A Día de los Muertos Perspective: My Path with Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead”
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A Día de los Muertos Perspective: My Path with Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead”

“I grew up honoring and respecting La Muerte. She was never someone I feared but someone I saw as an energy that is part of life and part of me.” Maestra CC weaves together a reflection on her lifelong relationship with death, the Mexhika tradition of el Día de los Muertos, and her current bout with cancer.

A Día de los Muertos Perspective: My Path with Mictecacihuatl, “Lady of the Dead”

“I grew up honoring and respecting La Muerte. She was never someone I feared but someone I saw as an energy that is part of life and part of me.” Maestra CC weaves together a reflection on her lifelong relationship with death, the Mexhika tradition of el Día de los Muertos, and her current bout with cancer.

DEATH HAS BEEN my companion longer than I have known life itself. She has been part of my path since I was in my biological mother’s womb. My abuelita Casi used to say, “tienes el don de la medicina porque La Muerte te cuida” (you have the gift of medicine because the Lady of the Dead is watching over you). I grew up honoring and respecting La Muerte. She was never someone I feared but someone I saw as an energy that is part of life and part of me. It was instilled in me, as the saying goes, that we [Mexhikas] “were immortal and Death was just another new way of life.”

Cuauhtli Cihuatl as La Llorona. Photograph by Joe Calderon Photography, 2016. Image courtesy of the author.

Growing up between two borders, two cultures, two languages, two spiritual paths, and all that makes up my own being within the ometeotl pantheism system gave me a full-spectrum view of La Vida y La Muerte. While some may think of death as a fearful or morbid subject, it doesn’t have to be. In the Mexhika tradition, the transition of a loved one and el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) are sacred times of reverence: we focus on celebrating and honoring the lives of the deceased rather than fearing evil or malevolent spirits.

El Día de los Muertos, which takes place from October 31 through November 2, is a Mexhika, Mexican, Mexican American, and Latin American celebration of deceased ancestors that has a 3,000-year history.

El Día de los Muertos, which takes place from October 31 through November 2, is a Mexhika, Mexican, Mexican American, and Latin American celebration of deceased ancestors that has a 3,000-year history. Before colonization, rituals celebrating the deceased were practiced from the start of the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar (August 1) until harvest time. The timing now coincides with Halloween and the Roman Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—a calendrical change made by the colonizing Spaniards. This sacred celebration has evolved (nowadays, it is even trendy) but its roots are deep within our ancestral bloodlines.

Desde chiquita (since I was a little one), La Muerte has been teaching me lessons on how to live and fully embrace all the beauty of life on this earthly path. My first memory is riding in the back seat of a car by the window, looking at the night sky, and feeling the cool air on my face. I suddenly felt a caress on my cheek, cold and boney, and within an instant, the car door swung open. My hands grabbed the door handle, and I used it to balance myself before my bio-mom grabbed my dress and pulled me back onto the backseat. I felt La Muerte’s hand in mine and her breath next to my ear. I wasn’t afraid. I felt comforted. Doña Emma, the bruja of the block we lived on, gave me a limpia (an energetic cleansing). I could feel her magic bringing my soul back from susto even though I felt no fear.

Desde chiquita (since I was a little one), La Muerte has been teaching me lessons on how to live and fully embrace all the beauty of life on this earthly path.

My way of being was later transformed by the deaths of three loved ones: my abuelita Casi, my first love (who is the father of my oldest son), and my adopted dad. The common variable among them was their unconditional love for me. They saw me. They heard me. They supported me. They nurtured me. They made me laugh. All three gave me pure authentic joy for life and the gift to embrace love deeply. The lessons I learned through their deaths were not easy. Each passing was traumatic to me, and I spiraled. I wasn’t a good mother, wife, or even human for many years after they transitioned.

My healing came from connecting to Mictecacihuatl and her gentleness (yes, her gentleness) in knowing that my loved ones were in another realm. Each year, when the veil opens for el Día de los Muertos, I am able to be with them. La Muerte gifts me the opportunity to sit with my loved ones, my ancestors, and receive the messages from beyond. To remember the times of being together, to honor their role in my life, and to respect all their wisdom.

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OVER THE PAST six months, once again, I have felt the Lady of the Dead close by, and even closer than usual. I feel her dress brushing me as I walk by my altar. I feel her breath in my ear at night. I feel her fingers on my hair caressing it. I hear her footsteps. I lie awake waiting for her message, for her wisdom, for her guidance. There are nights she is so close that I yell in my dreams, and my honey has to gently wake me up. Still, I have no fear, just a knowing.

This is my third bout with cancer. I believe it is my last. My cancer has no cure. I am being monitored by a wonderful oncology team, on palliative care and experimental medications to extend my life expectancy, and doing all my medicinas tradicionales de Madre Tierra. As I feel my body deteriorating, my heart is expanding with love, my spirit is flying with alegría, my mind is at peace. Yes, the physical body is tired. BUT there is much life to experience, and I have plans to live every minute as fully and as powerfully as I can. Como La Frida, even if I am being carried on a bed, I will go to Oaxaca for Día de los Muertos in 2022 and walk El Camino in 2023. I will sit by the beach, and Madre Mar will cleanse me. I will sit in a temazcal, and Abuelo Fuego will hold me. I will sit under the old elm tree and Ehecatl will soothe me. I will dance under Grandmother Moon in the rain and giggle while jumping in puddles. I will enjoy every second I see my grandchildren and hear them say, “I love you, Ama.”  I will listen to every note my honey plays, for his music is healing to my soul. I will sit in my wooden rocking chair under the portal on my sacred land and breathe. I will teach until my last breath, for La Medicina es para todos.  

This year, I will set mi altar con mucho amor y respeto, honoring my deceased loved ones. I will arrange it in a pyramid shape of three to four levels; I will cover the layers in different papel picado, paper banners representing the Aztecs’ ritual flags that symbolized the freedom that death gives. On the first level, there will be photos of the deceased. On the second level, I will place their favorite food along with pan de muerto y mole, candles, and my popoxcomitl with the copal burning. There will be cempoalxochitl (marigold) flowers on the ground as a path for them to find their way home. I hope my grandchildren will continue this celebration so they do not forget me, for I am their real life “Coco.”

There is a feeling about Mictecacihuatl—a comfort, a knowing, a sensation of being. I acknowledge that she is part of my life.

There is a feeling about Mictecacihuatl—a comfort, a knowing, a sensation of being. I acknowledge that she is part of my life. Creator is the ultimate timekeeper for our earth time, and La Muerte is the holder of our soul’s time in the next realm. Y que asi sea; and so it is. A’ho Ometeotl!

As Victor Landa has famously said:

“In our tradition, people die three deaths. The first death is when our bodies cease to function; when our hearts no longer beat of their own accord, when our gaze no longer has depth or weight, when the space we occupy slowly loses its meaning.

“The second death comes when the body is lowered into the ground, returned to mother earth, out of sight.

“The third death, the most definitive death, is when there is no one left alive to remember us.”*

Victor Landa, quoted in Judy King, “Los Dias de Los Muertos.” Mexconnect.com. https://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1427-los-dias-de-los-muertos-the-days-of-the-dead/

Victor Landa, quoted in Judy King, “Los Dias de Los Muertos.” Mexconnect.com. https://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1427-los-dias-de-los-muertos-the-days-of-the-dead/

Victor Landa, quoted in Judy King, “Los Dias de Los Muertos.” Mexconnect.com. https://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1427-los-dias-de-los-muertos-the-days-of-the-dead/

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