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Author Topic: Happy Allhallowtide! European and Nahua Day of the Dead?  (Read 123 times)
J. Wilhelm
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« on: November 01, 2020, 10:51:48 pm »

Wishing everyone a happy Allhallowtide, beit Samhain, Dia de Muertos, or just the plain Halloween! You'all know I'm going to talk about some Dia de Muertos stuff already, so I'll cut ti the chase.

Today I however, I present a bit of controversy surrounding sugar skulls, and delve a lot deeper into the ritual of the Day of the Dead.

I think that by now I have talked about and established the relationship between the Samhain and Dia de Muertos to Allhallowtide. For those who don't remember those threads (or in the case the threads have disappeared), the Catholic faith folded these two disparate ancient Celtic and Nahua (Aztec) holidays with the Christian Allhallowtide between December 31 and Nov 2.

English speakers may know that pagans celebrated the end of the harvest season starting in the last day of October and ending with the first of November. During this season "the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned, meaning the Aos Sí (the 'spirits' or 'fairies') could more easily come into our world. The Aos Sí were appeased with offerings of food and drink, to ensure the people and their livestock survived the winter. The souls of dead kin were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality, and a place was set at the table for them during a Samhain meal. Mumming and guising were part of the festival... whereby people went door-to-door in costume reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí."

I have also explained that the Day of the Dead has it's base on the Nahua (Aztec) festivals where it was believed that the dead would come and visit the land of the living and in various rituals throughout the year when it was common to offer gifts of food to the dearly departed. In more detail beyond what I have explained, during each year, there were three 20-day long festivals dedicated to the dead and the husband and wife lords of the underworld (Mictlan), Lord Mictlantecuhtli and Lady Mictlancíhuatl.

"Mictlantecuhtli (and Xolotl)" by Mexican digital artist @AndresRiosRizo on Twitter

In Nahua religion, Mictlan was the final abode of those who died of natural causes and in order to reach eternal rest, the dead had to first traverse 9 levels of hell over a period of 4 years, crossing rivers, mountains and overcoming innumerable obtacles before they could finally find peace in the presence of Lord Mictlantecuhtli. At times they could be guided by deities such as Xolotl, the god of fire and lightning. Xolotl was sometimes depicted as a dog headed man who could also take the form of a Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog), an Axolotl (Mexican Salamander), a Maize plant with two stalks (Xolotl), and a Maguey Plant (Mexolotl) as he was master of disguise.  Only the warriors who died in battle and the women who died giving birth could avoid that path if the underworld to reside in the heavens at the side of Xolotl's twin brother Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, God of Light and Wind, who rules the heavens.

Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog), psicopomp guide to the decesased and one of the forms of the god Xolotl


Depiction of Quetzalcoatl in Codex Borbonicus, 16th C.
Image in Public Domain

Modern day Native Mexicans view the holiday as a happy remembrance and sincretist communion with the dead, rather than a holiday celebrating horror, spooky monsters and evil spirits like the commercialized modern version of Halloween. Naturally the dearly departed now go to heaven, the purgatory or hell, depending, but modern Mexican natives still believe the dead can commune with the living throughout Allhallowtide. The holiday is celebrated in two day simultaneously with the Christian holidays, first during Day of All Saints (November 1) whereby altars are dedicated to dead children, and then during the Day of All Souls (November 2) where the people visit cemetaries and organize vigils and tend altars dedicated to deceased adults.

Traditional Day of the Dead altar in Mipla Alta, Mexico City
Photo: Eneas de Troya - https://flickr.com/photos/eneas/4072192627/,
Creative Commons License: CC BY-SA 2.0



The altars erected during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are supposed to be the Post-Conquest version of the year long Nahua funerary rituals where the dead on their way to Mictlan could interact with the living relatives.


Similarly a type of egg-dough bread in the shape of a skull-and-bones, the "Bread of the Dead" is prepared and placed as offering on the altars. The dearly departed are said to partake of the treats during the holidays. There is a special significance to the shape of the bread, with the bones oriented in the cardinal directions associated with pre-hispanic religion.


Mexican Marigolds, Cempasúchil are part of the altar offerings and used to adorn tombs in cemeteries. The word "Cempasúchil" clearly a Nahua word, can be interpreted either as meaning "Flower of the Dead" and "Twenty-Petal Flower" as the Nahua roots of the word are "Cempohualli" (Twenty") and Xochitl" ("Flower") and can be tied directly to the 20-day Mictlan rituals of old.




During the visit and vigils at the cemeteries the relatives of the dead burn Copal amber-like pieces of tree resin used as incense. Copal is well documented to have been used throughout the pre-Columbian Americas as part of religious rituals. The use of incense is a very old practice that transcends various Native American cultures. Among the Classic Maya, it was believed that a column of smoke could open up the portal between the dead and the living.



