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What IS La Día de Los Muertos?

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CemetarioAlmoloyaRio1995The other day we mentioned that Roberta’s recent s-c-a-a-a-r-y tale, Forbidden Love , makes for a wild Día de los Muertos tale. This Latin celebration of the dead is still going on — it takes place over three days, from October 31 to November 2. It’s an amazing and strangely beautiful festival, with roots in Europe as well as indigenous America.

It occurred to us that readers who live in less than perfectly diverse parts of the US may wonder what on earth La Día de los Meurtos is, and what about the book resonates with the tradition.

The Day of the Dead is a time when families and friends gather to remember and honor loved ones who have passed through the veil. People will build an altar filled with folk icons and treats to invite the spirits to come back and visit. It’s believed that the spirits of children visit on All Hallow’s Eve (Hallowe’en: October 31) and adults visit on All Saints Day, November 1. On November 2, the living will visit cemeteries, where they decorate graves, remember their lost ones’ lives, and leave offerings to them.

Offerings may be flowers — the marigold is the classic for this festival, toys for the kids, a bottle of tequila for the grown-ups, and foods such as candy skulls, candied pumpkin, and special bread for the dead called pan de muerto.

It’s a very ancient tradition. Some people believe its origins date exclusively to pre-Columbian Central American cultures, whose traditions were absorbed by the Catholic Church and allowed to survive to this day. Others point out that the modern celebration blends medieval European rituals with the Native American traditions: the Spaniards brought the Christian All Souls day with them when they arrived in the New World, and the correlation between that and the Indian tradition wasn’t lost on them.

So, how does Forbidden Love fit in to the Día de los Muertos tradition?

Well, one of the main characters, the eerie Muertia, brings to mind la Santa Muerte, also called Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”). Santa Muerte is a folk saint, worshipped all over Mexico, the American Southwest, and even in Puerto Rico.

The beloved Muertia’s description, when she first appears in the story, is spookily reminiscent of this alarming personage…

Santa-muerte-nlaredo2If you’re not frightened, very frightened, you should be! 😀

A similar figure, the Catrina, is strongly associated with la Día de los Muertes. She also brings to mind our heroine, Muertia:

Catrinas_2Muertia — the Muertia of our story — is a shape-shifter who soon transforms herself into a beautiful woman and who sincerely loves an earthly man. Still, she and her human lover are accursed, for a reason that we don’t learn until near the end of the story.

The story blends the ancient tradition of Mictecacihuatl, the queen of the Aztec underworld, with postmodernist magical realism — to weird and wonderful affect. We hope you’ll get a chance to read Forbidden Love, remembering that it is an erotic story with explicit language and imagery.

Images:

Cemetario, Almoyola del Rio, Mexico. AlejandroLinaresGarcia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

La Santa Muerte. Public domain.

La Catrina. © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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