An homenaje to all things wondrous and wild this time of year in our corner of the world --loosely inspired by a local folktale of the disobedient young lady seduced by the devil at a community dance. Smitten, she becomes transparent beneath his gaze. His appearance crosses centuries - skull face and long warrior hair under a classic fedora hat and flashy 40's suit.
The scene is the iconic historical shrine, El Tiradito (The Castaway) - often regarded as the heartbeat of Tucson, decorated for El Dia de los Muertos.
Ancient deities rule... shining through the moon. But La Virgen de Guadalupe lives on... here on a ball cap that could have been left by a thankful border-crosser. (When one becomes aware of La Virgen, one notices she is everywhere.)
As an afterthought I added a curious little dog, just following the trail of marigold petals...
A fresh look at La Llorona - the Weeping Woman
The Legend of La Llorona is one of the oldest in the Americas, and there are countless versions of her legend but HERE is a good place to start. Most Latino kids know her as the witch their Mamas warn them about that lives in the arroyos looking for wayward children to eat. The larger legend is the one that she is the eternally damned murderous woman archetype that females the world over labor under.
The interpretation that resonates with me is the one by Mexican Nobel prize-winner, Octavio Paz. In his 1950 essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz describes La Llorona as one of the Mexican representations of Maternity and, as such, she is presented as a symbol of Mexican identity. This identity revolves around Mexicans’ view of themselves as "hijos de la Chingada". Paz explains that "the verb chingar denotes violence, an emergence from oneself to penetrate another by force … La Chingada is the Mother forcibly opened, violated or deceived. The Hijo de La Chingada is the offspring of violation, abduction or deceit."
This violation is the Conquest -- the quintessential symbol of which is La Malinche, or Doña Marina-- who, despite having been sold as a slave to Hernan Cortes because of her linguistic skills as a translator, has been painted as a traitor to ‘her people’. This archaic, misogynistic view that lays the blame for the defeat of a civilization at the feet of one disenfranchised woman has remained popular to this day. Indeed, Paz himself states that "the Mexican people have not forgiven La Malinche for her betrayal."
La Malinche and La Llorona become one after the former is chosen, used as chattel, then cast out along with her undesirable children. Honestly: what options do the untold millions of modern-day pariahs like La Malinche/La Llorona and their children have?
She carries it all... for all of us.
My interpretation brings a little redemption to this, just one of the many maligned female archetypes in global mythologies.
I place La Llorona along the Santa Cruz River, somewhere south of Tubac. She is framed by mesquite trees and and has lost most of her hair. Her hand has delicate fingers rather than long, gruesome claws. And she is terribly, terribly weary. She is surrounded by a troop of Monarch butterflies on their way to their winter roost in Mexico. They are spirits of children who visit her every year to comfort her on their journey south. I put tiny eyes on the butterflies and colorful spots on their bodies to make them special. I always incorporate owls into my paintings where the veil between the worlds are thin. It is a guardian keeping watch over the ephemeral scene. Owls are sacred birds in many cultures and I adore them.
I include also my signature petroglyph boulder alluding to the timelessness of the land.
La Loba speaks to me as the eternal seed of life that does not die. Ravaged by man and time - sorrowful, yet soft. The bumblebee on her hand is one my mother drew before she died and I like to honor her where I can in my paintings. Her fingertips bear the ancient indigenous spiral symbol.
A once majestic saguaro stands long-dead, with only shards of its skin remaining. It is pierced by multiple bullet holes - the fate common to many of today's living saguaros. The spiral emergence petroglyph on the boulder at its feet bears the same scars of human thoughtlessness. In the background is a rusted shell of a vintage automobile that La Loba uses as a repository for her collected bones. She burns a few twigs of holy wood in an abalone shell and sings her assembled skeleton into being. Hummingbirds, messengers of the spirit world, greet the awakening spirit of the wolf. La Loba may be returning the animal spirits to an ancient celestial home; evidenced by a blue star glowing in the distance.
As told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD, Women Who Run With the Wolves:
"There is an old woman who lives in a hidden place that everyone knows but few have seen. As in the fairy tales of Eastern Europe, she seems to wait for lost or wandering people and seekers to come to her place.
She is circumspect, often hairy, always fat, and especially wishes to evade most company. She is both a crower and a cackler, generally having more animal sounds than than human ones.
They say she lives among the rotten granite slopes in Tarahumara Indian territory. They say she is buried outside Phoenix near a well. She is said to have been traveling south to Monte Alban in a burnt out car with the back window shot out. She is said to stand by the highway near El Paso, or ride shotgun with truckers to Morelia, Mexico, or that she has been sighted walking to to market above Oaxaca with strangely formed boughs of firewood on her back. She is called by many names: La Huesera, Bone Woman, La Trapera, The Gatherer, and La Loba, Wolf Woman.
The sole work of La Loba is the collecting of bones. She is known to collect and preserve especially that which is in danger of being lost to the world. Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures: the deer, the rattlesnake, the crow. But her specialty is said to be wolves.
