Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sugar Skulls

 Why Sugar Skulls?

Calaveras (skulls) made of sugar are among the more colorful folk art staples of El Dia de Los Muertos which occurs November 1 (or Los Dios de los Muertos for those who recognize both November 1 and 2 as days of remembrance). 

Calaveras History

The tradition dates back to the indigenous Aztecans and Mayans of several thousand years ago who celebrated the death of ancestors with rituals that included displaying skulls during ceremonies to symbolize death and rebirth.

Today’s Calaveras are made of molded sugar and are often placed on community and home altars alongside marigolds, candles, photographs, and a sampling of the deceased favorite foods. Ornately decorated with festive papers and foils, glitter, and brightly colored icings, they also carry a special message for the departed or are inscribed with that person’s name.

Years ago, a sugar artist made one for me to honor the loss of my younger sister, Fortunee. During the year the skull is preserved in the freezer until Dia de los Muertos. I then place it alongside the skeleton figures I have collected over the years. These include the bride and groom of death, a skeleton riding a horse and a few hand painted Catrinas. She is the Lady of Death who is the modern-day version of the original celebration’s goddess Michtecacihuatl.

According to Azetcan mythology she is the Queen of Mictlan, the underworld. She ruled over the afterlife alongside her husband Mictlantechutli. A powerful diety, she watched over the bones of the dead and presided over festivals that honored those who had died.

Calaveras generally are not gruesome or scary. They are most often pleasing to the eye which is fitting as they are intended to welcome the traveling spirits of the dead.

Make Your Own

As a folk art, sugar skulls can be a fun family project. To find out more, here is one easy to follow recipe.

Related Information

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October Shape Shifters

 Werewolfs & More

Around the world it is believed that fall may be the best season for human beings to shape shift into beast or half-beast forms. This process is known as therianthropy and the most common reference people have for this is the werewolf.

This idea has long been present in mythology. Consider the dog-headed Ra figures of Ancient Egypt or the Neolithic cave drawings of France. Other examples include Central Asian stories about human-canine shapeshifters who can turn others into animals and European werecats.

Other Examples

Skin-walkers. Native American legends reference skin-walkers who are able to turn into any animal they desire. To do so they must first wear the pelt of a specific animals. 

Turkish Wolf. The wolf of Turkish mythology is revered. Turkish legends say people descended from these animals. It is believed that in a raid upon a small village, one baby was left behind. A she-wolf nursed the child and later gave birth to Turkish half-wolf, half-human cubs.

Congo Leopard. Folk belief of the Congo’s Banana area states that the use of magic potions can turn them into leopards. If they harm others, they will not be able to return to human form. 

Malay Tiger. Tradition among the Malays states that priesthood can only be passed on if the soul of the dead priest takes on the form of a tiger that can then pass into the body of his son. 

Oceania’s Tamaniu. In Melanesia the tamaniu is an animal counterpart to a person. It may appear in the form of an eel, a shark, a lizard, or some other creature. It shares the same soul and can understand human language. In some cases, any death or injury to one may affect the other.

There are many more myths, legends and tales about these supernatural creatures who seem to appear with greater frequency during the darkest times of the year. So take care and remember to be kind to any animals that cross your path. You never know, one of them may be an October Shape Shifter.

Related Information: