My First Day of the Dead

Calaca Catrina

Living in Texas opened my spiritual perspectives in many ways since I was exposed to a variety of cultures from many countries. One that I found particularly attractive was the celebration of the Day of the Dead o El Día de los Muertos.

Raised as a Catholic and a believer in Spiritism and the Orisha was in itself a challenge, it is like learning many languages at once, at times confusing, but eventually it all sorts itself out. However, one thing I did learn as an undercurrent is that the dead are never really far away from us. In the Orisha practices we ritually offer meals and offerings of various sorts to our Egún, therefore, when I learned about the Day of the Dead, I was overjoyed.
I invited a rather eclectic collection of friends to come to our home and to bring along with them candles, decorations and the meals and treats that their loved ancestors enjoyed in life. At first people were a bit shy about accepting my invitation, but I persuaded them that there was no hocus pocus about this. For me it was a celebration of who we are, where we come from.

For the Aztecs, the Day of the Dead is as well a time of remembrance and socialization, this celebration was a festival in honor of their goddess Mictecacihuatl. The celebration takes place on November 2nd coinciding with the Catholic celebration of All Saints Day…go figure…not only Catholics had a penchant for building their churches on top of holy sites and temples of various indigenous cultures, but also of masking existing celebrations with their own beliefs, not that this was in particular the case, just a little observation, take it for what is worth. Or maybe it is just one more coincidence, like the one of the Easter Bunny. 🙂

In any case, once folks had a couple of glasses of my grandmother’s Sangria recipe they were much more in the mood to start helping to build a multi-tiered altar. Marigolds, photos, candles, various drinks, food dishes and breads started to blend in an eclectic altar that reached a height of 4 feet from bottom to top. We gathered around it and started to reminisce about each of our loved ones who had crossed to the afterlife. The air was charged with affection, laughter, admiration and overall a good current of emotions that weaved itself around us, like a protective net, like the arms of those who were being remembered reaching out to embrace us.

There is no need to be afraid of death, of the dead or of spirits. We are as much a part of them as they are of us, and that is one of the messages that the Aztecs I believe, wanted to share with us. So in this special day, the dead come out to join us, to celebrate and to play along in this wonderful game called life. Get inspired, make friends with La Calavera Catrina, one of the most vivid artistic representations of this celebration done by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada in 1913, build your own altar to your dead and invite friends to join you as well, learn to make some Pan de Muertos (see a simple recipe as a follow up article), and write a Calaca (short humorous, political or satirical poem ).

Dia de los Muertos Altar

La Calaca y Roberto
The calaca came to visit
While I was taking a nap
She reached out her bony fingers
To pinch the pan the muerto
When she heard a little voice
Of my son Roberto
Leave that be skinny Catrina
If you eat too much like me
you will end up in the letrina.

In honor and appreciation to the Spiritual traditions of the Aztecs and their descendants.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

PS. Calaca= skelleton, pan de muerto= bread of the dead, letrina= latrine.

5 Replies to “My First Day of the Dead”

  1. Could one say that the extensive Day of the Dead altar builds on the boveda?
    Or would it be fair to say that the Day of the Dead altar serves a slightly different purpose in being for the remembrance of the dead and not their spiritual elevation?

    1. Hello Dominic,

      The Day of the Dead Altar I think predates the usage of Bovedas. However, it does has strong similarities. I think it reminds me more of the a service to Egún than to the Bóveda per se. I do not usually place food offerings on my Bóveda, just incense, candles, flowers and water.

      However the Egun space does not have to be limited to a corner on the floor, it can be larger and more elaborate like the Day of the Dead setting.

      You are right about the purpose of the Day of the Dead, I think it is more a space of community with the dead and not so much a time/place to work on elevation.


  2. Dominic

    Going to the cemetery is no picknic in the park for those of us who have spiritual gifts. I only go there with a purpose because of what I can see while I am ‘visitin’. If you are going to the cemetery, pay your dues at the entrance and offer your prayers expediently.

    Based on what you and I have shared off line, if I was you, I would not be hanging about cemeteries. There is no need to pick up more influences that could further increase spiritual tension for you. First you got to deal with other matters.

    Bottom line, if you visit the place of rest for the dead, have a reason to be there and follow protocole. Otherwise it is like visiting relatives at their house and not telling them you are coming, walking straight to their living room and perching there to do your thing without even having the courtesy to say hello.


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