She creeps and crawls and sifts through the montañas, mountains, and arroyos, dry riverbeds, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled an entire skeleton, when the last bone is in place and the beautiful white sculpture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing.
And when she is sure, she stands over the criatura, raises her arms over it, and sings out. That is when the the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being; its tail curls upward, shaggy and strong.
And still La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings, the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon.
Somewhere in its running, whether by the speed of its running, or by splashing its way into a river, or by way of a ray of sunlight or moonlight hitting it right in the side, the wolf is suddenly transformed into a laughing woman who runs free towards the horizon.
So it is said that if you wander the desert, and it is near sundown, and you are perhaps a little bit lost, and certainly tired, that you are lucky, for La Loba may take a liking to you and show you something— something of the soul."
More from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés : http://www.clarissapinkolaestes.com/works.htm
El Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead/All Souls Day has its roots in the Aztec and Maya traditions of Mexico and is thousands of years old.
It has become more & more recognized and celebrated here in the greater American West in recent years. The Day of the Dead as it is celebrated in central and southern Mexico is an incredible amalgamation of native and Catholic beliefs, and honors departed members of the family. As the time of year when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, it is believed that the departed actually come back, returning to visit their grave sites and the scenes of their lives.
One of the ways that Mexicans cope with loss is to view the concept of death in an almost playful manner. Markets are filled with candy skulls (complete with names) and statues and depictions of calacas (skeletons) engaged in everyday acts like playing music, celebrating weddings (and funerals!), riding skeleton horses, bikes, and countless other life delights.
Artists have participated in the long-standing tradition of creating calaveras (skulls) to celebrate this event - often satirizing the events, customs and personalities of the day. The most famous Mexican artist known for this is José Guadalupe Posada.
In the northern frontiers of Mexico and border regions, El Día de los Muertos is more muted but departed family members are honored just the same. Fall is when families of the departed clean grave sites, give them fresh paint, and decorate the graves with flowers--fresh, silk/plastic, and hand-made paper.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is Mexico's patron saint and is loved and revered throughout the America's. Here, her tears turn into roses that rain down as a blessing on the deceased. (Roses are a key element in her legend, read more about her here.) Roses are also important to the Yoeme (Pascua Yaqui) cultural belief in the Flower World; their spiritual vision of heaven.
The presence of an owl portends death, according Mexican folk traditions. There is an old saying in Mexico: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere ("When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies"). The Aztecs and Maya, along with other Natives of Mesoamerica, considered the owl a symbol of death and destruction.
The saguaro cactus has finished its spring bloom and is ready for the saguaro harvest conducted by the Tohono O'odham Indians in late June. From the saguaro fruit they make saguaro wine, jams, and jellies and have a rain feast in honor of the coming monsoon.
The horned lizard at the bottom does not have any special meaning except that they are a beloved endangered desert critter.
Sonoran Arizona remains America's migrant graveyard. Nativist immigration policies have become more and more untethered in recent decades in a lust to grow the new industrial for-profit private prison complex. Meanwhile, the American economy still depends on immigrant labor, now more than ever - to feed us, and do the jobs Americans never have, and never will do.
I continue to find ways where I can honor all those who gave up everything for a better life. It is my intent to show here that we can only hope they are being received into a better place than those they knew in their home countries or in our deserts.
Ca nel nehuatl in namoicnohuacanantzin in tehuatl ihuan in ixquichtin in ic nican tlalpan ancepantlaca, ihuan in occequin nepapantlaca notetlazotlacahuan, in notech motzatzilia, in nechtemoa, in notech motechilia …
Everything I am and do is rooted in love of our land and its people, and our Mother. Her mantle has room for everyone. And 'She Comes for Them'...
Over the past ten years, more than 4,000 people have died while crossing the Arizona desert to find jobs, join families, or start new lives. Other migrants tell of the corpses they pass—bodies that are never recovered or counted.
Crossing With the Virgin collects stories heard from migrants about these treacherous treks—firsthand accounts told to volunteers for the Samaritans, a humanitarian group that seeks to prevent such unnecessary deaths by providing these travelers with medical aid, water, and food.
In my community travels, I have found that literally none have heard of La Corua or its legend.
At the Tucson's Birthplace Breakfast, I ran into an old acquaintance, Jesús Garcia; Sonoran native and naturalist at the Sonoran Desert Museum. We discussed the future of the Mission Garden and I gave him my card. He knows of La Corua well, and told me that it indeed is a real snake - not just a mythical animal as I understood it to be. I was thrilled and told him how much keeping Sonoran folk heritage alive means to me.
So, here is the biology I uncovered about my business' namesake:
The boa constrictor (Boa constrictor) is found from South America to central Sonora. In Sonora, the Mexican boa constrictor or corúa (B. c. imperator) can be a rich dark reddish color in tropical deciduous forest or a paler grayish color in coastal thornscrub. Corúa (also coruba) is a pre-Columbian name. They are often found in canyons and are thought to be guardians of the aguajes (water holes). Unlike other serpents, killing them is thought to be bad luck (the water will dry up).
A blog of inspirations, interpretations-- things that move me in this place where I'm planted.