However, reading modern literature on the subject, the skull and skeletal shaped Ofrendas (offerings), placed on the altars (toys and sugar skulls for dead children) are often attributed to Nahua imagery which had nothing to do with the Mictlan rituals mentioned above, but rather the ritual sacrifice of vanquished warriors after conquest (as the Aztec were land conquerors, like the Roman were), and the images are often wrongly connected to the Tzompantli, a rack of skulls harvested from the sacrificed warriors. The fact that the Tzompantli is connected to war and not the underworld rituals should be an indication that the sugar skull origin of the ofrenda is dead wrong (if you pardon the pun).



Historian Enrique Ortiz (aka @Tlahtoani_1521 or @Cuauhtemoc_1521 on Twitter) sets the record straight, if somewhat controversially by pointing toward medieval Christian rituals and customs that can even be seen in modern Europe today as the origin of the Mexican ofrendas (Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/Cuauhtemoc_1521/status/1320902045193408512).

Historian and Writer Enrique Ortiz

In the 11th. Century, the Abbot of Cluny promoted a day to celebrate the pilgrimage of the faithful to visit the remains of all the saints in the Catholic Church. Known as the Day of All Saints, the date falls on November 1. The bones of martyrs were displayed at places of worship for the faithful to see.

Hannes72 - Own work. Model of the former structure of Cluny Abbey
Creative Commons License: CC BY-SA 3.0

As Ortiz explains, those thousands of people who visited the relics and remains of the saints would be promised forgiveness for their sins in the afterlife as well as a shorter stay in Purgatory. As part of the celebrations candy was made and bread was baked in the shape of the relics. Just before the unification of Spain was consummated, during the the 15th C., in Castille, León y Aragón candies were made ffrom almond flour and honey, in the shape of skulls, femurs and whole skeletons. These can still be seen in Catalonia during the Allhallowtide as "Panallets," and in the rest of Spain and in Italy as well you can find other candies named "Bones of Saints."

Catalonian Panallets


Spanish "Bones of Saints"

The "Saints' Bones" are made from Marzipan and filled with a paste made from egg yolk to simulate the bone marrow. The Spanish Christians learned the technique to make Marzipan from the Muslim Caliphate of Al-Andalus.


In Italy, the practice of forming the almond candy into the shape of fruits and animals referred to as "Fruits of the Dead" ("Frutti di Morti") also was merged into another custom: turning the Frutti di Morti into an Ex-voto, an offering made to a particular Saint. These votive candies then were blessed at the church and taken to the faithful's house, where they were placed on a table previously set with an image or figure of the saint who was the recipient of the offering. The table was then known as "The Saint's Table." The table included the Frutti di Morti, as well as votive candles, and other religious objects such as icons and was adorned with flowers.

Enrique Ortiz argues that these Southern European customs were successfully introduced into the New-Spanish society, where the Marzipan candies were called  Alfeñiques and that over the years, local folklor was adapted and folded into the traditional rituals with skull candies and the altars of the Day of the Dead we know today. The evidence - he points out - is that the production of alfeñiques was mastered on the European side of society first with nuns becoming experts in the manufacture of these holy treats such as those traditionally made in the convents of San Lorenzo and Santa Clara in Mexico City. As New Spain became racially mixed, so did the beliefs and customs integrate into one another.

Mexican Alfeñiques

Ortiz argues that these almond based candies were very expensive for most of New Spanish society, so poor people began to reproduce the marzipan shapes using sugar, egg white and lemon, which is the way that modern sugar skulls are made. The poor could now use clay molds to manufacture the alfeñiques, and the skull shaped alfeñiques began to be called Calaveras


Today in Mexico and in Europe, the churches dust off their holy relics and put them on display at the start of November. In Mexico City at the Metropolitan Cathedral's Holy Christ Chapel, various relics,are on display for November 1 and 2, among them a Lignum Crucis a piece of the Holy Cross which is supposed to have been given by the Pope to Friar Diego of Salamanca in 1573 for the Agustine convent.


Digitizing the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City


So if the origin of the Calaveras and the altar is Spanish, then exactly what remains of the native origin of the Day of the Dead?  

The answer is the expected presence of the dearly departed on the plane of the living. The saints get Alfeñiques in the church, while the living get Calaveras at the cemetery. Images of the diseased, not saints, are placed at the center of the altar. Diseased children get toys and their favorite candies while they were alive. The tombs of the dead are adorned with Cempasúchil flowers which tie the holiday directly to the three 20-day Aztec underworld rituals, and of course the burning of Copal incense which has the power to open the gap between the land of the dead and the land of the living.

Two years ago @KineticKennons published a 3-part seriesr on the Native Day of the Dead traditions in the State of Michiacan in Mexico.








And with that, dear friends, I conclude my (somewhat late) presentation on this 2020 Allhallowtide. May you pass the rest of today and tomorrow in peace! You still have a day and a half to commune with the dead!

