Dia de Los Muertos: A Celebration of life or an Aztec goddess?

Almost everyone gets excited for spooky season. Is there a way to be happy when it’s over?

In the Latinx culture, folks get excited because of the initially Aztec holiday “Dia de Los Muertos.” Translating to “Day of the Dead,” the tradition is dedicated to celebrating life by remembering the lives of passed family members with special alters. They are decorated with skulls and butterflies to represent their deaths. An altar may also include flowers, food and liquor that folks believe the roaming souls consume. Followers of this tradition believe the souls of their passed loved ones are present on Earth. 

Predominantly from the Mexican catholic culture, La Santa Muerte translates to several names but is formally known as the female deity of “Our Lady of Holy Death,” used to protect graves and known to appear as a skeleton similar to a grim reaper.  

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Yet, originally, the Aztecs paid adoration to their ancestors with this holiday. Although La Santa Muerte is not in the Catholic religion, several people worship the deity with similar devotions.

In 2013, the Catholic Church spoke out against the worship of a deity that isn’t God. President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said, “It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; It’s a blasphemy against religion.” 

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Followers of La Santa Muerte have paid adoration through prayers and chants similar to that from Christianity. Many criminals believe this is the reason why several get out of prison or gain wealth. Enriqueta Romero is considered the high priestess in the community of the saint’s followers. 

“I love death, her physique. She shouldn’t be feared; she is not vengeful; she will not hasten your death. She is part of life, and she protects those no one else will,” Romero said in an interview for The Telegraph.

Dia de Los Muertos was initially established by the Aztecs to worship the female deity Mictecacihuatl, the goddess of death, according to archeological researcher Kirby Farah. Believed to be tied to La Santa Muerte, Farah said it was during the time the Spanish invaded Mexico and tried to evangelize the indigenous civilization where facts about the two figures changed over the years. 

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The Aztec goddess was sacrificed as a baby to be later born again in the underworld, where she found her husband and ruled the abyss. They collected bones of the dead, believing it would bring them back to life on land by the gods. She appears to have scalped skin and a skeleton jaw, according to Farah. 

“Archaeologists and historians know relatively little about the details of the month-long celebration of Mictecacihuatl, but say it likely involved burning incense, song, and dance, and blood sacrifice – customary practices in many Aztec rituals,” Farah said

Customary traditions will continue to preserve cultures globally. For those who maintain the beginning of November with skulls or butterflies, keep in mind the possibilities of what is celebrated. La Santa Muerte? An Aztec goddess? Or by chance a cute accessory that flows with the day about celebrating life.