profound depths in my mind.

Damned Fingers [22.10.15]

Giovanni, the burly moustachioed Sicilian sat across from me, is bellowing while he spits food out of the side of his mouth. He makes grand gestures as he sucks in air to describe a taste without words.

Mario, the morose Romanian, munches on a salami smothered with mustard while taking another swig of his cheap white wine. He constantly repeats a single word in his language like a mantra. Castravetsi! This word, whatever it damn well means, is the thing that keeps him alive. He repeats the word around once every two minutes, he giggles and takes another drink. The word is his Pater Noster.

Down the corridor, I hear Fabrizio, an over-worked alcoholic chauffeur for rich tourists, singing an old Talk Talk song as wanders from his bottle to the shower. He is the only one who speaks English here.

These are my temporary flatmates in my new adopted country, and as usual, I understand diddly squat of what is happening around me.

Outside, klaxons are blaring out and the locals are shouting at each other out of habit as a heavy downpour washes away another day in the beautifully chaotic city that is Florence. 

I have moved on again.

*

Three weeks earlier:

There was a fly in my Leffe outside the bar in Paris. I fished the buzzing pest out of the beer and, thinking it was a goner, left it to go the way of all things on the table in a tiny puddle. I continued reading the criminal autobiography You Can’t Win by Jack Black, glancing every now and then at the odd mademoiselle that floated into my slightly blurry field of vision.

As I went to take a sip from my beer, I noticed that the puddle had turned into a tiny path and the wee desperate creature, full of Dutch Courage, had dragged itself out of the alcoholic mire and was making its drunken way to drier climes.

I rolled and lit up another smoke and watched, as the pest pulled itself to safety with an iron determination. Once free of the liquid, the insect set about cleaning and drying its body and wings. My murderous tendency towards flies was completely subdued and I watched, spellbound, realising what a fucking hero that creature was. The Chuck Norris of the insect world.

The resilience to survive by any means necessary.

The need to get on and adapt to whatever situation life shits down in your way.

*

As I write this, before I stumble out into the world that I have created for myself, surrounded by new stinks, sounds, and qualities of light, I, once again, am reminded that a life spent travelling is a life of permanent cultural adolescence.

The ability to watch and listen is paramount. Silence as a way of expressing oneself in a world where the noise of one’s uninformed opinions is the common denominator.

Who knows, by listening, I might actually learn something?

*

Many people might feel envy at this vagabond of a life, with its sense of discovery, but you lose as much as you gain. Contact with family, friends, and your own culture, suffers.

Many people might think that it is bravery to be able to pack a bag and move to a place where, at the beginning at least, even going to the supermarket is an adventure. Well, every single time I have gotten on a plane or train to the next place, I have been frightened to my core. Frightened of losing the comfort, no matter how staid, of all that I have left behind. Of losing the one or two people who made that place special. Of the unknown.

Yet, despite feeling the fear, I crossed the threshold from the old to the unexpected.

Once a decision is made, there’s no turning back.

Just stubborn, I reckon.

*

As the great Stoic Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius once said:

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”

Life is as unstable as Donald Trump’s wild and fascinating hairpiece; more than ever it seems, with the fear of eco-catastrophe, war and a collapsing financial system, sucking the blood from us.

So, why not embrace that inevitability?

A friend once asked me what I was escaping from. I could not answer, although the response was just on the tip of my tongue. 

Just past the horizon where the tough guy flies buzz in my ear.

*

NEWSFLASH! : CASTRAVETE means GHERKIN