Your humble servant,

Admiral J. Wilhelm
« Last Edit: November 02, 2020, 12:30:16 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged

MWBailey
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« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2020, 07:26:30 am »

Sorry about taking forever to view this. Interesting!
Logged

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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2020, 10:00:33 am »

Sorry about taking forever to view this. Interesting!

You and me both, Monsieur Bailey!

Great Job, J!

Besides being intrigued by all things concerning the "spirit world(s)"
I am particularly intrigued by the hairless Chihuahuah , which bears a striking resemblence to one of the ancient Egyptian canids....

and the feast food!
ooooooohhhhhh

I myself never got around to taking down the Xmas lights last Valentines day....

So, I plugged them into the timer for AllHalloOctemberSaints day, which btw was snowing... and have left them going dusk to dawn.
rather pretty, I must say.

And I had gotten one of those red and green laser "snow sparkle" gizmos, which is more fun.

So for end of OctemberTurkDay it is now up to 50-60 deg during the day
Go figure.
Miami and NYC will be underwater every high tide soon at this rate.

 yhs
prof marvel
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The world is in Hell and I am too depressed for words
J. Wilhelm
╬ Admiral und Luftschiffengel ╬
Board Moderator
Immortal
**
United States United States


Sentisne fortunatum punkus? Veni. Diem meum comple


WWW
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2020, 10:16:24 am »

Thank you both! I just thought that I could write about what I was hearing on Twitter. Following the feeds of historians allows you to decouple a bit from everyday problems and they always have something interesting to say. I promised Mr. Ortiz I would mention him if I used some of his material. He's got a good pair of Twitter accounts that ler me reminisce about the 20th. C in Mexico and its history in centuries past.


Sorry about taking forever to view this. Interesting!

Never too late Mr. Bailey. And not surprised that the thread was empty. Absolutely no one feels too happy about this year, and mayhaps about death in general!

Sorry about taking forever to view this. Interesting!

You and me both, Monsieur Bailey!

Great Job, J!

Besides being intrigued by all things concerning the "spirit world(s)"
I am particularly intrigued by the hairless Chihuahuah , which bears a striking resemblence to one of the ancient Egyptian canids....

and the feast food!
ooooooohhhhhh

I myself never got around to taking down the Xmas lights last Valentines day....

So, I plugged them into the timer for AllHalloOctemberSaints day, which btw was snowing... and have left them going dusk to dawn.
rather pretty, I must say.

And I had gotten one of those red and green laser "snow sparkle" gizmos, which is more fun.

So for end of OctemberTurkDay it is now up to 50-60 deg during the day
Go figure.
Miami and NYC will be underwater every high tide soon at this rate.

 yhs
prof marvel

Ha! So I was waiting for *someone* to make the connection between Xolotl and Anubis, or at least between Xolos and Ancient Egyptian Jackals.The resemblance for both pairs is striking, isn't it?? A dark coloured dog, or a man with the head of a dog? Very striking similarities!

Xolotl is the god of fire and lighting, and also the brother of Quetzalcoatl the heavenly lord of the wind, air and learning. Xolotl was also the guide of the dead in the underworld. His other forms, he took when he refused to sacrifice himself to make the sun move again, and he hid from the gods by turning into a salamander (Axolotl), a double stalk of maize (Xolotl), and a double Maguey plant (Mexolotl)

However, Anubis, being the god of death, mummification, embalming and the underworld, would be the equivalent of Mictlantecuhtli...

The Anubis Shrine; 1336–1327 BC; painted wood and gold; 1.1 × 2.7 × 0.52 m
 from the Valley of the Kings; Egyptian Museum (Cairo) Image in public domain.

« Last Edit: November 16, 2020, 11:28:01 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
J. Wilhelm
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United States United States


Sentisne fortunatum punkus? Veni. Diem meum comple


WWW
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2020, 10:42:31 am »

I am particularly intrigued by the hairless Chihuahuah , which bears a striking resemblence to one of the ancient Egyptian canids....

No, no, no! Not a Chihuahua! That's a smaller dog! This is a separate breed, the Xoloitzcuintli (or Xoloitzcuintle in Spanish) is a recognized separate breed. Sometimes they have a tuft of hair on the head, like a Mohawk, and sometimes a few will come out with a short hair pelt. It's a naturally occurring mutation and breeders can't control whether a pup will be haired or hairless. Litters usually have a mix of both.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xoloitzcuintle

A light coloured Xoloitzcuintli. Photo Svenska Mässan CC BY 2.0


Coated and uncoated Xoloitzcuintles. Shmigget~commonswiki CC BY 2.5



In contrast , the Chihuahua (named after the State of Chihuahua), is much smaller and comes in two separate breeds, coated and hairless - that is not a recessive gene but two breeds.

Coated Chihuhua dog. Photo Bonnie van der Born CC BY-SA 3.0
« Last Edit: November 16, 2020, 11:14:53 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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