Mictecacihuatl: The Azteca Goddess of Dia de Los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos is an ancient tradition, passed down from the indigenous peoples of Mexico, surviving through colonization and forced Catholicism, practiced in the modern day by their survivors. Rooted in the celebration of Mictecacihuatl (pronunciation: mik.teː.ka.ˈsí.wat.el), the sugar skulls, incense burnings, and danzas have been relatively unchanged since the times before conquistadores ever set foot on this land.
Mictecacihuatl is La Santa Muerte, the Holy Death, and is the Queen of the Underworld. Sacrificed as an infant, she woke up in the underworld and grew to be a beautiful woman, marrying the King of the Underworld, Miclantecuhtl.
They rule over all three types of souls: those who died normal deaths, those who died heroic deaths, and those who died non-heroic deaths. They collect the bones of the dead in order to resurrect new life on Earth. People on the land of the living bury their dead with offerings and gifts so that they may rest in peace and be left alone by the Gods of the Underworld.
The practices we see today in modern Mexico and beyond have been left largely untouched. The Conquistadors tried to erase the religious practices of the indigenous peoples they encountered, but could not erase the spiritual memory of the land. Miclantecuhtl used to be celebrated over a whole 20-day period, a tzolkin month, but the Spaniards moved her practices to November 1st and 2nd in order to coincide with the Cristian tradition of All Saints Day.
So this year, as you honor the dead and remember your place in the lineage of your family and ancestry, remember the Aztecas who passed down the reverence and respect for life through this tradition.
Read more at the Conversation, from this brilliant article written by Kirby Farah, Lecturer of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.