Day of the Dead

The Real Thing, Part 2

We waited until November 1 to write this post, deliberately. Since we’re in the middle of preparing for this Día de los Muertos, we thought we might make things a bit more real. For those of us who, through life’s circumstances, find ourselves quite committed to this ceremony, it takes a place in our life, every year and in between.

Flowers for the Ollin – where we left things in Part 1: innumerable candles, high color decorations, the list of our Dead we will honor, and naturally the needs – emotional, material, spiritual that all of us carry in mind. When we pray for the Dead we pray for the living, as well, as vice versa.  

With Covid 19 and the rest of our world’s challenges, it seems like a good time to call on Ancestors who, in some form or fashion have lived this before.

As we said in Part 1, the Día de los Muertos ceremony provides a floor of knowledge that fuels almost everything we do: healing, blessing, teaching, seeking the best ways possible to make good lives. We can’t begin to tell you how much we have experienced that has proven quite functional in our lives from participating in the actual event over the years. Attention to our ancestors energizes our evolution on Earth.

We left Part 1 at 2:30 AM, the Drum, Rattles and Song silenced for a few minutes, a well-deserved break from the work and joy in “lowering the Ollin” the last four hours.

Perhaps, next year we will share a picture of an Ollin, but we have deeply ingrained in us the “rule” of taking a picture of this Sacred Image, only if necessary, and then, not sharing it with anyone outside the group. This type of “rule” is lightening up, but these traditional guidelines have, and still do, preserved our tradition from its many predators, so not only can we preserve it, but live it.

Around the Sacred Image made of colored Flowers, the participants have coffee, discuss their feelings and feel the presence of our most honored guests. For some this is actual communication with ancestors, for others it’s simply a faith in the feeling that surrounds us. The kind of presence our pets feel.  

The Conch, Concha, calls us – four loud, air-thru-shell calls. As the People move about into their places, the Huehuetl, begins it version of Mother Earth’s Heart, and we all move faster into place. The Jefe asks a participant to lead us in the first song in the “raising of the Ollin,” the next half of our ceremony.

Ollin: Sacred Movement, a sign chosen today to honor the movement between Life and Death. Those who follow our Calendar think about that sacred movement at least once every 20 days. There is a day for Death, of course, but today Movement is what we seek.  

After the first song – song leader sings a verse, group repeats it, and again – the Jefes choose another man and a woman to “raise the Ollin.” It’s now past 3:30AM. Two cut broom sticks, two-three feet long, and a ball of thread are set in front of the couple.

As the Smoke, Song, Rattle and Drum move, the couple begins, very slowly, deliberately and in rhythm with the singing, tying the flowers, artfully, on the once common broomsticks.

Of course, the honoring of our Dead continues.

Many times, I have regretted not recording the special sounds our tradition makes during ceremony. You really have to be there to appreciate the movement of smoke and song.

When the Jefes asked me to lead a song in the process, I said, “El es Dios,” a traditional expression I’ll tell you about some day and happened to notice the time was 5:35AM. I got through my nervousness at leading the song by belting out the first stanza, as if I knew what I was doing.

I continued to sing when the group answered my stanza, but it gave me time to catch my breath, clear my throat and sense my spiritual surroundings. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but when one feels the presence of that world so clearly, it is always a most singular moment in my existence.

My song ended at 5:59AM. By that time over half the broomsticks were covered in beautiful Flowers and the next song moved it forward.

When every Flower was off the ground and on those broomsticks, the Jefes began the ending of the ceremony. Special songs are sung, acknowledgements, and of special note, is the “return of the Word.”

When a Dancer is given a role in a ceremony, we say the Word was given, the Palabra. When the Dancer performs her duty, she returns her Word to the Circle by summarizing how it went from her point of view. Maybe she was rude, or possibly made an error. Sorry. Maybe she has a comment to make about a certain moment in the ceremony. Thank you.

However, before those Words are returned, we have the Limpias for all participants and other family members that come over in the morning, expressly for a limpia with these flowered broomsticks. The Jefes each take a broomstick, the Dancers line up, and each of us gets a smudging – healing passes with the Flower Ollin, to be precise.

Truly a glorious moment, a word I don’t use all that much: glorious. After the limpias the Words of each facilitator are returned to the Circle, as above. And after that we eat, drink and enjoy the Offerings with our Dead.

How else can they taste the sweetbread or the tobacco, except through their home in our blood? In my early years I’d go for a shot or two of Tequila to wake up. Later years I sought protein and fruit first. Lol

Thanks sincerely for reading our story. We believe that any mental, spiritual attention any of us give to our Ancestors is crucial, all the time, but nowadays, even more so. We thank you for any thoughts, deeds or inspirations you may have had. It helps all of us. El es Dios.

Our next article asks, Are You Called – as helping, healing or conjuring?

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Published by Mike Callas

Named curandero, healer, by the people we serve, we're close to 40 years living around our humble altar. Our experience has created a legacy we are inclined to share, as well as inspired many a story and the making of myth. In true toltec fashion, we make art.

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