Postcard from Mexico City: Meanwhile, outside the Cathedral

There is a hubbub of bustling activity immediately outside the solemn confines of the Metropolitan Cathedral. Vendors hawking their wares. Dancers performing as though re-staking their ancestral Aztec claims to the land seized by the Spanish conquistadors.

And an abundance of shamans offering alternative services to the ceremonies performed by the Catholic priests inside. We are unsure how one chooses among the shamans, whose attire ranged from casual jeans and tennis shoes to more formal midriff-baring loin cloths, feathered headdresses and anklet rattles, huesos de fraile or bones of the friar, made from ayoyote seeds.

All of the purported intermediaries between the natural and spiritual worlds were equipped with similar tools of their trade, smoking copal incense and bundles of herbs. Their ancient cleansing rituals involved much circling of their clients with the incense and brushing with the fragrant herbs, the strong scents of both lingering on the newly purified for quite a while.

The shamans seem malplaced, their stations exuding bad feng shui. I fail to comprehend how anyone paying for the services could possibly slip into the proper receptive state amidst all the surrounding chaos.

Cross the street to the expansive Zocalo, and the level of noise and activity often is multiplied by special events. While we were there, the main plaza was occupied one week by a book festival, one week by Day of the Dead events and the final weekend by a youth concert with the loudest amplification I think I have ever endured. When they cranked up the music, we fled the plaza as quickly as possible. Surely the overwhelming noise forced even the most determined shamans to pack up their medicine bags to head for an alternate locale.

Postcard from Mexico City: A few leftover “dulces huesudos”

Still had a few “bony treats” left haunting my computer from wanderings around Hallowmas and Day of the Dead. A village of skeletons was the theme of a festival in La Alameda Central. Altars were set up everywhere, including Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Coyoacan. “Una Ofrenda de Pelicula” exhibit in El Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco saluted filmmaking. Even shamans vending their cleansing spells in the zocolo enhanced themselves with bonemen make-up.

And then thrust in the middle were invasive Halloween traditions sneaking in more and more from el norte (see prior post). Once children discover the sweet rewards of trick-or-treating, it’s pretty impossible to close that door.

There does seem to be uncertainty about when to do what. In the Roma Norte area where we have been staying, the costumed children entered the restaurants and went to the bar areas at the back to ask the staff for treats. Sometimes they were given candy; sometimes spare change; often nothing. The businesses declining are fortunate the trick part as payback does not seem part of the formula.

Receiving mixed results, the period of requests seems extended. Families paraded their costumed kids out nightly – Halloween night, All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the confusion of adding this new tradition to ancient ones, or perhaps simply to maximize the possibilities of success.

This seasonal free trade between Mexico and el norte flows both ways. Certainly San Antonio is far richer from its artistic adaptations of colorful Dia de los Muertos traditions.

Once again, happy Hallowmas.

 

Postcard from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico: Churches exhibit a spirit of tolerance

Having already posted about the unorthodox fashion sported by statues of saints in San Cristobal de las Casas and some of the religious practices in San Juan Chamula, there are a few remaining photographs of churches to share.

What struck us the most when visiting these churches was the seeming tolerance by the Catholic Church of the syncretic religious practices of the populace. It was commonplace to witness shamans chanting ceremonies for small groups of faithful in front of statues of saints, sometimes leaving empty Coke bottles behind after having burped away the evil spirits.