Sunday, January 17, 2010

Los Espíritus

Late Monday afternoon in Guasave, the rain grew heavy. Rhonda and the children went back to the comfort of our hotel, but I continued shopping for a handful of other items we needed for our trip.

The rain hypnotized me. I finished my purchases and found myself wandering through the streets as the clouds darkened the horizon. Memories flooded back to my mind, mingled with questions of things that used to be. Parts of the story can never be told, but I can say that my trip filled a deeper purpose than all the surface reasons I might have mentioned before. It was like retrieving a lost piece of my youth in those cold, lonely streets.

When I finally started back to the hotel, I walked past the market and saw something I had never noticed. I happened upon a small herbal shop with statues to "Saint Death" and magical potions. I think they called it "El Resplandor," or something like that. How strange that I stood on that very spot just a few hours earlier, and yet I never saw.

The store had a collection of herbs in the back room, stacked high to the ceiling in simple plastic bags. Unfortunately, customers had to ask the attendant to retrieve the herbs, so I never got to see what plants were represented. Closer to the front, thousands of tiny bottles glittered with multi-colored potions, or "essences," some labeled with obvious incantations to "good fortune" or "success." Others were labeled to incur the favor of specific saints, or to repel witchcraft, or to find love.

My interest in these things goes back to my desire to understand the indigenous beginnings of the Mexican culture. These potions may not exactly function as labeled, but somewhere in the distant past, indigenous people engaged in "magical" practices that evolved into what we see today. I guess that's why I would have liked to see the herbs and learn more about the medical and spiritual properties they may hold.

Modern people may scoff, but beneath our legends and fairy tales is a grain of truth about our ancient histories. Many medical and social advancements have resulted from a careful examination of indigenous "myths."

Large bottles of magical "essences."

These incenses were labeled for the same purposes as the liquid essences.

When I lived in Guasave as a youth, I never saw images of "La Santísima Muerte," or Saint Death. Some people say she always existed, but only appeared in public since recent times. Others suggest that she represents a westernization of the old Aztec goddess of death.

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