During a recent journey to Mexico, I found new facets of culture to which I had previously paid little attention. That first day, a publicly displayed prevalence of skulls that, in our USA culture, symbolize fear and death came front and center.
Their appearance stirred another, more distant memory of being in Peru where our tour group was invited to visit a home in Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Pichu. There were several skulls of this family’s ancestors reverently placed altar-like on the window sill in their primary living space. Being younger then, my curiosity was quelled even at the thought of death, so I put any interest about the “superstition” on the shelf of my mind to address later. It is now 23 years later! Today I am curious enough to question. What’s up with that?
Tapping the memory, I seem to recall hearing that many Peruvian families find it comforting to have ancestral skulls within their homes as protectors of their living space. Also, some believe that the wisdom of their elders is more accessible when the skulls are a part of everyday activities. For the reader’s further exploration, check out the following link:
Now this time when I discovered an entire wall of skulls prominently displayed across the street from San Andreas Catholic Church (along a main street in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico) my attention immediately perked up. As you can see, I was not the only curious one!
You may notice a plaque on the wall. Ostensibly, it explains the purpose of this exhibit. However, my high school Spanish has long since faded and no one within hearing distance admitted to speaking both English and Spanish. So, I was left wondering about the significance until I revisited the site days later. That day an obliging local citizen versed in dual languages revealed the information on the plaque. “This being an artsy town, it is an ongoing art project intended to honor students who have attended the Catholic school”. From another vantage point at certain times during the school day, one can observe uniformed 8th graders laughing together enjoying the normally temperate sunny days of Ajijic.
She explained that each skull represents and names a specific student. She further emphatically expressed, “My name is up there and I don’t like it!” I felt it impolite to question her further so, I conjectured that being an obedient student, she simply followed the direction of her insistent teachers. At this point I became curious to understand the Mexican cultural fascination with skulls. It was enlightening to hear that the ”worship of death included a worship of life”. While the skull, is a symbol of death, it is also a promise of resurrection. OK, I think I get the value of honoring skulls now.
However, my next encounter both startled me and stirred curiosity even more. A few short blocks away a delightful skeleton greeter silently invited me to browse a handcrafted chocolate shop. Who wouldn’t want to engage such a happy greeter with her implied promise of sweetness just inside?! The desire to to better understand Mexican customs and celebrations suddenly felt very compelling.
My Wikipedia search did not disappoint: The Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico… and by people of Mexican heritage elsewhere. The multi-day holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and to help support their spiritual journey. Hmmm- It seems this lady skeleton seems to figuratively have a lot to say about life.
Her playful and joyful eternal essence shines constantly. Her messages are sweet and simple:
If you can have a big smile, flash it- it is infectious and guaranteed to curl the lips of those who notice. Listen for the laughter-maybe it comes from another dimension.
Be a light in the world- your light can remind people that death is just another phase of life and it might just be easier than carrying around a heavy body.
Support the people you love- love doesn’t end because the body becomes obsolete-keep spreading joy!
Enjoy each precious moment- After all, this particular now moment offers a bite of divine chocolate option. Who knows? Your next moment may be even better.
Dare to dress colorfully and eye-catchingly– this will allow you to remain immortal in the hearts, minds, and photos of others.
Let go of attachment to the body- maybe you will make a great skeleton and your weight will remain constant forever!
Fear not bones or strangers- Bones allow your physical body to move and may be used later for the inspiration of artists, the education of medical students or even for the entertainment of potential customers (among many other things). Plus, bones provide great posture. And strangers are only friends you have yet to meet. Be a friend to all who cross your path.
Stand your post proudly and reflect who you are where you are- Never be concerned about how another may judge you- their opinions can’t change you unless you believe them. And remember, they can only see what they are. Then, ultimately, beyond this world, there is no other. WE ARE ONE IN SPIRIT!
DO YOU SEE HOW MUCH WISDOM CAN BE GLEANED EVEN FROM A DEAD WOMAN?
Wanda Gail Campbell
Wanda has served thirty plus years as a healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace ordained by The Beloved Community. In July, 2007 she completed her PhD in Philosophy focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. For her own spiritual nourishment, she enjoys reading both contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.