Episode 18. DAY of the DEAD
Learn The Legend of Quetzalcoatl and Mayahuel
A Story for Our Time
This time of year, most of us celebrate Halloween.
Kids go trick or treating, while we adults hand out candy when they come calling…. or relive our childhood and dress up` in costumes, go to parties, and decorate our homes with witches, black cats, ghouls, and skeletons.
But most of us know little about the roots of Halloween, and even less about the other celebrations that come at this time of year.
Our own Halloween dates back to ancient pagan rites of Samhain – and the Christian All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
One event that has really grabbed our attention is the Mexican Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos. As the Latin-American population in the U.S. has steadily grown over the last several decades, this celebration has taken off.
I’s hard to miss: You may have seen it from a distance, those amazing painted skeleton faces, sugar skulls, Mariachi bands and parades pouring into cemeteries festooned with brilliant yellow Marigolds…elaborate altars lit by candlelight, and families feasting over the graves of their dear departed.
Like us – you probably have no idea what a rich and really fascinating history this colorful celebration has. If you watched the Disney movie Coco, you have some idea. It actually dates back thousands of years to ancient Aztec rites - -some pretty scary – but has evolved into a profoundly spiritual moment when families celebrate their lost loved ones.
It's no coincidence that Samhain, All Souls Day and Dia de los Muertos happen around the same time -- this moment when we pass into the dark time -- when many believe the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest … and the dead can come home to visit.
We all tend to look at that differently: some of us think of ghosts as scary -- even evil -- spirits. But these days, most Americans just treat this as a chance to have fun with that theme.
But those who place their faith in Samhain and Dia de los Muertos honor those dear friends and family who have left us. Instead of mourning the dead and fearing their spirits, their celebrations spiritually join the dead and the living together again for one day and one night…when that mystical veil lifts and their spirits mingle among us.
For the past few years, we’ve been learning about all this from a fascinating woman – Adela Marquez -- one of the organizers of the hugely popular Dia de los Muertos celebration at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where hundreds of celebrities are interred alongside thousands of people from the area --many of them Hispanic.
In past years, the event has drawn as many as 40,000 people -- most showing off wildly colorful costumes reflecting that year's theme.
2020 was also a record year for Hollywood Forever, but tragically for another reason. They could barely keep up burying the number of dead who had succumbed to COVID-19.
The event was cancelled in 2020, except for a private somber service for the few hundred families who had loved ones lost to the pandemic buried there.
But last year, as we we were just starting to emerge from the horrors of the pandemic, a smaller version of the event was once again opened.
The Hollywood Forever staff came up with the spine-tingling theme of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, the mythic Aztec Phoenix who rose from the ashes, just as the world was emerging from the conflagration of the global pandemic that has infected over 630 million people worldwide.... so far. Nearly 6,600,000 people have died.
This year, the event returns in full force, and the theme for 2022 continues the Aztec saga with "The Maguey Goddess, Mayahuel."
Hollywood Forever's resident expert and our good friend, Adela Marquez, eloquently tells the moving story, rich with tragic romance, and eerily applicable to where we find ourselves as a nation, and a world, as we move from a time of recovery into a time of healing.
Mayahuel is the Aztec Goddess of Fertility, the Maguey (Agave, which is where we get Tequila. She brings us Love, Magic, and Transformation. She has dominion over Earth, the Night Sky, hallucinations, and intoxications: the Centzon Totochtin, 400 Drunken Rabbit Gods, are her children.
Mayahuel’s ancient gifts of the Maguey to the Aztecs included food, shelter, drink, medicine, soap, cloth, thread, needle, baskets, blankets, and paper. Her thorns were used as ritual bloodletting instruments.
She is also the Goddess of the Maguey, or Agave, plant....which gave us Mescal, from which we have received the blessing of Tequila.
Who better to help us heal?
Psychologists lately confirm what the Aztecs always knew: Mayahuel eases our grief and comforts our miseries with her gifts of Mezcal and pulque, the transformative foaming “honey water”, sometimes containing mushrooms, consumedby the Aztecs during spiritual ceremonies and festivals, agricultural blessings, weddings, and fertility rites.
One of Mayahuel’s legends begins when Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god, falls in love at first sight with her as he ascends to the Heavens to battle her evil grandmother, Tzitimitl, a celestial monstress swallowing light into swirling darkness and feeding on the souls of human sacrifices.
Infuriated by the sparks of their passion, evil Tzitimitl sends Mayahuel's brothers down to Earth to kill Quetzalcoatl and Mayahuel. Trying to escape, the lovers turn into trees. But the brothers catch them, and tear Mayahuel to shreds.
Grief stricken, Quetzalcoatl kills Tzitimitl, gathers Mayahuel’s scattered remains and buries them. Heartbroken, he stands guard at her grave as his tears fall on the remains of his murdered beloved.
Touched by his sorrows, the other gods add hallucinogenic mushrooms to his pulque to comfort him. Fed by his tears and their enduring love, the first Maguey (agave) plant sprouts on Mayahuel’s grave.
The sweet sap of the agave, which now grows throughout Central Mexico, is the blood of the Goddess – producing pulque (a sweet drink first used by the Aztecs), as well as mezcal to forever lesson our miseries and lift our grief.
This is an especially moving episode – it will educate you, touch you, entertain you, and help us all understand the rich traditions of our Hispanic friends.
Join us – if you dare -- as we venture into a hundred-year- old mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and meet with the marvelous, mystical Adela Marquez ….