Believing and Belonging in Mexico
With an academic background in belief systems, I am always fascinated by what people believe and why they believe it. That is to say I have an interest in beliefs of all kinds, not just religion and faith but everyday things that people take to be true. Reflecting on this, I have realised that living in Mexico has altered a number of my beliefs. My belief system has changed a lot, often for good but occasionally for bad…
1) The man on the moon is now a rabbit
Ask most Mexicans about the man on the moon and they will look at you strangely and ask “don’t you mean the rabbit?” If you look closely it is very easy to see an upside down rabbit in the moon (see picture). The story (well one of them at least) is that Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs, whilst living on the earth as a man, was walking on a long journey and became so hungry, with no sign of food, he thought he would die. In his moment of difficulty, he came across a rabbit who offered herself to him to feed his hunger and ultimately save his life. Quetzalcoatl, so moved by this selfless offer, held the rabbit up to the moon and brought her back down to earth, exclaiming that she would be remembered for eternity because her image was now in the light of the moon.
Next time you look to the sky, have a look for the rabbit. She is upside down bathing in the glorious light of her good deed!
2) Mezcal is good for you
Mezcal is a strong alcohol, from the same family as tequila (although in my opinion it is infinitely better). There is a saying in Mexico, well certainly in Oaxaca that essentially says Mezcal is good for everything and at anytime, good and bad; “Para Todo Mal Mezcal, Para Todo Bien También.” When I first heard this, I laughed thinking it was amusing but of course not true. However, after being reminded with every ailment (cold, flu, stomach ache etc.) that a Mezcal will cure it, I recently realized that it has crept into my belief system and I now accept it to be true! So much do I believe this, that when recently undertaking a detox, I questioned whether Mezcal really counted as alcohol since it is so good for you and could protect my stomach whilst I was detoxing! I mean honestly!
3) The dead really do return on Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is an annual festival based on the belief that our ancestors return to visit us on the 1st and 2nd of November. Mexicans set up shrines in their houses, with offerings of the favourite foods drinks, cigarettes etc. of the departed to entice them back. The shrines are lined with flowers and candles and special Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead). Many Mexicans take this festival very seriously and families will spend the day and night at their loved ones gravesides, waiting for them to return. The celebrations can be somber but usually they are celebratory and sometimes rather drunken, raucous occasions.
Whereas, I used to see this festival through the eyes of an intrigued observer, I now look forward to the festival and partake fully with my own shrine and offerings, and I have my own stories of supernatural visits to tell. I know many other foreigners in Mexico who also feel great joy at the arrival of the dates, and look forward to “hanging out” with their departed loved ones. The greatest thing is when you tell most Mexicans about the “crazy” experiences that happened on Day of the Dead, they simply smile a knowing smile and never question a thing!