Dia de Los Muertos (November 1-2).. It’s a Celebration!

Ofrenda (altar) for dia de Los Muertos

Ofrendra covered in marigolds

I’ve always been drawn to and intrigued by this celebration. The colorful and intricate sugar skulls, the beautiful marigolds that look like bouquets of suns, the high energy, so unlike what we’ve been programmed to see “death” as. In my family, we celebrated when one of our family members transcended too. Funerals were not handled in a mournful way. We wore light colors, sang songs or recited poetry specifically crafted for the transcended. As I’ve grown in awareness, I have found great comfort in communing with my ancestors and my view of death has transformed even moor. For me, when someone transcends the physical, it  is a time for celebration, not mourning; it is an initiation, a rite of passage.. a graduation if you will. The roots of Dia de Los Muertos trace back to the Olmecs, my and probably some of your ancestors,  the original indigenous peoples to inhabit Northwest Amexem/Al Maroc (misnomer America). The celebration was picked up by the Aztecs, Incas, etc. Just like the indigenous peoples of Ayiti (misnomer Haiti) the indigenous ways were blended with/”hidden” under the guise of Catholicism to preserve traditions; giving the Spanish colonizers the illusion that the we had “converted” successfully and abandoned our traditional ways. This enabled our ways and rites to carry on, a true testament to alchemy if ever there was one. 🙂 So much of our culture as indigenous peoples has been taken and misappropriated by cultural usurpers … using our rites and traditions to empower themselves and exploit us, or generate fear so that we will abandon our birthrights and “magic”. We need to tap in to those that came before us now moor than ever. It doesnt take any special day for you to start communing, however if you are in an area with a festival or celebration for Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of The Dead, All Saints Day, All Souls Day) consider checking it out.

WHY SKULLS AND FLOWERS? http://marie-mckeown.hubpages.com/hub/Meaning-Dia-de-los-Muertos-Face-Painting

Skulls – known as calaveras orcalacas in Mexico – are an essential part of the symbolism of Dia de los Muertos in mexico. They are used not only as the basis for painting faces, but also are the shape of candy such as sugar skulls and for many skeleton-inspired decorations.

The day of the dead in Mexico is a fascinating mixture of Spanish Catholic and native Aztec traditions and beliefs. Skulls and skeletons were an important part of All Saints Day festivals in medieval Europe, especially since the Black Death ravaged the population of Europe in the 1300s. Across Europe artists, playwrights and poets mused on the theme of ‘memento mori’ (remember death) and the ‘dance of the dead’. Many artworks and books from the time depict dancing skeletons, or portraits with a skull to ‘remember death’.

At the same time, in Mexico, the Aztec culture believed life on earth to be something of an illusion – death was a positive step forward into a higher level of conscience. For the Aztecs skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.

People in Mexico wear traditional skull masks, and the tradition of painting faces to look like a skull has grown up as a variation to this. The wearing of masks has been a powerful symbol throughout traditional cultures, of the ability of humans to get in touch with their darker, chaotic side. Face-painting as skulls is a chance to overcome fear of death, act recklessly and get up to the mischief that is forbidden at other times of the year!


Flowers are also symbolically important part of day of the dead. Many face-painting designs of skulls incorporate flowers, and this symbol has a meaning of its own. The flower most associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is the marigold, or Cempazúchitl which is known as the flower of the dead. In Aztec belief the marigold was sacred to Mictlantecuhtli, their god of the dead. According to Mexican belief, the souls of departed family and friends return to earth on the day of the dead, and it is believed the strong scent of marigold helps to guide them back.

Flowers are often incorporated into Dia de los Muertos face-painting skull designs (and tattoos for that matter). This mixing of the skull, associated with death with flowers, a symbol in western culture associated with life and love, may seem strange to some. However, the meaning of el Dia de los Muertos face-painting is not only to remember the dead, but also to overcome the fear of death and celebrate life!


The following is from http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/support/dodhistory.html

Day of the Dead is an interesting holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the chilly days of November 1 & 2. Even though this coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, the indigenous people have combined this with their own ancient beliefs of honoring their deceased loved ones.

They believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them.

Sugar skulls

In most Indian villages, beautiful altars (ofrendas) are made in each home. They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil & bright red cock’s combs) mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan de muerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.

Sugar skull cookies, an offering for the spirits

Day of the Dead is a very expensive holiday for these self-sufficient, rural based, indigenous families. Many spend over two month’s income to honor their dead relatives. They believe that happy spirits will provide protection, good luck and wisdom to their families. Ofrenda building keeps the family close.

On the afternoon of Nov. 2, the festivities are taken to the cemetery. People clean tombs, play cards, listen to the village band and reminisce about their loved ones. Tradition keeps the village close. Day of the Dead is becoming very popular in the U.S.~ perhaps because we don’t have a way to celebrate and honor our dead, or maybe it’s because of our fascination with it’s mysticism.

“Sugar Skull” face painting


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