A limpia, a cleansing, is done to get rid of negative energy. The informant heard of it because she was walking around in Mexico City with her family, and saw people doing it on the street at a little shop. Her family approached to see it being done and what all the commotion was. The service was donation based and she asked if they wanted to do it. The lady who was in charge of the ritual was indigenous, and worse Aztec decorated and inspired clothing. She explained what she was doing so they would understand what they would be going through. First, she started by asking them to close their eyes, sprayed some kind of liquid(herbs mixed into a liquid that smelled like lavender), and told them to rub it all over their hair, face, and clothes. She said a prayer, then started to burn incense and circled their body. She did this a couple of times, then grabbed a fresh herb and smacked them on their legs and body. Their eyes stayed closed the whole time. Then, she blew a whistle that is supposed to symbolize a jaguar, twice in each ear, then blew a concha, then rubbed the liquid once more, and said a final prayer. She said it was to get rid of bad energy or imbalance, to bring balance and positive energy. Prayer is done in Spanish which said, “Relieve this person from any harm in their life, may this limpia be helpful with the presence of god”.
The informant doesn’t believe in those things but did it because her mom wanted to do it. She enjoyed the smell of herbs, and the incense made it relaxing but did not believe in the superstition. She grew up hearing of limpias because her father received limpias all the time when she was a kid, and she would also see it done in other cultures.
This limpia is a form of folk medicine done in Mexican culture. It revolves around being faced with bad energy and thus people needing a way to remove this bad energy. It involves some aspects of religious tie-ins such as the prayer, the incense, and the rubbing of some oil, or liquid made of herbs but also relates to Aztec culture. Additionally, herbs seem to be a part of this reliance on natural remedies for the curing of illnesses that are commonly found in Latin America.
The informant talks about how important the Dia de los Muertos celebration was for his family. Normally celebrated from November 1st to 2nd but there are sometimes extra days based on location in Mexico the person is from. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the dead by preparing a feast and all their favorite toys, meals, and so much more. This preparation thus invites the souls of the dead to be with their family. The first day would celebrate any children that the family had lost, and so candy, juices, and toys would be put out on the altar. The second day would be to celebrate the elderly, so they put out conchas, food, beer, a basket of fruits, and other things they might have been known to love.The third day would be to celebrate anyone in between who had died, where family and friends would add anything left to add, decorate the tables, with colors like orange, red, green, yellow, pink and so much more. The informants also stated that they would include edible sugar skulls as decorations and a pastry called Pan de Muerto. This is a big bulbous loaf of bread, shaped with knots with the round ball at the top and a cross intersecting that. Marigolds were bright orange, meant to guide the souls of the dead back to their homes that scattered the altar.
The informant emphasized that the reason the holiday celebration was so important is because everyone within the family would head over to help decorate, or just be there as a family and talk. They would all remember the deceased and talk about the memories they shared of them that would help to bring them closer together. When the celebrations were over, everyone would be able to dig in and eat the food. The informant added that they never put pictures despite the big depiction and representation of having pictures on the altars because of poverty in Mexico and lack of cameras in Mexico. Thus the memory of their dead loved ones would live on in their memory.
It seems to me that the importance of family is crucial to this holiday celebration as it commemorates any family member dead or alive. It takes a different take on the dead of ghostly stories and instead expects the souls of their dead ones among them, with only love and remembrance felt at the celebration. A small part of this is similar to the concept of contact magic as they use food and toys that they used to love in their life, but it is not directly in contact with them. Additionally, symbolism such as the pan de muerto where the ball or knot at the top is meant to represent the skull and the cross is meant to represent the bones from their bodies. The holiday is very cyclical and falls at the same time of the year to have a dedicated time to commemorate any loved ones that have been lost.
“So our parents, uncles, aunts- the elders in our family I should say- they would often tell the younger kids: ‘El Cucuy te va llevar si no te portas bien’. I thought it was really funny to like see these kids freak the fuck out over an imaginary character.”
Interviewer asks: “Can you, in your own words, explain who the Cucuy is?”
“Yeah so in a nutshell, he’s like the LatinAmerican version of the boogie man. Legend has it that he waits in the closet of naughty children. Or even, like, under their beds, and he waits for children to misbehave so he can take them.”
Interviewer asks: “Where does he take them?”
“How should I know? He scared the shit outa me.” *interviewee lets out a chuckle*
Transliteration: “The Cucuy you is take is no you behave good”
Translation: “The Cucuy will take you is you misbehave”
My Interpretation: This was just a way to scare kids into behaving and staying away from trouble. My family used to tell my sisters and I all the time, and we sometimes still do to the younger ones. It’s funny, but it’s also a way to scare kids into behaving. The most productive manner? No. But it did the trick!
F, 18, is a Mexican student at USC. He is from Ciudad Juarez, a city in Mexico that borders El Paso, Texas. F told me about the Mexican festival called Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead.
Every November 2nd, I celebrate with my family a popular Mexican tradition called “Día de Muertos”. This day is celebrated to remember the people that have passed away. We put together an altar in which we include pictures of the people we remember along with objects that reminds us of them. An example is that we put a picture of my grandfather and a book as he loved reading. This tradition helps us stay in touch with our loved ones and remember that they are with us every step of the way.
Día de Muertos is a traditional Mexican festival that happens yearly on November 2nd. It aligns with many other death-related celebrations such as All Souls Day or Halloween because of the life cycle calendar. Many cultures celebrate death around fall and winter, as they symbolize death and the end of a cycle. Then, in spring, the cycle starts anew and begins with fertility and birth celebrations. In this tradition, it is believed that the Day of the Dead is a liminal period in which the dead can visit their living relatives, this liminal period creates a space for magic and festivities that fit outside of the norm. In this traditional festival, people leave objects that the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime on the altar, so they can take joy in them once more.
Informant: The informant is a very good friend of mine. She and I met in my sophomore year of high school. She is currently an undergraduate at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The following transcript is a retelling of a ghost story that she heard from her mom and that has been passed down by the family due to very weird circumstances.
Context: Informant’s mom heard this in the late 1980’s, on a day that her mom was coming back from school in Jalisco, Mexico. However, this ghost story dates as far back as the early 1900’s. Informant states, that she doesn’t believe this story because it wasn’t something that her mom experiences herself, but a story that has been passed down by those in the small town.
Story: “In my mom’s small town there was this big house made of stone. In one of the corners of the house, on the outside, there was this small tower-like structure also made of stone. The top was covered by a dome-like thing, which was also made of stone. Everything was made of stone. It was said throughout my mom’s town that there was a woman who would appear in that tower. Just a woman who would walk out from that tower. There was no way into that tower or out of that tower except through the inside of the house. At that time, there was no woman living in this house, but just a man at that time. This story was told by my mom to me, but it was originally an experience and tale that happened to my grandma’s acquaintance. For when he saw this woman, it held his arm and walked him home.”
Analysis: This ghost story wasn’t terrifying at all, but rather a bit questionable because no one else had seen this ghost lady other than the man who claims to have seen it and spread the story around town. I think when it comes to the context of the story, the person who first experiences such paranormal events should be reliable in order for something to be believed. This mans who claims to have seen the ghost lady and have walked him home, might have been possibly drunk or extremely tired. The fact, that there is very little details to this story, demonstrates how details of such experiences over time lose detail little by little. Because again, this story told by my friend has now passed around through the mouths of about 5+ people. Mayble if the man who experiences this where still alive, or met him in person, he would be able to explain the events of what specifically occurred on that day.