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FEATURE - September 2017
Visit Mexico for the ‘Magical Time’
by Alex Jackson
Over the last fifteen years, my work in Traditional Maya Medicine has taken me to México many times to study cultural healing traditions. I have often been asked by people, “What time of the year should I go to México and where?” If you want a true cultural experience like no other, there is only one time of the year to visit. It actually took me six years from the time I first went to México to discover what I call “the magical time.” In November 2010, I went to México City to study more about Traditional Medicine with the late healer Elena Avila and her Aztec teacher, Ehe. The trip coincided with the celebration of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Although I had heard of it before and had seen various representations of photos and art, nothing would have prepared me for the immense feelings I would have around this “celebration of life.”
I have always thought of México City as one of the most cultural and beautiful cities in the world, an undiscovered gem for many Americans. There is so much to offer—a mix of ancient Aztec and Spanish colonial with a modern global feel. Having said that, imagine the neighborhood streets in México City lined with glowing cempaolxochitl (Nahautl language pronounced cem-pa-SU-chil) or in Spanish – flor de muerto (marigold) flowers. I have never seen so many of these bright orange/yellow flowers; it made my heart feel warm as I gazed at the seemingly endless pieces of the sun that had landed on earth for all to enjoy. In fact, as I found out, the flower´s significance is said to be used as a guiding light for the deceased to find their way back home. Preparation begins by setting up altars on October 31st both in public places and people’s homes. These altars typically have three levels and represent heaven, earth, and the underworld.
The ancient Aztecs believed they were immortal and death was just another stage in life. During this time of the year, Día de los Muertos, all the spirits are said to return to earth and join their families. This is a celebration of life, thus the bright colors; even in cemeteries you will hear festive music with families gathered among well decorated graves. In fact, when visiting a cemetery for Día de los Muertos, I was amazed and taken by all I was seeing and feeling. Instantly, any grief I had for my deceased loved ones turned into happy, fun, and loving memories. As my spirit was overflowing with joy, I remember thinking to myself, “How can I recreate this in Kansas City when I return?”
The highlight of my journey in México City during the Día de los Muertos was having the opportunity to make a traditional Aztec-style altar led by Aztec healer Ehe. The altar was to be circular and laid out into four quadrants to represent the four directions. We were given countless bundles of marigold flowers to take apart and spread on the earth until only a bed of bright orange could be seen. It was colorful and creative with many offerings, or ofrendas, like: calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls), pan de muerto (day of the dead sweet bread), and fruits. We placed photos of our deceased loved ones on the altar along with ofrendas for them. An ofrenda may include a favorite food, drink, or passion they enjoyed during their life.
I remember my Grandfather smoking a pipe with Prince Albert tobacco, so I included this in my ofrenda for him. Just seeing this red pouch of tobacco brought back so many memories; it made me feel closer to him, and I was elated to give him a gift I knew would make him happy, be it healthy or not.
Following this ceremony, we ate the delicious food that is traditionally served on Día de los Muertos: atole, tamales, mole, chocolate, and, of course, more pan de muerto. This circle of life experience left my soul transformed, and since then I would never look at death the same way again.
I have to tell you, the transformation of the soul goes far beyond the cemeteries. In México City, the Zócalo (center plaza) is transformed into one of the biggest and most decorative sights you will see. Though it is already architecturally stunning, for these few days, add to it building-sized calaveras and catrinas with parades of music and dancing. If you follow the enticing smell of fresh baked pan de muerto, it will lead you to the district of Coyoacán. A gorgeous place, Coyoacán is best known for the Casa Azul, Frida Khalo´s home. The plaza is always a site to see in Coyoacán, full of indigenous folk artisans and great cultural food. This scene gets exponentially better during November 1st and 2nd for El Día de los Muertos. El papel picado (colorful flags of punched paper) drape the plaza, candles illuminate precious altars, each one seemingly more interesting, spiritual, beautiful, and humorous than the prior one.
Again my spirit was in awe of how death (usually never talked about in the U.S.) could be so fun and light! My spirit felt like it was having a grand party with all my loved ones that had passed. Not to mention along with the thousands of people on the plaza with me in Coyoacán. I remember saying to myself, “I have to come back each year at this time.” I invite you to take this journey, just once, and I guarantee you will agree with me, this holiday is the best time to visit México!
Alex Jackson LMT, NCTMB is a Holistic Health Practitioner specializing in Traditional Maya Medicine with over a decade of experience in treating chronic and acute health conditions. He uses Maya Abdominal Massage for relief of digestive, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and anxiety issues. He is co-owner of Centered Spirit–Cultural & Holistic Center located in Waldo: 8131 Wornall Rd., Kansas City, MO 64114 centeredspirit.com 816.225.9393 firstname.lastname@example.org
Image courtesy Alex Jackson.